Concerns over ‘opaque’ political donations

Donations to Australia’s two main political parties are dominated by “broad and opaque” sources, prompting calls for a real-time disclosure system and caps.

About 42% of Liberal donations and 33% of Labor donations since 1998-99 have come from associated entities, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Associated entities can include things like 500 clubs, think tanks, registered clubs, service companies, labor unions, and corporate party members.

The center has raised concerns about hard-to-trace information about the source of that money, with the groups’ disclosures revealing only limited information.

Between 1998/99 and 2019/20, according to the center’s analysis, federal labor received a total of $564.25 million in donations.

Of this funding, $179.56 million came from associated entities while $160.24 million, or almost 30%, came from associated unions.

The coalition received cumulative donations worth $499.16 million, of which $194.98 million came from associated entities.

“Our political party funding is dominated by large, opaque donations,” said Anthony Whealy, chairman of the Center for Public Integrity and former NSW Court of Appeal judge.

“Private money is flowing into our democracy at an increasing rate. The last election set the record for the most donations in a federal election.”

The coalition received an additional $53.13 million from the real estate and construction sector, representing more than 11% of all donations over more than 20 years.

Its third-largest source was individuals, who contributed $43.35 million, or about 9% of all donations.

By comparison, individual donations to the Labor Party during this period amounted to $14.36 million.

More than 21% of total Labor Party donations came from 46 donors, while 22% of coalition donations came from 51 donors.

The resources industry gave about $128 million to the United Australia Party, while giving more than $21 million to the coalition and almost $5.5 million to the Labor Party.

Mr Whealy has called for campaign spending caps to end the ‘fundraising arms race’ and donation caps to limit the influence of millionaire donors as well as real-time disclosure donations worth more than $1,000.

The Greens released a plan to adopt the $1,000 cap and ban all mining and resources donations.

The party also wants to see a five-year ban on resource ministers and advisers from heading to the fossil fuel industry after parliament, as well as a public register of meetings between ministers and mining lobbyists.

Data from the Center for Public Integrity shows the Greens have received around $20 million in donations since 1998/99, more than 78% of which came from individuals.

The Australian Electoral Commission will release the 2020/21 financial disclosure reports for political parties, associated entities, donors and material third parties on Tuesday.