Billionaire Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer ratcheted up his political donations to the conservative side of politics to over $1 million in 2009-10, despite the Liberal Party declaring his cash persona non grata mid-way through the audit period, according to data released by the Australian Electoral Commission this morning.

The political activist increased his largesse to the Tories to $1.028 million last financial year from $840,000 in 2008-09, with the money spread over eight branches of the Liberal and National parties. The massive cash transfer included a payment of $500,000 to the federal Liberals and is sure to draw a stern rebuke from Labor and increase pressure for a new wave of political donations reform.

In the wake of a blaze of negative publicity following Palmer’s injection last year, the federal Liberal Party told him to keep his cash in future, although it appears most of the $1 million had already been spent. At the time Liberal shadow minister of state Michael Ronaldson said the moulah created “a perception of undue influence over a political party” and that he didn’t believe the money was appropriate in the future.

The AEC disclosures reveal Palmer — via his entity Mineralogy for all but one donation — provided about 20% of the Nationals’ total fundraising, with the resources baron accused last week of sidestepping proper processes by allegedly lobbying WA Nats leader Brendan Grylls directly over a $45 million environmental bond.

(His son Michael, who failed in his bid for the state seat of Nudgee at the 2009 Queensland election, kicked in $23,732 to the Liberal-National Party out of his own wallet).

The increase was mirrored among the broader Australian resources sector which jacked up its political donations to a record $2,431,732 for the period ending June 30 2010, coinciding with a heated political debate over the Resources Super Profits Tax.

While individual donations aren’t dated, the RSPT debate climaxed in May and June amid immense industry and lobby group pressure and was later junked in favour of the Mineral Resources Rent Tax, which was in turn reviewed by former BHP chairman Don Argus. However, most of the sector’s cash went not to Labor but to the Coalition, suggesting many miners thought a change of government was the best way to ring-fence their profits.

The total haul for the two major political parties from the resources sector increased by over a million dollars, from $1,362,368 in 2008-09 thanks to Palmer and other massive cash splashes of $400,000 from Straits Resources to the Western Australian branch of the Liberal Party and $100,000 to the Federal Libs. The donation seems curious because Straits’ copper and gold mines are located in New South Wales and Indonesia. But the federal Liberal Party also received a $500,000 donation from its WA outpost, which could have included the company’s donation. Straits was acquired by Thai mining conglomerate PTT last November for $544 million.

Another fresh Liberal donor, Western Areas — which runs nickel mines in Western Australia and recently announced it had smashed production targets for 2010 — also tipped in $400,000 to conservative coffers. The company earned $US286 million in the second half of last year, drawn mostly from its Forrestania Nickel Project located 400km east of Perth.

Among other major donors, former Foxleigh Mining Queensland rich-lister Paul Darrouzet, who has also found some success on the rally car circuit, chipped in $100,000 to the Queensland Liberal-National Party. Labor wasn’t immune to the resources plunge, drawing in $326,255 from a bevy of donors — most prominently Dick Honan’s Manildra Resources, which tipped in $172,100 across three branches of the party in donations and dinner junkets, possibly to thank the Bruvvas for NSW’s mandated 10% ethanol requirement.

Amusingly, the Minerals Councils of Australia, which spent $17 million on a media campaign to destroy Labor’s RSPT, also donated a token $7,725 back to federal Labor. BHP outlayed about $4.2 million on the blitz, while the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies, backers of small and mid-sized miners, kicked in $257,000 for a radio campaign.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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