Clive Palmer (Image: AAP/Dan Peled)

A $50 million election war chest — its biggest since Kevin ’07 — was insufficient to get Labor over the line at last year’s federal election. Today’s political donation data, released by the AEC, shows that the Liberal Party able to overcome its leadership turmoil to equal its main opponent’s fundraising effort, political donation data released by the AEC today shows. But Clive Palmer outspent both of them with the biggest ever intervention in Australian politics.

With Bill Shorten expected to win over a chaotic Coalition last May, federal Labor dramatically upped its fundraising and turned over just under $50 million in the course of 2018-19, its best year since 2007-08 when the prospect of a Rudd-led Labor victory fueled a surge in donations.

But unlike in 2007, when the Howard government struggled to lure business support, the federal Liberal Party was able to tap into the pockets of vested interests worried by Labor policies, and turned over $48.2 million.

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Both figures include $25-26 million in public funding, paid after the election based on primary votes received, from the Australian Electoral Commission.

Labor still outspent the Liberals $50 million to $43.6 million, federally. But separately, the federal Nationals raised $3.1 million and spent $3.6 million. The Queensland LNP also raised $13.2 million and spent $14.7 million, compared to $10.3 million in receipts and $9.3 million in spending by Queensland Labor, meaning combined Coalition parties managed to narrowly outspend Labor over the course of the year.

But Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party spent $89.5 million — nearly all of it provided by Palmer’s company Mineralogy — in an advertising blitz aimed, Palmer later said, at keeping Bill Shorten out of the Lodge.

In NSW, where the Berejiklian government defeated NSW Labor in March, the Liberals massively out-raised and out-spent NSW Labor: the NSW Liberals raised a staggering $48.9 million (including around $14 million in public funding received after the election) and spent $48.4 million, utterly dwarfing NSW Labor, which turned over $19.5 million (including around $8 million in public funding) and spent just $18.2 million.

The NSW Nationals also produced a powerful fundraising performance, generating receipts of over $9 million (including $5 million in public funding) and spending nearly $12 million.

It was a more even battle in the Victorian state election in November 2018, won in resounding fashion by Daniel Andrews. Victorian Labor spent $29 million during 2018-19, funded by receipts of $31.3 million, including $12 million in post-election public funding. The Victorian Liberals spent $32.7 million during the year off $36 million in receipts ($9 million of which was public funding), but also went deep into hock, racking up $9 million in debt from NAB during the year.

The expenditure figures do not relate entirely to election spending, but the size of the spending gives an indication of how much money the party branches directed at their respective campaigns.

Palmer’s $89.5 million spend was by far the greatest amount ever spent in an Australian election campaign — dwarfing both sides’ spending and more than doubling the spending of the major parties in some recent elections. It meant Labor, despite being heavily tipped to win, faced well over $100 million in campaign funds designed to stop it from winning power.

Palmer ended up spending over $1000 per vote his party received — but given his stated goal was to prevent Labor from winning, he may deem his staggering expenditure a success.

Money dominates Australian politics, now more than ever.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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