If the likes of Qantas, Lend Lease, Transurban, Telstra, BHP-Billiton, Woolworths, Rio Tinto and Brambles managed to get through 2015-16 without making any political donations, why can’t the big financial services players do the same?

With mining and foreign donations falling away, the financial services sector has been revealed as the most generous industry for Australia’s political parties in the 2015-16 donations data.

Some banks used to have a zero donations policy but, in recent years, all of the big four have emerged near the top of the patronage stakes, even though it is mainly lots of transactions for events.

Very few individual bankers make donations, but the big four plus Macquarie Group disclosed just over $1 million in contributions in 2015-16 and other financial services giants such as Suncorp, ASX Group, IAG and QBE also gave generously.

Here is a list of the 27 biggest public company donors in 2015-16 showing that nine of them hail from financial services.

  1. Village Roadshow: $636,000 in total with a majority to the Liberals but also the single biggest listed company donation to Labor. Two directors, Graham Burke and John Kirby, gave a combined additional $100,000 personally, which was evenly split;
  2. Westfield Corporation: $370,000, which was evenly split and came from the Frank Lowy-chaired entity rather than the Australian-focused Scentre Group, which has an independent chair; 
  3. Macquarie Group: 50 transactions worth $336,000;
  4. Woodside Energy: $250,000 despite having vowed to end political donations; 
  5. ASX Group: hasn’t filed a return but “subscribed” evenly for $220,000 across the majors. Somehow this “subscription” isn’t lawfully regarded as a donation so the donor doesn’t have to report;
  6. ANZ: even-handed with $200,000 in cash in total with no separate data on events;
  7. Crown Resorts: $168,000 with a majority to the Liberals although WA Labor was well supported, presumably to inoculate its Perth casino if there is a change of government next month; 
  8. Westpac: 31 transactions worth $167,000
  9. NAB: 31 transactions worth $166,000 but has now promised to stop all political funding;
  10. Ramsay Health Care: $160,000 in total with only $8000 to Labor; 
  11. Commonwealth Bank: 21 transactions worth $143,000;
  12. Santos: 44 transactions worth $133,000;
  13. Servcorp: $131,000 entirely to the conservatives; 
  14. Macquarie Telecom: $108,000 with only $20,000 for the Liberals; 
  15. Sonic Healthcare: $105,000 spread evenly with The Australian today pointing out the obvious Medicare campaign outcomes they successfully lobbied for; 
  16. QBE Insurance: $89,000 evenly split;
  17. Mineral Resources: in a thin year for the resources sector, Perth-based miner gave $87,000, which was evenly split; 
  18. Primary Health Care: $73,000
  19. Insurance Australia Group: $72,000 evenly split;
  20. Suncorp: $68,000 evenly split; 
  21. Austal: Perth-based ship builder gave $60,000 with only $1500 for Labor;
  22. Origin Energy: $53,000 with a narrow majority to the Liberals;
  23. Vocus Communications: $50,000 to the federal Liberals and nothing to Labor;
  24. Wesfarmers: $43,000 with only $8000 to Labor even though former WA Labor premier Alan Carpenter lodged the return; 
  25. AMP: $42,000 with a narrow majority to Labor;
  26. Schaffer Corp: $40,000 to the WA Liberals; 
  27. Whitehaven Coal: $22,000 to the federal Liberals from the company chaired by former National Party leader Mark Vaile. 

Woodside, Macquarie, NAB, ASX, ANZ and Westpac were the six most generous public companies that are not controlled or influenced by individual Rich Listers and, between them, they have donated more than $1 million in 2015-16.

Under new chairman Ken Henry, NAB claims to have changed its policy to follow the lead of BHP and Rio Tinto in swearing off donations, but still managed to give $166,000 in 31 transactions last financial year.

Will it really fall to zero next year when the likes of competitor Macquarie Group sent personnel to 50 different political events last year, costing shareholders a whopping $336,000? At least this was down on the $463,000 it disclosed to shareholders the previous year.

As Bill Shorten calls for a banking royal commission, to have credibility on this issue he really should demand that Labor officials, candidates and MPs stop inviting financial services companies to their cash-for-access fundraising events.

ANZ has said it will stop making donations but continue to attend events. It had a different approach to its competitors this year, only disclosing the $100,000 cash donation to each major party and not revealing any additional spending on events.

Hopefully, by this time next year, none of the big four will appear when you search for their names on this AEC donor data base

But for that to happen, the major parties will have to surrender their cash-for-access fundraising operations, which are inherently risky — from a corruption and political integrity point of view.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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