Call for restrictions as real estate sector increases political donations

The analysis precedes the Australian Election Commission release of fiscal year 2020 donation data on Monday, revealing how funding has changed after the last federal election and during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to considering direct payments to parties, the center report reveals payments of $ 3.5 million to groups that engage in public campaigns, including the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union and the Business Council of Australia.

But the analysis is limited by challenges with the AEC’s disclosure regime, which does not reveal all payments and has been hampered by years of ambiguity over “other receipts” such as payments to attend. political events, which companies deny are donations.

“The federal secretariat of the Liberal Party has received more than double the funds received by the federal branch of the PLA,” says the report.

While companies routinely deny using donations to seek favors, many have been exposed for seeking deals with political leaders at the same time as they donate to federal or state campaigns.


Walker Corp lobbied Treasurer Josh Frydenberg when he was Environment Minister in 2016 to demand a change to the boundaries of the Moreton Bay Ramsar wetlands near Brisbane, Guardian Australia reported last year, citing documents obtained under freedom of information laws.

Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed links between governments and real estate developers stretching back decades, including donations from Mirvac and Walker.

At the state level, the Casey land scandal in Victoria highlighted the ties between developers and the Andrews state government ahead of the 2018 state election.

The Center for Public Integrity cites NSW ministerial agendas, which are disclosed under state rules, to say that donations can help secure access to ministers for companies seeking rulings favorable.

The Meriton Group met with New South Wales ministers on at least 18 times between January and September last year, according to the analysis, including talks on housing supply, the housing industry construction, rent relief, planning policy and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The biggest real estate donor last year was Sugolena, a private company created by Isaac and Susan Wakil.

Although donations from real estate developers have been prohibited by New South Wales and Queensland state law, they are legal in Victoria and remain a significant part of federal political funding.

Yet the long period covered by the report meant that payments to the two main parties stood at $ 13.6 million in NSW over two decades, more than triple the $ 4.9 million paid to the same. left for Victoria despite the recent ban.

When developer and former Newcastle mayor Jeff McCloy challenged the NSW donation ban, the High Court ruled against him in a ruling that politicians could be “tempted to negotiate” with wealthy donors over the decisions .

In one joint judgment By Chief Justice Robert French and Justices Susan Kiefel, Virginia Bell and Patrick Keane, the court also warned of the long-term threat of “patronage,” in which politicians depend on donors.


“This particular concern is that the reliance of political candidates on private patronage may, over time, become so necessary that it undermines the vitality, as well as the integrity, of the political branches of government,” the court said.

Liberal, National and Labor parties joined forces in the Federal Parliament in September to ensure donations from real estate developers can continue in national politics, passing laws to clarify state restrictions would not apply to parties federal. Greens leader Adam Bandt and interbank MPs including Helen Haines, Zali Steggall and Andrew Wilkie opposed the bill.

Westfield has made $ 3.7 million in donations over two decades, eclipsing the rest, though the Lowy family sold the business in 2017 and appeared to make their last donation in 2016.

One of Mr. Lowy’s private companies, Croissy, was ranked fourth among donors with $ 2.6 million in payments during the period, although it was written off in 2010.

′ … firms with better access and political favor are more likely to gain a competitive advantage. ′

Geoffrey Watson, South Carolina

This brought the Lowy family’s interest to $ 6.3 million in donations when Croissy and Westfield were combined, making this group the largest source of funds in the real estate industry.

Mr. Chau’s interests, including Hong Kong Kingson Investment Company and Australia Kingold Investment Development Company, have paid a total of $ 4.4 million over the two decades, making his group the second-largest source of real estate funds.

Mr. Chau is suing ABC, Nine, banner owner and investigative reporter Nick McKenzie for reporting in 2017.

In a statement, lawyers for Mr Chau said the reports defamed their client in six ways, including suggesting he was a spy who “betrayed his country, Australia” in order to serve China’s interests. , and paid large sums to Australian political parties that were supposed to be bribes. ABC and Nine deny that the publications convey these meanings.


The biggest real estate donor last year was Sugolena, a private company founded by Isaac and Susan Wakil, who came to Sydney after WWII and gathered a portfolio of empty buildings across the city.

The couple sold their properties in 2014 to raise $ 200 million for a charitable foundation. While Sugolena had never made substantial donations, the company, run by Mr Wakil after his wife’s death three years ago, has donated $ 4.1 million to the Liberal Party in the weeks leading up to and following. the federal elections of May 2019.

The Center for Public Integrity board includes Mr Watson, former Federal Court Judge and Queensland Corruption Commissioner Tony Fitzgerald, former Victoria Court of Appeal Judge Stephen Charles, former Justice of NSW Supreme Court Anthony Whealy and University of Melbourne professor Joo-Cheong Tham.

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