Clive Palmer, unions among biggest donors in political funding race

Clive Palmer, unions among biggest donors in political funding race

The findings over the past two decades are part of a new paper on the concentration of donations from 1999 to 2021, when the major political parties received about $1.3 billion in donations and the top 5 percent of donors $996.7 million of contributed to the total. The figures are presented in today’s dollars, adjusted for inflation.

“A small number of big-money contributors dominate our political parties,” said Professor Joo-Cheong Tham, a board member of the Center for Public Integrity.

“We urgently need a review of the federal political finance regime with the introduction of limits on contributions and spending.”

Advocacy group Transparency International released annual findings on Tuesday that praised Australia for the National Anti-Corruption Commission legislation, but pointed to weaknesses in campaign finance and called for donation limits and real-time disclosure.

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The paper from the Center for Public Integrity advocates for policy changes, including disclosing donations within a week at most times and within 24 hours of payment during an election campaign.

The paper advocates expanding the definition of “donation” to include income from party fundraisers, corporate sponsorship of business forums and membership fees.

In a call that would stop Palmer and other big donors from dominating political funding, the group is also calling for limits of $2,000 a year for candidates and $5,000 a year for parties.

But Simon Holmes a Court, convener of Klimaat 200, whose group raised about $13 million for independent candidates in the last election, warned that limits on donations could help the major parties.

“We have to be careful what we wish for,” he said.

Climate 200 founder Simon Holmes a Court, pictured on his Victorian farm, warns a donation cap could thwart independents.Credit: Kristoffer Paulsen

“Unless part of broader electoral funding reform, donation and expenditure caps keep out newcomers and strengthen Australia’s political duopoly, which is exactly what those in power want.”

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Special Secretary of State Don Farrell told this masthead he would introduce draft laws this year to deliver “greater transparency and greater representation”, including an obligation on donors to report their payments in real time.

A key change in Farrell’s plan is to reduce the threshold for disclosure from $14,800 to $1,000 to ensure that many more donations must be reported to the Australian Electoral Commission.

The new paper names the top 10 donors over the two decades since 1999 and lists two of Palmer’s companies, Mineralogy with $110.3 million and Queensland Nickel with $24.2 million.

The largest single donor to the Liberal Party on the list was the Cormack Foundation, established by Victorian Liberals in 1988, with $63.6 million.

Major donors to the Labor Party included Labor Holdings, with $62.4 million, and John Curtin House, with $49.9 million, and Labor Resources, with $24.1 million.

The biggest donors to the trade union movement include the Shop Distributive & Allied Employees Association, with $34.8 million, United Voice, with $33.1 million, the CFMMEU, with $25.9 million, and the Electrical Trades Union, with $23.8 million.

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