The Australian Electoral Commission released political donations data today for 2009-10, giving us an insight into what political parties received from donors between seven and 19 months ago.

The returns released today take us up to June 2010. If you want to know what donors gave the parties between July 1 and the election — or, for example, what effect Julia Gillard’s replacement of Kevin Rudd had on donations to Labor — you’ll have to wait until this time next to find out.

Yep, 2012, to find out what happened in 2010.

Crikey says this every year, but this is a complete bloody disgrace. Online filing should mean donations are revealed to the public within days, not years.

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The people responsible for it are not the Australian Electoral Commission, but the federal Coalition and Senator Steve Fielding, who together blocked John Faulkner’s attempt to reform political donation reporting, including by expediting reporting.

As happened last year, federal Labor (and Queensland and ACT Labor) have elected to report all donations above $1000, in accordance with the requirements of the Faulkner bill, which restored the threshold for political reporting back to where it was before the Howard government dramatically increased it. But this year the NSW Liberals also, to their credit, reported below the threshold, right down to a $300 donation.

Our pro forma lament about the state of political transparency over, let’s have a look at the data.

Some broad lessons from the returns:

1. Federal Liberal fundraising surged dramatically in 2009-10. In 2008-09, Liberal fundraising was dire — it pulled in only $2.9 million, and the party barely made headway in reducing its $4.45 million debt left over from the 2007 election. In 2009-10, the Liberals raked in $6.3 million. Donations would have picked up as the election approached, but huge donations from mining companies and Tony Abbott’s aggression and competitiveness massively strengthened the Liberal war chest. Even so, it was still well short of the comparable pre-election year when the Liberals were in power. In 2006-07, the Howard government raked in over $9 million.

The federal party was $5 million in debt going into the election — including the small matter of $46,000 that it owed to Michael Yabsley, who has since chucked in the role of federal party treasurer in disgust.

2. Federal Labor similarly under-performed on 2006-07, when the building Ruddslide actually pulled in more money than the Liberals ($9.5 million). In 2009-10, it managed only $7.8 million, which was actually less than it took the previous year ($8.21 million but Labor’s national conference, a key fundraiser, was at the end of July 2009, meaning most donations and “Other receipts” for attendance would have been received in 2008-09). Labor went into the election with a $9 million debt.

3. These performances are reflected in the full party returns across all divisions — total Labor funding, federal and state, declined from $46 million to $36 million, while Liberal funding increased slightly from $39 million to $41 million. Basically, the Liberals got a significantly bigger share of a shrinking pie — even with the mining industry aiming for regime change, total cash donations fell from $12 million to $9.8 million — remarkable given 2008-09 was considered a poor year for donations due to the GFC.

4. Labor continues to do well from Chinese-associated interests. Shenlong Australia Investment Group made a $200,00 donation to Labor, and Shangjin and Yi Lin, also based in Chatswood in Sydney, donated $50,000 each. But the NSW Liberals have started to close what has long been a significant fundraising gap. Huang Bingwen of Well Glory Pty Ltd donated $50,000, and the Kingold Group — previously strong supporters of Kevin Rudd, gave $23,000. None appear on the AEC database as having filed a donation disclosure return, as they are required to do, although this may not mean they have not provided one.

5. While ANZ and NAB might be happy with their donations to Labor, they might be rethinking their donations to the Liberals. Both banks gave $100,000 to both sides, and while Labor has, despite its occasionally heated rhetoric, tried to resist all pressure to take any serious steps against the banking cartel, Joe Hockey led the way in challenging the cartel and managed to goad Wayne Swan into some limited measures to strengthen competition.

6. The Coalition continues to enjoy a, um, healthy relationship with Big Tobacco. British American Tobacco gave the NSW Liberals $50,000, just under $45,000 to the Federal Liberals, $16,500 to the WA Liberals, nearly $10,000 to the Victorian Liberals, plus donations to the Nationals as well.

7. Likewise, Labor continues to enjoy a strong relationship with ethanol producer Manildra. Mark Latham sent Dick Honan’s cheques back, but ever since Labor has been very happy to take his money. NSW Labor, in particular, has been very kind to Manildra, slapping a 10% biofuel requirement on NSW motorists that is a bonanza for Manildra. Manildra gave more than $116,000 to NSW Labor, $58,000 to federal Labor and $35,000 to the Queensland party. The federal Liberals — Honan was close to John Howard — only scored $39,000 and the NSW party $15,000, while the Nats fared better with about $35,000 all up.

8. The third biggest disclosed donation after the mining plutocrats’ donations to the Coalition was a whopping $250,000 to the federal Liberals from Primary Healthcare’s Ed Bateman, who campaigned heavily against Labor at the election over its plans to reduce taxpayer revenue for pathology companies. But business ICT company Macquarie Telecom, which is building the NBN in Tasmania and gives to all the larger parties, again massively favoured Labor with a $200,000 donation to the federal party.

The Electoral Commission has improved the searchability of the data and has done its own top-level summaries. A great place to start is the donor summary section, which breaks down donors by party grouping, rather just by party division.

But keep in mind that’s just those who have disclosed they’ve donated. The next job is to compare who parties say have donated to them, against who has disclosed that they did. There’s bound to be a few lapses. More on that as we have a closer look at the data in coming days.