Donations to federal political parties 1998/99 – 2019/2020

January 2022

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Executive Summary

Australian political parties reported receiving over $1.24 billion in donations in the 22 years from 1998/99 – 2019/2020. Both donor and party-reported disclosures to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) reveal that the financing of our political parties is dominated by large and opaque donations. Donations peak in election years, suggesting that private interests seek to influence political outcomes. The 2019 Federal Election set the record for the most donations received.

Under the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 (Cth), disclosures are required of political parties and donors. This analysis collates and categorises disclosures made to the AEC by both donors and political parties over the period 1998/99 – 2019/2020; while this summary uses party-reported data, insofar as it is generally more accurate, donor-reported data is included in the full party profiles. Monetary amounts have been adjusted to 2019/20 constant dollars.1 

With private money flooding our public offices, transparency and accountability must be strengthened. The Centre for Public Integrity recommends:

  1. Real time disclosure of donations over $1000:
    1. Broader definition of donation to include party fundraisers, memberships, business sponsorships etc
    2. Clearer categorisation of contributions, to provide information of the source of money beyond “donation received”, “subscription” or “other receipt”
  2. Campaign spending caps:
    1. For political parties and candidates, associated entities, political campaigners and third parties
    2. Amount set to rein in current spending levels and make participation achievable for independents and smaller parties
    3. Follow the NSW model of setting an electorate and national cap 
  3. Donation caps:
    1. For political parties and candidates, associated entities, political campaigners and third parties
    2. b. Amount set to curb the influence of big donors and make participation achievable for individuals
  4. Enforcement of regulations through a strengthened AEC, with serious breaches investigated by an independent National Integrity Commission.

Table 1: Total reported contributions by financial year

Source: analysis of donations disclosures made the Australian Electoral Commission 1998/99-2019/20

Table 2: Total reported contributions by political party

Source: analysis of donations disclosures made the Australian Electoral Commission 1998/99-2019/20

Total donations

The ALP was the biggest fundraiser, reporting $564.25 million in donations from 1998/99-2019/20. The Coalition reported receiving $499.16 million, which is $65 million less than the ALP. The United Australia Party reported having received $132 million, and the Greens $20 million.

Generally, donations peaked around election years, with the most donations being received in 2019 before the last Federal election. This data does not include donations for the upcoming 2022 election, as disclosures for the 2020/21 financial year will be available on 1 February 2022.

Biggest donors

Associated entities and associated unions are the largest donors to Australian political parties. Information about the source of this money is hard to trace, with disclosures by associated entities revealing only limited information. For example, ALP Holdings Pty Ltd declared receiving only one donation in 2019-20, which was $35,000 from the ALP South Australia branch. ALP Holdings Pty Ltd was the largest donor to the ALP, which reported receiving $58.6 million, or 10.4% of its donations from this associated entity from 1998/99-2019/20. The ALP’s second largest donor, John Curtin House, is also an associated entity. It donated $49 million to the ALP over the period, equating to 8.7% of ALP total donations. The Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association of Queensland, an associated trade union, donated $32.73 million, and the ALH&MW Union donated $31.44 million.

The top three donors to the Coalition are also associated entities. The Coalition reported receiving $62.31 million from the Cormack Foundation, equating to 12.48% of its total reported donations. Vapold Pty Ltd donated $15.29 million, or 3.06%, and the Free Enterprise Foundation donated $13.45 million, or 2.7%. The Cormack Foundation disclosure for 2019-2020 has more detail, listing $3.9 million in income from a variety of sources including ANZ, NAB, Rio Tinto and BHP among others. All entries are listed as “other receipt”, which does not reveal any information about the nature of the payment.3 

In contrast to the major parties’ reliance on associated entities, the Greens received 78.5% of their party-reported donations from individuals. Top donors included Graeme Wood ($2.88 million), the CEPU ($1.7 million), Greble Ruth ($1.63 million), and Duncan Turpie ($1.44 million).

The biggest donors to the United Australia Party were Clive Palmer’s own companies. Mineralogy donated $104 million, equating to 79.25% of total donations, and Queensland Nickel donated $23.22 million, or 17.56%. One Nation relied on their associated entity, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Ltd, for 36.52% of their reported donations, receiving $1.07 million. Katter’s Australian Party reported receiving $414,999 from the Sporting Shooters Association, equating to 21.84% of their reported donations.

Industry influence

Associated entities, associated unions, property developers, financial insurance, and resource companies were the largest donating industries to Australian political parties over the period analysed. The ALP reported receiving $179.56 million from associated entities – equating to 33.2% of total donations – and $160.24 million from associated trade unions, equating to 29.6%. The property and construction industry was the third largest donating industry to the ALP, contributing $37.4 million (or 6.9% of its total reported donations)..

The Coalition reported receiving $194.98 million from associated entities, equating to 41.78% of total donations, and $53.13 million – or 11.39% – from the property and construction industry. The third largest source of donations to the Coalition were individuals, from whom the Coalition received $43.35 million (or 9.29% of its total reported donations). This is significantly higher than the ALP’s reported $14.36 million donations from individuals.

Financial insurance donated $27.22 million to the Coalition and $21.95 million to the ALP. The resource industry donated $128.12 million to the United Australia Party, $21.3 million to the Coalition and $5,446,244 to the ALP.

Big money

Large donations dominate the financing of Australian political parties. Donors with the ability to give large amounts have the biggest impact and potentially the biggest influence.

Just 46 donors contributed over 21% of the ALP’s total donations, and 51 donors contributed 22% of the Coalition’s total donations.

A total of 13,974 donations of between $14,300 (the threshold amount) and $100,000 were made to both major parties. The individual donors making these donations have much less impact and influence than those with the ability to make large donations.

This means that members of the public, in whose interest elected representatives are meant to serve, are at a disadvantage in comparison to the influence of associated entities and companies.

The donation profile for each party can be found below:


1 Methodological notes are available here, and should be consulted in order to avoid misinterpretation of this analysis.

2 AEC disclosure 2019-2020 from ALP Holdings Ptd Ltd

3 AEC disclosure 2019-2020 from Cormack Foundation