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How Aussie politicians have hidden $1.5 billion in donations

Parliament house in Canberra and $100 notes being removed from a wallet.
Political donations under $14,300 do not need to be disclosed to the Australian public (Source: Getty)

Australian politicians are allowed to accept donations, but most of the time, these need to be disclosed to ensure the integrity of our political system.

But since 1999, $1.5 billion in political donations have been made outside the public view – around $45.5 million in the 2019/20 financial year.

The Centre for Public Integrity believes that Australia’s disclosure systems are not nearly stringent enough.

“The source of almost $50 million in party income was hidden last year alone. This secrecy needs to stop,” chair of the Centre for Public Integrity, Anthony Whealy said.

“The last election set records for money raised and money hidden. Reform is needed now so that the funding of the coming election is transparent.”

How much can you donate?

It differs between states, territories and the Federal Government. Most states and territories have a $1,000 limit on disclosures.

This means that any donation up to $999 does not need to be made public and can remain a mystery. However, the Commonwealth’s limit is $14,300.

“The Commonwealth’s disclosure threshold of $14,300 is out of line,” Whealy said.

“There is little analysis or enforcement occuring to make sure donations returns are complete. The AEC needs greater resources and expertise to make our disclosure system work properly,”

The Centre for Public Integrity found that the Coalition has hidden the source of 39.22 per cent of their party income since 1999, while the ALP has hidden 27.69 per cent.

How are donations hidden?

Much of the reason why many millions of dollars isn’t disclosed is due to gaps in the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, the Centre for Public Integrity said.

Essentially, the $14,300 limit for disclosure counts for each donation, not combined donations from a single donor.

For example, a donor can make as many $14,300 donations as they like and none will need to be disclosed.

Another element to take into consideration is that donations made through the attendance of a party or fundraiser are not considered to be gifts.

So, if a political party holds a fundraiser that sells tickets for $20,000 - this also doesn’t need to be disclosed.

What are the largest disclosed donations?

For those donations over the $14,300 disclosure cap, the Australian Electoral Commission publishes a list each year.

For the 2019/20 year the top 10 largest donations made were:

  1. $5,985,341 from Iron Ore company Mineralogy to Clive Palmer

  2. $1,000,000 from Pratt Holdings to The Liberal Party

  3. $250,000 from Pratt Holdings to The National Party

  4. $150,000 from Cartwright Investment Corp to conservative political lobbying group Advance Australia

  5. $130,867 from Transcendent Australia to The Liberal Party

  6. $110,000 from PriceWaterhouseCoopers to Australian Labor Party

  7. $110,000 from Wesfarmers to Australian Labor Party

  8. $110,000 from Wesfarmers to The Liberal Party

  9. $110,000 from Woodside Energy to Australian Labor Party

  10. $110,000 from Woodside Energy to The Liberal Party

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