There are always dozens of interesting stories in the campaign finance figures, which creates challenges in terms of how to cover them all. To cover more ground, faster, here are six interesting snippets:
1. Vic Libs booming with shares
The Victorian Liberal Party remains Australia’s most asset-rich political division with its $50 million-plus share portfolio, which goes back to the sale of radio station 3XY in the 1980s. This is stark contrast to the NSW Liberal Party, which has $10 million of debts, $7 million of which is owed to Westpac. The Victorian portfolio is managed by the Cormack Foundation, and Crikey has tracked its contributions over the years. With $4.46 million of the $5.4 million in fund earnings provided to the Victorian Liberals in 2014-15, total contributions are now almost $35 million. Nice. And despite claims of conflict of interest, Cormack has retained its Transurban shares even as the Victorian Liberals were doing major deals with the company. The Age today erroneously reported Cormack’s dividends from blue chip companies as “donations”. This was a common mistake. Liberal donations did not fall by $50 million to $75 million in 2014-15 — that was total receipts — and the biggest contribution in the previous year was taxpayer funding for the federal election.
2. No wonder Abbott attended Paul Marks’ birthday party
Just how much did mining mogul Paul Marks give to the federal Liberal Party in 2014-15, a year in which Brian Loughnane struggled to bring in much cash as Abbott floundered? Marks, pictured here with Tony Abbott and Chinese President Xi Jinping, doesn’t appear to have filed a return, and, at face value, it looks like he donated another $325,000 in 2014-15. No wonder Abbott spent taxpayer funds flying on an RAAF jet to attend the birthday party of Marks at Huntingdale in March 2015, as the Herald Sun reported in this splash. At that point, we only knew about the first $750,000 donated by Marks. However, buried in the Herald Sun’s story on page 2 today is the revelation that Marks also controls a company called Brunswick Property Pty Ltd, which donated an additional $600,000 in 2014-15. At $925,000 in one year, that makes the Rich Lister the biggest individual third-party donor for 2014-15, excluding Clive Palmer’s donations to himself. What we don’t know is whether Marks will keep backing the Libs with Malcolm Turnbull in charge.
3. Nick Xenophon bankrolls own party
He’s hardly Clive Palmer, but Nick Xenophon is lending money to his start-up party, The Nick Xenophon Team. The NXT 2014-15 return shows that he is a creditor to the tune of $49,519. Despite being based in South Australia, his major donor was a Melbourne-based company called Golden Lineage Pty Ltd, which coughed up $100,000. Wealthy builder and South Australian Senator Bob Day was also quite generous to Family First, giving more than $50,000, and The Australian Financial Review reported today that Victorian state Liberal backbencher Murray Thompson, son of former premier Lindsay Thompson, gave $42,084 to his party. Maybe that’s how you survive preselection challenges after 24 years on the backbench?
4. Vic Libs show how to hide donations
If you’re a developer who benefitted from a permit issued by the permissive former Victorian planning minister Matthew Guy, the easiest way to anonymously donate is to stay below the $12,800 threshold or let one of the party’s many fundraising forums harvest the donation for you.
Who knows which corporate interests are behind these donations?
- Team 2000: $167,000
- Kooyong 200 Club: $100,000
- Platinum Forum: $138,000
- Parliamentary Liberal Party Communications Committee: $350,000
- Berwick Ranges 500 Club: $80,000
- Murray 250 Club: $55,000
- Monash Club: $45,000
- Higgins 200 Club: $35,000
- Enterprise Club: $20,000
The Victorian Labor Party is just as bad with its Progressive Business forum providing $636,272 and another outfit, the Toorak-registered Labor Services and Holdings Trust, pitching in a tidy $500,000 in 2014-15.
5. Ros Packer does it again
Interests associated with the Packer family have contributed many millions to Australian politicians over the years, as well as hiring quite a few of them. ABC radio’s flagship program The World Today has only covered the annual donations dump in five of the past 17 years, but they were interested in PBL’s contributions to the new Bracks Labor government in 2001. Yesterday’s figures reveal that James Packer’s mum, Ros Packer, gave the federal Liberal Party another $100,000 in 2014-15, although this was nothing like the $570,000 given three years ago. James was still quite generous through his Crown Resorts business, which gave more than $100,000 in a bipartisan manner in 2014-15, although none of it was through NSW, where developer and gambling donations are illegal, and he is planning the biggest development in Sydney.
6. What is a ‘subscription’ to a political party?
The deliberately opaque disclosure regime is hard enough to follow at the best of times, but the federal Labor Party has broadened the categories from “donation” and “other receipts” to something they are describing as a “subscription”. The ALP return discloses the following corporate “subscriptions”, which helped them out-raise the Abbott-handicapped federal Liberals by 50% in 2014-15:
- ASX: $110,000
- Sean Tomlinson: $110,000
- Woodside Energy: $110,000
- Asciano: $66,000
- Clubs NSW: $66,000
- Origin Energy: $27,500
- Santos: $27,500
- CBA: $27,500
- PwC: $27,500
- Westpac: $27,500
- Coca Cola Amatil: $27,500