By Paul Karp and Chris Knaus, originally published in the Guardian 3rd February 2020.
The Liberal party received $4.1m from a single donor before the 2019 election, one of the largest amounts in political history, dwarfing former leader Malcolm Turnbull’s $1.75m gift before the 2016 election.
The donations, revealed in Australian Electoral Commission disclosures published on Monday, are second only to the $83.3m donated by Mineralogy Pty Ltd to Clive Palmer’s United Australia party.
Both major parties also took significant sums of money from the fossil fuel industry, including multinational giant Woodside, something environmentalists say explains government inaction in the “face of a rolling national emergency driven by climate change”.
The $4.1m donated to the federal Liberal party and its state branches was given in multiple instalments by Sugolena Pty Ltd, a company linked to philanthropist Isaac Wakil, who made his fortune in the clothing industry and invested heavily in property, with his wife Susan, around the Sydney suburb of Pyrmont.
The Wakils owned a property portfolio worth $200m, which they began to sell in 2014 to fund their charitable foundation.
Their philanthropy has included a $35m donation to the University of Sydney and $20m to the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ planned Sydney Modern wing – both the largest donations in those organisations’ history.
The Liberals declared $22.6m in donations and Labor $18.2m. Total receipts, which include all donations regardless of the $13,800 reporting threshold, other payments, returns from financial investments and loans, amounted to $165m for the Liberals and $126m for Labor.
Australia’s weak donation disclosure system continues to mask a huge chunk of political financing. Analysis by the Centre for Public Integrity shows that $1bn in party income has not been disclosed between 1999 and the last reporting year, almost 36% of total party financing.