(Image: Adobe)

2018-19 was another big year for donations from the Big Four consulting firms, with Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) together reaching a new record in donations to the major parties.

The firms jointly donated $1.02 million to political parties’ state and federal branches during the year, according to data released yesterday by the Australian Electoral Commission. That was up from $916,000 in 2017-18.

Big Four donations have steadily risen in recent years to the point where they represent one of the largest sources of political contributions.

The biggest donor by far was PwC, which gave over $386,000 in contributions to the major parties — $200,000 to the Coalition and the remainder to Labor branches.

That was a substantial increase over 2017-18, when the consulting and auditing giant gave $291,000 to the parties. EY also increased its contributions substantially, from $228,000 to $270,000, and leant more toward Labor, giving $157,000 to various Labor branches.

Deloitte gave $176,000, down from $182,000 the previous year, while KPMG gave $190,000, down from $213,000.

In all cases, the donations represent extraordinary value for money for firms that have been routinely criticised for conflicts of interest between auditing and consulting roles; displacing higher quality public sector sources of advice; and providing the resources for systemic tax avoidance by major corporations that have stripped governments across the globe of hundreds of billions of dollars in tax revenue.

In 2018-19, PWC secured over 250 contracts worth at least $192 million from the federal government, according to the Austender website.

Seen as a return on investment, that’s $494 in federal contracts for every dollar donated — and that does not include the contracts secured from state and territory governments as well, which may well be worth as much again or more as federal contracts.

But KPMG garnered the best return: with contracts worth $289.4 million in 2018-19 from the federal government alone, that amounts to over $1500 in contracts for each dollar donated.

Deloitte, which obtained $174.6 million in federal contracts, managed $992 for every dollar spent, while EY, the perennial also-ran of the Big Four when it comes to Australian governments contracts, has to settle for just $340.

As the big consulting firms have come to dominate donations, 2018-19 marked the end of a long era of big bank donation dominance.

With the Liberal Party having for the most part ended its decades of regulatory protection for the banks, both the Commonwealth Bank and ANZ have now joined the NAB in not donating to political parties at all.

Only Westpac handed just over $200,000 to the parties — split $125,000 to the Coalition and $75,000 to Labor.

Macquarie Bank, which is a traditional big donor and which escaped the odium of the banking royal commission, gave $130,000 to Labor and $125,000 to the Coalition (reversing a trend in recent years to favour the Coalition).

Big bank front group the Financial Services Council also had a relatively quiet year, donating just $87,000. The Australian Banking Association has lifted its contributions in recent years and gave $98,000 to the parties, but remains a relatively minor player.

As the big four banks have withdrawn from the donations game, they’ve been replaced with another foursome even bigger and potentially more lucrative — lucrative for both political parties, and the donors themselves.

Peter Fray

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