The finance industry remains the biggest source of corporate donations to the major parties, but the Coalition’s once potent advantage in corporate fundraising was partially erased in 2016-17.

An analysis of annual donation disclosures data from the Australian Electoral Commission showed that the finance industry gave around $857,000 to the Liberal and National parties, and just over $705,000 to the Labor Party. That was about $150,000 less than its total contribution in 2015-16. ANZ — with a straight $150,000 donation to each side, was the biggest donor along with Macquarie Bank, which gave a total of $157,000 to the Coalition and $93,000 to Labor. Labor’s share of the finance industry contribution is around the same as in 2015-16, but significantly up from 2013-15, when its share dropped below 40%.

The mining industry, however, remained resolutely pro-Coalition, with nearly $650,000 in donations (led by Aus Gold Mining with over $360,000) compared to just $60,000 for Labor. The Minerals Council gave over $50,000 to the Coalition compared to $6700 to Labor, but also spent $1.3 million advertising for its Coalition-friendly agenda. The Business Council, however, spent just $148,00 spruiking the government’s agenda (one of the reasons for Malcolm Turnbull’s rage at the business sector for not helping the government enough) — a big contrast with the over $800,000 GetUp spent backing progressive candidates and trying to unseat Liberal MPs.

Donations from the health sector shifted toward Labor, evening up a longstanding preference for the industry to favour the Liberals. Both sides received around $152,000 from health companies, a very different outcome to previous years when the late Paul Ramsay or his company would throw hundreds of thousands of dollars at the Liberal Party; Healthscope is now the only company to strongly favour the Coalition, while Primary Healthcare gave nearly $40,000 to Labor and just $23,000 to the Coalition.

Another source of big donations is the energy sector. Once heavily disposed to donate the conservative side of politics, in the last couple of years, contributions have evened up there as well, with the Coalition getting $310,000 and Labor $290,000, with contributions dominated by the relatively even-handed Woodside; the collapse of Linc Energy has also removed a big Liberal donor from that sector.

Yesterday’s data also enables us to compare the amount of money party branches disclose as donations or “other receipts” compared to their overall revenue. The difference is dark money, whose origin we don’t know about because the party hasn’t been obliged under our problematic disclosure laws to reveal it. Because the federal branches received tens of millions in taxpayer funding in the wake of the 2016 election, there’s very little at that level. But it’s a very different story at the state level. These are the major party branches, the amount they disclosed, and their overall revenue:


Despite federal Labor’s commitment to greater transparency, its state branches are the worst offenders when it comes to dark money. Overall, however, the two major parties come up, by coincidence, about the same overall in that the source of nearly a quarter of their combined revenue is unknown.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey