By Clare Armstrong, originally published by the Daily Telegraph 1 February 2021.
Labor and the Coalition raked in more than $100 million in donations in one year, as almost half of the total spend on all political parties came from just five donors.
Mining magnate Clive Palmer topped the list of donors, pouring $5.9 million into his United Australia Party last financial year.
Packaging company Pratt Holdings, owned by billionaire Anthony Pratt, was the second largest donor, handing $1.3m to the Liberal Party, $250,000 to the Nationals and $20,000 to Labor.
Gas company Woodside Energy spent more than $335,000 on political donations in 2019-20, including a large payments of $110,000 each to Labor and the Liberals, and $55,000 to the Nationals.
Rounding out the top five donors was Macquarie Group with about $251,000 and the Australian Hotels Association with $232,300 divided between Labor and the Coalition across a number of small and larger donations.
Several major donors appeared to support both major parties equally including ANZ Group giving $100,000 and Wesfarmers giving $110,000 to each.
Over the course of 12 months James Packer’s Crown Resorts gave a total of $184,566 to the Liberals, Labor and Nationals.
Analysis by the Centre for Public Integrity, which lobbies for donation law reform, found the top five donors were responsible for about 46 per cent of the total amount of cash given to political parties.
The Centre’s director Professor Joo Cheong Tham said the lack of caps on political donations had “permitted” a handful of donors to “dominate the funding of political parties”.
“That the most significant level of government has the weakest political finance laws is grave weakness of Australian democracy,” he said.
“Caps on election campaign spending are necessary for a level playing field in elections.”
Prof Tham also criticised the current system for not requiring disclosure of donations of less than $14,000 at one time.
“The federal disclosure scheme is misnamed, it is a nondisclosure scheme with more than a third of political funding shrouded in secrecy,” he said.
Political donations dropped about $18 million in 2019-20, compared to the previous year in which the federal election was a major driver of fundraising efforts.
The national ALP raked in $8.8m in donations in 2019-20, but has $1.6m in debts.
The debts include $1m owed to Westpac, and $586,000 owed to Dentsu X Australia Pty Ltd, which is a marketing and communications firm.
The national Liberal Party received $13.1m in donations, and had a debt of $1.7m for 2019-20.
The Liberals owed $53,000 to the ATO, as well as $75,000 to Parakeelia Pty Limited and $1.625m to The Greenfields Foundation, which are both listed as “associated entities” of the party.
The NSW Liberals earned $10.8m in donations, but carry over debts of $3.7m, the majority of which is owed to the party-associated company Bunori Pty Ltd.