A lot of the money spent on our two major political parties in the last financial year came from expected and obvious places — big business, unions, industry associations and well-known associated entities of the parties themselves.
However, a few very influential donors might not be quite so familiar, and are definitely worth knowing about.
The Greenfields Foundation
The Liberal-affiliated Greenfields Foundation brought in $950,000 to the Liberal Party in 2018-19. But it’s worth noting that Greenfields has a long and controversial history with the party.
Back in ’90s, the foundation took over a $4.6 million debt from then-Liberal party federal treasurer Ron Walker, after he had paid out a Liberal Party loan with the National Australia Bank.
While the Libs insisted at the time it was an independent charitable foundation, Labor argued it was “just the Liberal Party’s old fundraising arm, the old Free Enterprise Foundation, reborn in a new impenetrable form”.
The Free Enterprise Foundation had donated undisclosed funds for the Liberal party until the loophole that allowed it to do so was closed.
The AEC investigated and while it found nothing conclusive, a 1998 report did mention that “it is apparent that a person, or in certain circumstances a corporation, who wished to avoid full and open disclosure could do so by a series of transactions based on the Greenfields model”. It took no further action based on its findings.
However, Greenfields was at least designated as an associated entity — that is, an entity that operates wholly or to a significant extent for the benefit of a political party — the following year.
TWAAJ Investments Pty Ltd
Perhaps the most mysterious of Labor’s donors is TWAAJ. It was registered in 2015 and cropped up for the first time in the 2017-18 financial year, providing $110,000 to the ALP under “other receipts” — what the AEC classifies any payment for which the donor technically receives something in return.
This year, it provided an identical amount, again under “other receipts”. The company itself has not submitted any returns. It has no website we could find, but appears to be based in Melbourne, with its address on the AEC website listed as a PO Box on St Kilda Road.
Sixmilebridge Pty Limited
Sixmilebridge spent just under $140,000 on a variety of conservative parties in 2018-19: $5000 thrown on the fire that was Australian Conservatives; $20,000 for the Nationals. The rest went to the Liberal party.
The company is associated with former concrete magnate Rodney O’Neil. Yesterday’s data fits with Sixmilebridge’s general pattern of support — in 2017, the company donated to the same three parties (although much less).
Dr Roland Williams, CBE
Williams gave the Liberals $100,000. He has a long history with resources — indeed, he received a Queen’s birthday honour last year for his services to sector.
He spent four years as the CEO of Shell Australia in the second half of the ’90s. He was chairman of the Institution for Chemical Engineers, chairman of the Advisory Council to the Centre for Energy and Resources Law at the University of Melbourne, and president of the Business/Higher Education round table, as well as a founding member of the Board of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Sugolena Pty Ltd
The Liberal party’s second-biggest donor — behind its fundraising arm the Cormack Foundation — was Sugolena Pty Ltd, the company of Sydney-based property tycoon and philanthropist Isaac Wakil.
Having sat on a swathe of derelict buildings in Sydney CBD (some of which had been unoccupied since the 1970s), Wakil and his late wife Susan sold off $200 million worth of property in 2014 to fund their charitable foundation.
The reclusive couple made a $20 million donation to the Art Gallery of New South Wales and $35 million to the University of Sydney. In 2018-19, Sugolena donated $4.1 million to various branches of the Liberal party.
The Indian tech multinational made its first donation to the Australian political system in 2018-19, and it didn’t hold back, donating just under $400,000 across Labor and the Liberals.