The center concludes that the two major parties leave much of their finances hidden, with the source of 39.2% of coalition funding and 27.7% of Labor funding unexplained over two decades.
Hidden money also increased during election years, peaking until June 2019.
“The source of more than $114 million in party revenue was hidden from the public, meaning voters did not know who funded the 2019 federal election campaign,” the report said.
The Center for Public Integrity’s Board of Trustees includes former Federal Court Justice and Queensland Corruption Commissioner Tony Fitzgerald; former Victoria Court of Appeal Justice Stephen Charles; Geoffrey Watson, NSW Solicitor and Corruption Inquiry Solicitor; and Joo-Cheong Tham, professor at the University of Melbourne.
While Labor and Greens have backed tougher laws, the government has championed a regime that only requires donors and parties to disclose payments over $14,300. Party officials note that this should include any aggregation, such as multiple payments to various party branches.
Significant funding comes from party investments, such as the Cormack Foundation, which generally supports the Liberals, and the Labor Party’s John Curtin House.
Labor wants the disclosure threshold reduced to $1,000 and donations reported to the AEC within seven days, while the Greens want the same threshold and a ban on donations from mining, banking and other industries.
“Most states have a $1,000 disclosure threshold,” Whealy said. “The Commonwealth disclosure threshold of $14,300 is irrelevant.”
The Center for Public Integrity said Australia’s Electoral Commission needs the power to apply administrative penalties for “minor non-compliance” so donors and parties can ensure payments are disclosed accurately and on time.
The center wants law reform to expand the definition of ‘donation’ to include income from party fundraisers, corporate sponsorship of business forums, as well as membership fees from more than 2,000 $ per year.
He also wants real-time disclosure of donations rather than the current system, which in February discloses figures for payments made in the previous fiscal year.