Australian political parties spent over $400 million in 2021-22, according to data released by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) yesterday. This includes money spent during the Federal Election last May. The data includes some information about where this money came from. However, the current transparency laws mean the source of much of it remains unknown. Here’s what we do know about where political parties got their money.
How Donations Work
Anyone, including both individuals and companies, can donate money to Australian political parties. The donor must be disclosed if they donate over $14,500 to a party. Otherwise, they can remain anonymous. Donors can donate as many times as they like – for example, someone could choose to split a large donation into smaller chunks and would not have to declare them. This threshold of disclosure means about one-third of donations are not publicly known.
The Major Parties
The Labor party and the Coalition parties (Liberal and National) each received over $100 million. Both parties received large donations from the big four banks, the fossil fuel companies Santos and Woodside Energy, casino operator the Star Entertainment Group, gambling companies Sportsbet and Tabcorp, Google, and lobbyists for the mining, financial, and pharmaceutical industries. The largest individual donor to both parties was Anthony Pratt, who owns paper company Visy. His investment company Pratt Holdings donated over a million to each party.
The Labor Party received money from a number of unions. The largest individual union donor was the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union, which gave over $1 million. Labor also received donations from Uber and Netflix.
The Liberal Party received a number of large donations from individuals. The Hemmes Trading Group, owned by prominent hospitality proprietor Justin Hemmes, gave $300,000 to the Liberals. Adani Mining, which plans to create a controversial mine near the Great Barrier Reef, also donated $100,000 to the Liberal and National Party in Queensland. Smoking (and vaping) company Philip Morris gave $50,000 to the Nationals and also to minor party the Liberal Democrats.
The United Australia Party
Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party also received over $100 million. Almost all of this came from Clive Palmer’s company Mineralogy. This included individual donations from Mineralogy of $50 million and $30 million – the largest two political donations ever recorded in Australia.
Minor Parties and Independents
The Greens received $22 million in declared donations, with the largest coming from the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union and most donations coming from individuals. Several independents received funding from the organisation Climate 200, which received over $1 million each from Atlassian co-founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farqhuar, and philanthropist Robert Keldoulis.
Kate Griffiths, a government transparency expert from the Grattan Institute, told TDA there was substantial evidence “donations do buy access and can sometimes buy influence”. She argued the loose disclosure laws meant a lot of funding was “murky… We know the total amount that the party declares in income… and we can see there’s a gap… about one third of [donations] we know nothing about.”