The finance sector has re-emerged as the dominant force in political donations, led by Australia’s biggest financial institutions.
A breakdown of yesterday’s 2019-20 political donations data from the Electoral Commission shows the financial services industry was the biggest single contributor to the major parties in a year constrained by the pandemic.
The big banks, financial lobby groups like the Financial Services Council and major insurance and credit firms delivered over $1.6 million to the major parties, with around $900,000 going to the Liberal and National parties. The five major banks and their lobby group the ABA provided $870,000 of that, slightly favouring the Coalition, bolstered by the return of NAB to the ranks of donors.
The effort, in a difficult year for political fundraising, was timely, given the government’s eagerness to support the banking sector and ditch the Hayne royal commission recommendations.
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The big four consulting firms have in recent years eclipsed the big banks in donations, but pulled back due to COVID in 2019-20, handing less than $500,000 to parties, with more than half — $276,000 — going to Labor federal and state branches.
The banks’ closest rival was the mining and energy sector, which contributed $1.1 million, with Clive Palmer contributing a further $5.9 million to his own party. Most mining and energy donations — $670,000 — went to the Coalition.
Unfazed by the pandemic, Woodside, which operates as a de facto arm of the Australian government, complete with Australian intelligence services working for it against developing countries, significantly increased its donations and handed over $330,000 to the politicians of both sides who labour so hard for it.
The big hospitality lobby groups and gaming corporations — which Stephen Mayne covers off elsewhere today — were, as always, potent donors, coughing up just over $1 million.
The impact of the pandemic on donations is evident from a breakdown of the timing of contributions. By the end of December 2019, contributions had totalled just under $12 million. In the ensuing six months, only a further $6.1 million made it into party coffers, with donors giving less, and less often as the pandemic set in and lockdowns spread.
The right-wing SDA remains the most potent union contributor to Labor: the Shoppies gave $249,000 to Victorian Labor and $300,000 to NSW Labor. The left-wing United Workers’ Union gave $191,000 to Victorian Labor, while John Setka’s CFMEU Construction Victorian branch gave $174,000.
Queensland Labor received $200,000 from the Shoppies and $130,000 from another key right-wing union, the AWU, but both were overshadowed by nearly $320,000 from the United Workers. The SDA also handed $200,000 to WA Labor.