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$5.9 million: Australia's biggest political donors named

Lucy Dean
·3-min read
The Australian Parliament House in Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory, Australia.
Image: Getty

Billionaires, resource companies and banks are among the groups making the biggest donations to political parties in Australia, raising concerns over the power the rich and powerful hold in politics.

The Australian Electoral Commission published its latest donations disclosures, revealing billionaire businessman and politician Clive Palmer topped the list.

His mining company Mineralogy donated $5.9 million to Palmer’s United Australia Party ahead of the 2020 Queensland state election. Palmer was followed by fellow billionaire and Visy magnate, Anthony Pratt, who sent $1.3 million to the Liberal Party’s national and Victorian divisions.

The packaging giant also donated $250,000 to the Nationals party.

Woodside Energy donated a total of $335,415 to Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals, while Macquarie Group donated $251,230 to both Labor and the Liberals.

And the Australian Hotels Association sent $232,301 to various Labor divisions.

According to analysis from the Centre for Public Integrity, these five donations account for 46 per cent of total political donations in the 2019-20 financial year.

Director of the Centre, professor Joo Cheong Tham, said the federal donation disclosures highlight the sheer power wealthy groups have over politics in Australia and called for caps on political donations.

“The absence of caps on political donations has permitted a handful of donors to dominate the funding of political parties. That the most significant level of government has the weakest political finance laws is a grave weakness of Australian democracy,” Tham said.

“Caps on election campaign spending are necessary for a level playing field in elections.”

By party, the Coalition received the most donations ($59,035,245), followed by the Australian Labor Party ($50,708,792).

Party totals

  1. Australian Labor Party $50,708,792

  2. Liberal Party of Australia $46,607,680

  3. Australian Greens $19,170,808

  4. National Party of Australia $12,427,565

  5. Liberal National Party of Queensland $10,393,589

  6. Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party $10,182,222

  7. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation $5,782,105

  8. Country Labor Party $4,358,580

  9. Australian Citizens Party $2,147,894

  10. Animal Justice Party $1,374,791

The Greens are developing a bill to bring to parliament in February which would ban companies seeking government contracts, tenders or approvals from making donations within six months before and after the application and approval phase.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters told the AAP that this bill, which also calls for real-time disclosure of donations, would be a “common sense” step forward.

“You should not be able to bribe your way into an approval or government contract."

It comes after the National Audit Office in 2020 warned the current disclosure scheme is only “partially effective”.

It found the Australian Electoral Commission was unable to paint a complete picture of the electoral donations pool in Australia.

And according to analysis from the Centre for Public Integrity, around $1 billion has been sent to political parties in the last 20 years, without publicly unknown sources.

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