AMP, one of Australia’s largest wealth management companies, has revealed it became one of the Tasmanian Liberal Party’s major donors because the party “began a public policy forum” that it considered “relevant to our business”. However, AMP, Premier Will Hodgman, Senator Eric Abetz and the Tasmanian Liberal Party all remain tight-lipped about what the “policy forum” does, how often it meets and who attends.
In a return submitted to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) in mid-May and recently made public, the Canberra-based AMP Services revealed it had donated $9900 to the Tasmanian Liberal Party in early December 2014.
AMP’s political donations -- which amounted to $72,450 in the 2014-15 financial year -- were split between the two major parties. The Labor Party’s national office was given $40,550 and the Liberal Party’s national office and two branches received a total of $33,800.
However, the Tasmanian branch of the Liberal Party was the stand-out winner of the company’s donations to state-based branches of the Liberal Party.
While the Tasmanian Liberals were given $9900, its NSW-based sibling received only $1650. No other state-based branch of any political party received any donation from AMP Services.
The last time AMP Services donated to the Tasmanian branch of the Liberal Party was 12 years earlier, and that was a modest $2500.
According to AMP, the company’s sudden interest in funding the Tasmanian Liberals was due to the recent creation of a forum for corporate donors.
“The Liberal Party in Tasmania recently began a public policy forum which is a good program and relevant to our business, so we participated,” AMP’s director of media and community relations, Julia Quinn, wrote in an email to Tasmanian Times.
However, Quinn did not respond when asked how the “public policy forum” was “relevant” to AMP’s business. Nor did she respond when Tasmanian Times asked what the forum does and how often it meets.
Quinn stated only that company representatives attend political and public policy events “in order to meet key political figures, build relationships and participate in the conversations to ensure the views of our customers and shareholders are represented”.
Adrian Howard, AMP’s senior media manager of public affairs declined to respond when asked what policy issues has AMP raised at these forums on behalf of “customers and shareholders”.
Howard also declined to respond when asked whether AMP had made a further donation to the Tasmanian Liberals in the current financial year.
However, Howard suggested questions about the forum were best directed to the Tasmanian Liberal Party.
Representatives of the Tasmanian Liberal Party were unwilling to address questions about what the secret "public policy forum" does and who attends.
Tasmanian Times repeatedly emailed the Tasmanian government’s communications office seeking clarification on whether Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman or any of the ministers in his government had attended forum meetings, how often they had attended and which companies were represented at the meetings.
Despite having the questions for five days, the Tasmanian government did not respond.
Tasmanian Times emailed the media officer for Senator Eric Abetz, the leader of the Tasmanian Liberals Senate team, seeking clarification on whether he is aware of the forum or has attended meetings of it. Despite repeated requests, there was no response from Abetz’s office.
Nor was there a response from the Tasmanian Liberal Party’s state secretary, Sam McQuestin, to a series of questions about the forum and who attended.
While AMP was legally obliged to file its return as a donor to the AEC by November 17, 2015, it failed to lodge its return until May 17 this year. “The delay in filing AMP’s return to the AEC was an inadvertent error,” Quinn stated.
Section 315 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 requires that a donor that doesn’t submit a disclosure return “is guilty of an offence punishable, upon conviction, by a fine not exceeding” $1000.
However, even though AMP’s return was submitted to the AEC six months after it was legally due, the AEC does not enforce the provision.
AMP is also a member of the Financial Services Council (FSC), a financial industry lobby group, which is another of the Tasmanian Liberals largest donors. Since the FSC started making political donations over seven years ago, it has contributed a total of $41,870 to the Tasmanian Branch of the Liberal Party.
*This article was originally published at Tasmanian Times