The collapse of commodity prices hasn’t merely hurt mining companies — it’s hurt the political parties that depend on mining company donations, most particularly the Liberal Party.

Once a powerful force in political fundraising that poured millions into party coffers, the mining sector vacated the field in 2014-15 as commodity prices caused junior miners to collapse and the big firms struggle to break even. Some high-profile names and former big donors from the mining industry, and the mining industry peak bodies, are nowhere to be seen, including stalwarts who have previously given to parties outside election years. The Western Australian Liberals managed to secure some donations from the likes of Minara, but these were well down on previous years.

The energy sector has been having a lean time as well, but it has hung in there to continue to donate to the parties. Surprisingly, the recent tradition of energy sector contributions massively favouring the Coalition ended in 2014-15. Whereas once the conservative side of politics could rely on getting twice as much or more from energy companies as Labor, last year the parties were far more even, with the Coalition getting around $350,000 and Labor around $320,000. The overall amount of energy sector donations is also well down even on previous non-election years. But Santos shareholders might be wondering why, as the company’s share price has fallen off a cliff, it still found nearly $170,000 to hand to the Coalition and Labor ($90,000-odd to the former, $80,000 to the latter), while Woodside continued its traditional largesse, with just over $150,000 to the Coalition and $110,000 to Labor.

Unlike the miners and energy companies, the finance sector has continued to perform strongly, handing the Coalition over $1 million and Labor just under $550,000, with Macquarie Bank and NAB both handing around $240,000 to the Coalition and $76,000 and $36,000 respectively to Labor; ANZ gave the Coalition $100,000 and Labor $80,000; Insurance Australia carefully hedged its bets and gave $33,000 to each side, while Westpac favoured the Coalition $103,000 to $76,000. The Commonwealth splits its contributions more evenly, $53,000 to $47,000. The Financial Services Council is always careful to send some cash Labor’s way but still favoured the Coalition $57,000 to $36,000.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey