Our politicians — or at least of some of them — continue to try to keep us in the dark about who is giving them money.

That we waited seven months to find out who donated to whom in 2008-09 is not the fault of the Australian Electoral Commission, or for that matter of Labor, which in 2008 and 2009 tried to pass an electoral reform Bill lowering the donation disclosure threshold and requiring more frequent reporting.

The Bill was defeated by the Coalition and that shining adornment to public life, Steve Fielding.  Bear that in mind next time a Coalition MP demands greater accountability.

To their credit, the federal ALP, the Queensland ALP and the WA ALP all reported according to the limits proposed under the defeated Bill, which is $1000.  The Liberal Parties, along with the likes of the useless hacks in the NSW ALP, insisted on sticking to the Howard-era limit of $10,900.

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Understanding the figures requires an act of mental transportation back a year and longer, which takes us deep into the GFC, thereby accounting for the big fall in donations to the parties, not merely because it was the first year after an election.  Despite that, the figures do shed light on how the game is played here in Canberra and other places.

Take the Australian Health Insurance Association, run by South Australian Liberal Michael Armitage, and protectors of one the great middle-class welfare rorts in the country, the private health insurance rebate.  To be fair to the private health insurance industry, successive governments of all persuasions have locked them into a tightly regulated framework that prevents them from operating in anything like a commercial manner, and that makes them require government permission for even the most basic operational elements, like pricing.  Staying in good with the Government is core business for the AHIA.

In 2007-08, AHIA gave to both sides of politics in the lead-up to the election — $20,000 to the ALP and a little bit more to the Liberals.  But relations with the new Government started poorly and went downhill, with fights over premium increases and then, in the May 2008 Budget, a stoush over the Government’s proposal to increase the Medicare levy surcharge threshold.  A year later came a bigger hit, in the form of the private health insurance rebate rollback for high-income earners.

So AHIA in 2008-09 switched all its funding to the Liberals — $39,000, because the Liberals could block the changes in the Senate.

But those guardians of a far bigger rort, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, kept in good with both sides of politics.  In 2007-08, the guild gave more than $100,000 to the ALP federally and at state level, and about $90,000 to the Coalition.  Despite it being a non-election year either federally or in Victoria, the guild stumped up a further $35,000 for both side’s federal and Victorian parties in 2008-09.

That would be because negotiations between the Government and guild over the next Community Pharmacy Agreement are currently under way and the guild wants to maintain its long and cherished record of anti-competitive outcomes from CPAs, despite Nicola Roxon issuing pro forma warnings about how tough the negotiations will be.

And then there’s the less subtle example of Woodside, which broke its non-donation habit of recent years and threw $12,000 at the WA Liberal Party as part of its successful effort to drive opposition to the CPRS.

Beyond that, there’s a reason why the data has more or less sunk without trace in the media: it’s not terribly surprising except to political tragics.  Overall, fewer donors gave less to politicians.  Some big donors of previous years, such as Babcock and Brown, didn’t even survive the GFC.  Clive Palmer continues to send dump trucks full of money to the Coalition.  The unions do the same for the ALP.  The big overseas money — principally from China, principally to Labor — has also gone missing, although Chinese outfit Hong Kong Kingson Investments continued giving generously — $50,000 to NSW Labor and $70,000 to the Victorian Liberals.  Such donations would have been banned under the defeated Bill.

This is an election year again, of course, and not just federally.  But don’t hold your breath waiting to see who is paying whom.  We won’t know about a donation made to a party in July this year until two years from now.

The best accountability money can buy.