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.

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.

Peter Fray

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