The annual data dump of political donations has landed, providing an extraordinarily belated glimpse of who is propping up political parties. But the Australian Electoral Commission still isn’t telling us who backed the campaigns on the eve of the federal election — the data stops on June 30; anything after that won’t be released for another 12 months.
The disclosures — released as a searchable form by the AEC — shows that the Liberal Party easily out-raised Labor, garnering over $56 million at the federal and state level during the year, plus nearly $17 million from the Liberal National Party in Queensland, and another $1.8 million from the Country Liberals in the Northern Territory. In contrast, the ALP nationally raised $54.7 million — up from the $49 million recorded in 2011-12 but still dwarfed by the Coalition and well below the $80 million-plus the ALP raised in 2010-11, a year with federal, New South Wales and Victorian elections. The Nationals raised over $8 million across the country as well, just slightly more than the Greens.
As usual, federal Labor has submitted all donations and other receipts (e.g. proceeds from fundraising events not captured as donations under federal laws) over $1000, in line with its commitment to lowering the reporting threshold for donations. Its big corporate donors were ANZ ($80,000 donation), logistics giant Asciano ($66,000 via “other receipts”), the ASX ($110,000 in “other receipts”), Inghams ($250,000 donation), Clubs NSW ($66,000 in “other receipts”), Rex Airlines (of which former National MP John Sharp is deputy chairman) via a $250,000 donation; Jefferson Investments ($55,000 donation), resources company Energy Exploration ($55,000 in “other receipts”), Westfield ($150,000 donation) and Woodside ($110,000 in “other receipts”).
Labor had to work for its funds — the overwhelming bulk of its funding at the federal and state levels came not from donations but from fundraisers such as dinners with cabinet, to which Labor substantially dropped the price of tickets as former prime minister Julia Gillard’s defeat became ever more certain.
In contrast, the Liberals (which don’t report below the then-current threshold of $12,100) reaped huge amounts from straight donations. Australian Hotels Association Victoria gave $100,000, Balmoral Pastoral $200,000, Clubs NSW $100,000, Tory peer Lord Robert Edmiston (who didn’t file a return to the Electoral Commission as required by law) $76,000, waste disposal company JJ Richards ($150,000), Ros Packer a whopping $580,000, $45,000 from Philip Morris (Prime Minister Tony Abbott has since banned tobacco donations), Richard Pratt $250,000, Village Roadshow $120,000, Trepang Services $120,000 and Washington Soul Pattinson $250,000. That’s just a taste of a lengthy list of outright donations to the Liberals, in addition to the money generated by their fundraising (which included $110,000 from businessman Harold Mitchell).
So, while Labor struggled to sell seats at dinners with Gillard, the Liberals were awash with donations from Australia’s corporate elite anticipating an Abbott victory. NSW Labor, however, once again benefited from the largesse of Chinese donors. Sydney-based Malaysian Chinese businessman William Chiu gave $50,000. Chinese property developer Huang Changran gave $150,000 and his company Yuhu $100,000 (they gave smaller amounts to the NSW Liberals); the hitherto-unknown Luo Chuangxiong gave $150,000, and food importer Wei Wah International Trading gave NSW Labor $200,000.
As always, Labor also drew strongly on union donations and receipts — over $900,000 from branches of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association, nearly $400,000 from branches of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, $350,000 from the Australian Services Union, around $290,000 from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, and $370,000-odd from United Voice.
The Victorian ALP also secured nearly $3.3 million in other receipts from a Melbourne company “Zhongfu Investments”, understood to be the result of the sale of that branch’s head office.
Clive Palmer, for once, has a short return — and an interesting one, which shows him donating $42,000 to the LNP in June last year, well after his falling out with the party and in the middle of his efforts to establish his own political party.
The Greens, as usual, relied heavily on public funding; their only major individual donation was $100,000 from IT businessman Norman Pater. Interestingly, the Victorian branch of the Greens, which managed to re-elected Adam Bandt and add another senator to the party’s ranks in September, was an underperformer at least until the end of the financial year, raising less than $700,000 compared to nearly twice that from NSW and Western Australia. Even the Queensland branch raised more than the Victorian Greens.
We won’t learn how the return of Kevin Rudd affected funding for both the ALP and the Coalition after June 30 until this time next year, when we’ll see the rest of donations for the period up until the September election. That’s the effect of our antiquated political donation laws. In an era when online disclosure of donations would take a matter of minutes for parties, we’re still waiting well over a year to find out who’s trying to influence democracy in Australia.
But no matter what, it’s clear that as Abbott closed in on victory last year, his party had the upper hand when it came to big-dollar donations from some of Australia’s richest people and companies.