deb frecklington peter dutton
Former QLD opposition leader Deb Frecklington and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton (Images: AAP)

How do you stop property developers from donating to political parties? Turns out it’s harder than it looks.

According to The Australian, the Queensland Electoral Commission is investigating whether the Liberal National Party breached political donation rules by hosting fundraisers attended by property developers.

Developers have been banned from donating to political parties in Queensland since 2018. But it hasn’t stopped them attending lavish dinners and long lunches with political hopefuls.

The latest event in the spotlight was a lunch with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and former Queensland opposition leader Deb Frecklington at Richard Branson’s opulent Makepeace Island resort on Noosa River.

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The exclusive “long lunch with Dutton and Deb” in July 2019 was attended by about 100 guests and cost $990 a head — just under the $1000 political donation threshold.

Dutton charged taxpayers $465 for a flight on the day he was a special guest at the private event.

Warning signs

It’s not the first time the LNP has been caught wining and dining developers. In fact the problem became so bad that Frecklington’s own party reported her to the state electoral watchdog in October over fears that fundraising for her campaign ahead of the state election may have broken laws aimed at curbing the political influence of developers.

It followed a stern warning from the now former LNP state director Michael O’Dwyer to all MPs and candidates that a breach of the prohibited donor laws “could put the party at risk and hinder the successful election of an LNP government”.

The investigation follows a series of exclusive gatherings with wealthy donors that have landed the LNP in hot water.

O’Dwyer’s warning was prompted by reports that Brisbane developer Phil Murphy, a part-owner of the Brisbane Broncos, attended an LNP fundraiser at the Hilton.

Then there were the secret fundraisers hosted by the National Retail Association ahead of the election. The NRA is chaired by Mark Brodie, a close friend of Campbell Newman and chair of property development group Triumph Investment Group. According to an investigation by The Australian, Brodie attended an unpaid “business advisory forum” with Frecklington and property developers held at the NRA offices.

O’Dwyer urged members not to “compromise the integrity of the party” as he announced his resignation last week.

Frecklington has insisted the events are not fundraisers but private dinners.

Stopping the rot

So what does it take to stop property developers from attending political fundraisers?

Part of the problem are the discrepancies between state and federal laws regarding political donations.

This was made worse by a Morrison government decision to introduce an amendment to the Commonwealth Electoral Act that would give federal immunity to prohibited donors under state laws.

Labor supported the bill but transparency experts and crossbench Senator Jacqui Lambie and the Greens said it would create a back door for prohibited donations to flow into federal coffers.

The Queensland Electoral Commission would not confirm the investigation, and said it did not release details of any compliance activities that “may or may not be under way”.

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