Visy magnate and Rich Lister Anthony Pratt was the biggest individual donor in financial 2021, giving almost $1.3 million to the Liberal Party and just $10,000 to Labor’s NSW branch. Mr Pratt donated a similar amount the previous year.

The annual political disclosure returns released by the Australian Electoral Commission on Tuesday also show former fund manager Simon Fenwick was the second-biggest donor, giving $1 million through two separate investment bodies to Advance Australia, the centre right’s equivalent to left-wing activist group Get Up.

Other notable donors included private equity boss Ben Gray ($78,200, split $45,200 to the Liberal Party, $33,000 to the ALP); professional gambler Duncan Turpie ($110,000 to the Greens) and Harry Triguboff’s Meriton Apartments ($285,000 to the Liberals).

The political fringe also got a look in, with Western Australian William Nitschke giving $300,000 to former senator Rod Culleton’s Great Australian Party, while Melbourne fund manager Stephen Sedgman donated $123,050 to the Animal Justice Party.

And the far-right Australian Citizens Party, which is campaigning for the establishment of a public bank and appeasement of China, received $2.3 million in the year ended June 30, behind only the entrenched Coalition, Labor and Greens parties, despite having no representatives in any parliament. The party is a successor of the Citizens Electoral Council.

The donations data predates Clive Palmer’s recently renewed bankrolling of the United Australia Party leading up to a likely May federal balloting, when the mining magnate is positioning himself as anti-establishment.

The Liberal Party reported receiving $74 million in total receipts, which includes donations, business fundraisers, public funding and other income, the ALP $67 million, the Greens $16 million and the Nationals $9 million.

The union movement continued to be the biggest spenders for political campaigning, with the ACTU spending almost $2 million, the nurses’ union $645,000, the teachers’ union $552,000 and Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union spending $352,000.

Advance Australia also spent almost $2 million on campaigning, while GetUp declared just $67,000 in expenditure.

Lobby groups and businesses that made significant donations include the National Automotive Leasing and Salary Packaging Association ($303,700), the Pharmacy Guild of Australia ($295,149), the Australian Hotels Association’s NSW branch ($259,946), PricewaterhouseCoopers ($246,008) and ANZ Bank ($244,100).

The returns show Australian political donations need urgent reform, said Anthony Whealy, chairman of the Centre for Public Integrity.

“The Commonwealth has the weakest donation laws in the country. Today we can see some of the donations that were made last financial year, but nothing under $14,500 and nothing from the last six months,” he said

“The federal disclosure scheme is mis-named – it is a non-disclosure scheme with more than a third of political funding shrouded in secrecy. With an election around the corner, the public deserves to know who is funding our political parties,”

“What we can see is that a handful of donors dominate the funding of political parties. Big money has big impact, with the top 10 donors funding almost a quarter of all donations.”

The donations data also includes a $27,500 donation to the Liberal Party from Nine Entertainment Co, publisher of The Australian Financial Review.

A Nine spokeswoman said the payment to the Liberal’s Australian Business Network was made under previous management when Nine was also a member of the Federal Labor Business Forum.

“Nine has since implemented a blanket rule against donating to politically affiliated business networks,” she said.

James Chessell, Nine’s managing director of publishing, said he was pleased that Nine had reconfirmed it would no longer involve itself in political business networks.

“As I’ve said before the 2019 decision by previous management to engage in political fund raising was wrong,” he said.

“Our newsrooms are covered by the charter of editorial independence which ensures our journalists are able to get on with the job of informing, engaging and holding the powerful to account regardless or corporate or political affiliations. Our track record of quality, unflinching journalism in recent years speaks for itself.”

Written by Andrew Tillett and originally published in the Australian Financial Review on February 1