A week ago today the annual deluge of political donations data was dumped on the AEC website but it wasn’t until this morning that we finally got a decent story on it in the mainstream media.
The Australian’s Natasha Bita went back over a decade of returns from Labor Holdings Pty Ltd and concluded that this secretive Queensland investment arm has pumped $25 million into the ALP’s federal and state campaigns since 2000.
However, Bita took a strange angle in concluding that the richest political division in the country wouldn’t be contributing to federal Labor’s re-election campaign this year when it was Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan themselves who largely came up with the strategy that created the huge asset base in the first place.
If Rudd and Swan fear they are in danger of losing office, which would require a large swing against them in Queensland, of course they would help themselves to a few extra millions dollars from Labor Holdings to see off any major challenge from Tony Abbott.
The directors of Labor Holdings, led by chairman John Bird, a Mackay-based accountant and deputy chairman of Ergon Energy, are simply appointees of the ruling Rudd-Swan AWU faction in Queensland. It’s a bit like suggesting News Ltd executive chairman John Hartigan could tell Rupert Murdoch he’s not sending any more dividends across to New York.
The Labor Holdings 2008-09 return does suggest it struggled somewhat through the GFC although unsourced claims the net asset position was down to $20 million-$30 million seem hard to believe. After all, the margin loan with ComSec was $10.4 million as at June 30 last year and the fund had no trouble stumping up $4.2 million for the Queensland state campaign.
After managing the $16 million from the sale of 4KQ in 1987 so conservatively over the past 23 years, it seems hard to believe the Queensland Bruvvas would really be running a portfolio that was geared up to 35% at the end of the GFC.
We would know the answers to all these questions if Australia had greater transparency around campaign finance but the push for better disclosure seems to have stalled since the Coalition blocked reform in the Senate and Queensland Labor Senator Joe Ludwig replaced John Faulkner as special minister of state last year.
While Nathan Rees talked about banning all donations before losing the poisoned chalice in NSW and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has banned ministers from pursuing cash for access deals at fundraisers, Federal Labor seems to have lost interest in fixing campaign finance.
Indeed, it was most disturbing to see Joe Ludwig’s dad Bill Ludwig, a Labor Holdings director and long-time factional powerbroker in Queensland, tell The Australian this morning that the investment fund’s net asset position was “none of your business, really; it’s the party’s business”.
Political party balance sheet disclosure, as is standard in Western democracies, remains hidden from view in Australia yet most volunteer kindergarten committees have to disclose their net asset position on an annual basis to the various state governments.
Talk about hypocrisy. Without specific disclosure, all we can do is speculate. I reckon the ALP and its affiliated unions have net assets of between $500 million and $1 billion, making them arguably the richest political movement in the developed democratic world.
*Listen to Stephen Mayne and Queensland academic Graham Orr debate Australia’s campaign disclosure laws on The National Interest with Radio National’s Peter Mares on Friday.