Finance Minister Mathias Cormann (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

It became apparent during 2018’s prime ministerial coup that Peter Dutton’s best mate Mathias Cormann couldn’t count.

Yesterday, the finance minister and Coalition Senate leader also proved that he’s a duck-and-weave merchant of the highest order when it comes to political donations.

Greens deputy leader Larissa Waters asked Cormann the following straight-forward question in the Senate:

The government accepted half a million dollars in fossil fuel donations in an election year — the most recent election year. Half of that was from Adani, some of which was donated prior to groundwater approvals being issued and some of which was donated after those groundwater approvals were issued. Given the climate crisis that we are in, when will you give the money back?

Cormann replied as follows:

Senator Waters has asked me about donations, and I’m reminded of the single biggest corporate donation ever in the history of the Commonwealth. Where did that go? Did that go to the Labor Party? No. Did that go to the Liberal Party? No. Did that go to the National Party? No. Did that go to One Nation? No. It went to the Australian Greens — $1.6 million to the Australian Greens. You are absolute hypocrites!

This is total garbage, so after a couple of tweets to Cormann elicited no response, Crikey sent his PR team the following email at 4.27pm yesterday:

“Mathias claimed in the Senate today that Graeme’s Wood’s $1.6m donation to the Greens in 2011 was the biggest corporate donation in Australian history.

“This is wrong given that property developer Isaac Wakil gave the Federal Liberals $4.1m in 2018-19 — see this story.

“Could you advise if Mathias intends to correct the record in the Senate or whether he stands by the statement. If so, what are the grounds for claiming Graeme Wood’s donation remains the biggest in history (it was also smaller than Malcolm Turnbull’s donation and many of Clive Palmer’s donations)?”

At around 6pm last night, Cormann replied with the following public tweet:

A spokesperson for Cormann has since come back to say that “the minister’s response to Senator Waters’ question … was in the context of parties represented in the Senate. Clive Palmer’s party is not represented in the Senate”.

Now Cormann is also the special minister of state so he, more than anyone else in the parliament, should be across the detail of our political donations system.

Where do we start on his claim that Wood remains number one? Exhibit A is Clive’s Palmer’s Mineralogy, which declared the following individual donations to Palmer’s United Australia Party in 2018-19:

  • $2.34m: Dec 21, 2018
  • $23.35m: Dec 29, 2018
  • $5.48m: Dec 30, 2018
  • $3.17m: Dec 30, 2018
  • $2.19m: Feb 19, 2019
  • $6.3m: Mar 20, 2019
  • $3.1m: Mar 27, 2019
  • $10m: Mar 28, 2019
  • $7m: May 10, 2019
  • $5m: June 19, 2019
  • $4.2m: June 28, 2019.

Okay, using Cormann’s logic, Graeme Wood may have made the twelfth biggest single donation in history. But this idea that Wakil’s $4.1 million for the Liberals is somehow comparable with Wood’s $1.6 million Greens donation is patently ridiculous.

Wakil’s return to the AEC disclosed 34 different transactions in 2018-19, ranging between $1.5 million on December 24, 2018 and $1736 on May 28, 2019.

When a public company launches a takeover, or any ordinary punter buys a house, they might pay for it using multiple transactions on different days. But ultimately the figure you should mention is the total value of the transaction, not what happened on any given day.

We look forward to Cormann correcting the record and even, heaven forbid, making a sensible contribution to the political donations debate in the Senate next week.

The Greens are right. Pocketing $247,000 from Adani in 2018-19 is clearly dodgy and these tainted funds should be returned.

Adani is yet to reply to Crikey’s queries about how it was able to donate given it is a foreign company and foreign donations were supposedly banned in legislation passed in November 2018.

It was up to German financial services giant Allianz (market capitalisation €95 billion) to clarify this issue when it responded to an email query yesterday about its 43 contributions worth $149,350 to political parties in 2018-19:

Donations are made by Allianz Australia Insurance Limited, an entity incorporated in Australia, which is not a foreign donor as defined in section 287AA of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 and is therefore permitted to make political donations.

Peter Fray

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