Donations special edition

July 16, 2008

Here are Stephen Mayne's six stories from the Crikey edition on Wednesday, February 1, 2006.

1. Donations avalanche – time to reform the system

By Stephen Mayne

At 9am this morning the Australian Electoral Commission dumped its annual avalanche of information detailing all donations to Australia's registered political parties. Every party, every division, all at the same time and all hopelessly dated.

The thousands of figures released today relate to the 2004-05 financial year. What other institution in Australia gets to wait eight months after the end of the financial year to release key financial information?

Unfortunately, the figures only relate to revenue, because the respective balance sheets of our most important political institutions remain hidden from public view. Contrast that with the way our 1600 listed companies must reveal all sorts of information within three months of the year's end.

Therefore, almost 15 months after the last Federal election, we have today finally been told who bankrolled the whole thing, provided you can understand the hopelessly cumbersome way the figures are presented and the various tricks used to hide the truth from the public.

As usual, taxpayers were the biggest contributors, as the Federal ALP got $16.78 million from the public purse and the Liberal Party pocketed $17.95 million. This constituted more than half of their total receipts, which both hit a record high of almost $30 million. As usual, the union movement contributed many millions to Labor, but not as much as companies gave to both parties.

Campaign finance is the greatest single source of political scandal globally, yet in Australia it has never received the attention it deserves, partly because of the way the figures are released.

Take Macquarie Bank, for example, which appears to have given more than $500,000 including a headline $90,000 for the Federal ALP and $75,000 for Federal Liberal.

Different arms of Macquarie are listed 14 times as having contributed $125,000 to the NSW ALP alone, yet only three of these and $8,500 are "donations", the rest being "other receipts".

How do we know if the "other receipts" are just ALP funds on deposit with Macquarie or the proceeds of a BMW donated by the Millionaire Factory at an ALP fundraiser. We don't, there is no differentiation.

Clearly the $9,073 in "other receipts" that the Australian Tax Office contributed to the NSW ALP was not some sort of contribution in kind, but how on earth do we work out all the others? Unlike other years, the vast majority of contributions to the Labor states are now listed as "other receipts", muddying the water more than ever.

Rather than improving and reforming the system, John Howard is about to make it worse. The PM personally contributed $6,000 to the NSW Liberals in 2004-05, yet his new laws will lift the disclosure threshhold from $2,000 to $10,000 so his donation would remain hidden from public view under the new rules.

What we actually need is the rolling release of campaign finance figures on a quarterly basis and then a major summary within a couple of months of each state or federal election.

At the moment, Saddam Hussein could donate $5 million to the Victorian ALP on July 1 this year and the public wouldn't be told until February 1 2008, some 20 months later and 14 months after the funds would have helped re-elect the Bracks government at the November 25 poll this year.

Maybe the scandalous way that AWB Ltd secretly donated $300 million to Saddam's regime will make our politicians take a look at our own system of disclosure and accountability for campaign finance.

Check out the AEC website for yourself and good luck in deciphering it. If you have any insights as to who's behind some of the private companies or why the cash has been handed over, drop us a line to as we'll be banging on about this all week.

2. Top 10 political donors to each party

Stephen Mayne writes:

The following looks at the ten biggest donors to the natio nal divisions of the four major parties in 2004-05. It excludes umbrella groups like John Curtin House, the Free Enterprise Foundation and the Cormack Foundation, which are used to funnel many millions into the major parties from undisclosed sources.

Liberal Party (National)

The British Lord has blown everyone out of the water and the Ingham brothers have jumped higher than usual. Village Roadshow was the biggest single Liberal donor in the late 1990s and they are back with a vengeance, although Labor got the same. Frank Lowy is behind Croissy and the generosity from Wesfarmers is interesting given the bunfight behind Peter Costello and BCA President Michael Chaney at the moment:

Lord Michael Ashcroft KCMG - $1,000,000.00
Inghams Enterprises Pty Ltd - $200,000.00
Pratt Holdings Pty Ltd - $200,000.00
Village Roadshow Limited - $200,000.00
Croissy Pty Limited - $175,000.00
ANZ Banking Group Ltd - $100,000.00
Mistral International Pty Ltd - $100,000.00
Walker Corporation Pty Ltd - $100,000.00
Wesfarmers Ltd - $100,000.00
JP Morgan Administrative Services Pty Ltd - $82,500.00

Total Receipts: $29,477,988.00

ALP (National)

How ironic that the CFMEU have $670,000 in total yet the Tasmanian forestry division ended up causing so much damage siding with John Howard over forest policy. The Ten Network was the largest media donor, although the Liberals got the same. Billionaires such as Frank Lowy and Dick Pratt like to play both sides of the street:

CFMEU Mining & Energy Division - $470,000.00
Shop Distributive & Allied Employees' Association - $300,000.00
CFMEU Construction & General Division, National Office - $200,000.00
Village Roadshow Limited - $200,000.00
Westfield Capital Corporation Ltd - $175,000.00
Canberra Tradesmen's Union Club - $120,000.00
AMWU - $100,000.00
Inghams Enterprises Pty Ltd - $100,000.00
Pratt Holdings Pty Ltd - $100,000.00
Network Ten Pty Limited - $75,000.00

Total receipts:$29,989,686.00

National Party (National)

Poor old Larry Anthony loses his seat in 2004 and is no longer Children's Minister, but Eddie Groves, CEO of the company which benefits more than any other from childcare handouts, ABC Learning, donates $50,000 to his old party and invites him onto the board of ABC Learning. Lovely stuff. Philip Morris really spreads it around all the different conservative divisions.

Curlew Nominee Trust - $130,000.00
Mr Edmund Stuart Groves - $50,000.00
LFG Holdings Pty Limited - $25,000.00
Adstream Marine Limited - $20,000.00
CSR Limited - $20,000.00
Philip Morris Limited - $20,000.00
Pratt Holdings Pty Ltd - $20,000.00
Coles Myer Ltd - $17,500.00
Coca Cola Amatil - $15,000.00
Cubbie Station - $15,000.00

Total receipts: $1,590,668.00

Australian Democrats (National)

It used to be the grog industry that propped up the Democrats when they were looking for support on things like beer excise, but clearly the pharmaceutical lobby have replaced them as the dwindling party's major backers.

AMWU - $15,000.00
Medicines Australia Incorporated - $13,750.00
Master Builders Association of Victoria - $12,500.00
Jefferson Investments Pty Limited - $10,000.00
Pfizer Australia Pty Limited - $10,000.00
Capitol Research Pty Ltd - $5,500.00
Metcash Trading Limited - $5,000.00
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia - $5,000.00
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia - $3,300.00
Pfizer Australia Pty Limited - $2,750.00

Total Receipts: $372,598.00

3. Murdoch, Gerard, Howard ... some interesting individual donations

By Stephen Mayne

The US has a creditable system of political funding which bans companies from donating and also limits what can come in from offshore. There are absolutely no limits in Australia, which is why British billionaire Michael Ashcroft was able to give the Federal Liberal Party $1 million in 2004-05, as The Australian reported this morning in a pre-emptive leak before today's avalanche of figures.

Companies are the biggest overall donors in Australia – but some fascinating individual names also pop up:

Dame Elisabeth Murdoch: Rupert's mum gave $25,000 to the Federal Libs, probably because her son-in-law John Calvert-Jones replaced Malcolm Turnbull as Federal Treasurer of the Liberal Party before the last election. The Murdoch empire doesn't give much, although the Queensland suburban Quest Newspapers gave the Queensland Liberals $15,016.

Rob Gerard: Still the mainstay of the South Australian Libs with $150,000 – although there might not be too many more to come.

Dick Smith: A surprising $20,000 for Federal Labor, but nothing for the Federal Libs.

Harold Mitchell: Federal Labor's media buyer in the 2004 campaign gave $25,000 to the Victorian ALP, which has appointed him to a couple of arts boards.

Nabi Saleh: The Hillsong director and Gloria Jean's Coffee co-owner gave $23,500 to the NSW Liberals.

John Winston Howard: The PM wrote out a cheque for $6,000 for the NSW Liberals.

Tony Clark: John Howard's former spy on the Telstra board gave the NSW Liberals $10,000.

Ross Adler: The man who used to help bankroll the Liberals through Santos has since retired, but has continued the trend personally with a $50,000 donation (which might be a belated thank you for that spot on the Telstra board).

Ian McLachlan: The former Defence Minister gave the Federal Libs $10,000.

Fairfax family: Tim and John B pop up a few times in the Liberal columns for a total of almost $50,000, but their company Rural Press doesn't donate, despite what is regarded as its strongly conservative editorial line.

Ian Smith: Natasha's husband and the CEO of Gavin Anderson gave $5,000 to the Libs – plus his firm gave plenty of contra value.

Eddie Groves: The boss of ABC Learning tried to keep it low-key by slipping $10,000 to the Queensland Liberals, even though it's the Federal Government that gives his company $1 million a day.

Kerry Stokes: Vowed never to give political donations a couple of AGMs back, but his Westrac outfit handed over $10,000 to the WA Libs.

Warwick Smith: The former Sports minister turned Macquarie Banker gave the Tasmanian Libs $9,900, putting him in the top ten but well behind lead donor Gunns which handed over $50,000

John Ralph: John Howard's old mate and the former Telstra deputy chairman shipped his $3,000 from Toorak to the NSW Liberals.

Duncan Kerr: the $12,000 for the Tasmanian ALP didn't quite make up for the absence of Gunns which gave absolutely nothing. We think this is the largest donations from an individual politician.

Evan Thornley: the aspiring Labor MP gave the Victorian ALP $35,000 through Looksmart and Pluto Press.

4. How our billionaires donate

By Stephen Mayne

Kerry Packer may have been Australia's richest man but for many years his interests have donated less to political parties than the next two richest Australians, Frank Lowy and Dick Pratt. And so it was in 2004-05 when the Packer interests weren't at all generous.

The most notable contributions were $15,000 from Burswood to the WA Labor Party and $45,800 in "other receipts" from Channel Nine for the NSW Liberals which might have been some form of advertising discount. The Packer family's meat joint venture Teys Bros gave $10,000 to the Federal Libs but after that it was thin pickings, although you can never be absolutely sure given the avalanche of information that was dropped at 9am this morning.

Dick Pratt was as generous as ever to the Liberal Party giving $200,000 to the Federal division while the ALP got $100,000. It will be interesting to see if these continue to flow as the ACCC drags him through the courts for allegedly running a cartel with Amcor.

Frank Lowy also likes to look after both sides as Westfield Capital gave $195,000 to the Federal ALP and his private company Croissy delivered $175,000 to the Federal Liberals.

Colourful Sydney property billionaire Lang Walker was prominent as usual, giving $100,000 to the Federal Liberals but nothing to Federal Labor, while fellow property mogul John Gandel gave almost $200,000 in total but it was spread around the parties and different divisions.

5. Coalition cashes in on tobacco donation monopoly

By Stephen Mayne

Mark Latham managed to shame the Liberal Party into handing back their 2004-05 donation from James Hardie, but his ethical stand to reject tobacco company donations did not stop the Coalition from cashing in.

British America Tobacco, which was chaired by Nick Greiner for many years, gave the Federal Liberals $75,000 while Philip Morris gave $35,000 but then also splashed around a further $10,000 to most of the individual state divisions. All up, the Latham policy gave the Coalition a $200,000 head start so it will be interesting to see whether Kim Beazley abandons it.

Latham's ethics did not extend to persuading his party to surrender the outrageous Centenary House leasing deal in Canberra and John Curtin House made the largest single contribution after public funding with $3.05 million going into the 2004 campaign fund.

Meanwhile, the NSW ALP remains an ethics free zone as gambling, liquor and development interests once again dominated and the Victorian ALP has abandoned its policy of refusing contributions from licensed gaming companies. It really is outrageous that Tattersall's can give $30,000 just as the Bracks government is deciding whether to renew its lotteries monopoly.

24. Why the NSW Greens are so hard left

By Stephen Mayne

The emails keep pouring in for our lists tracking where politicians come from and this email from a student politician might explain why the NSW Greens are so much more radical and to the left than their colleagues around the country:

Senator Kerry Nettle, from the Greens, was active in SRC politics at the University of New South Wales in the mid-90s and a National Union of Students delegate in 1995. She was a participant in the Non-Aligned Left, a radical left anarchist faction whose "membership" included NSW Greens powerbroker Andrew Bourke.

The Non-Aligned Left was an interesting political experiment – the faction only lasted a few years before collapsing with the loss of its leadership in 1999. What is interesting is to note that many of its participants transitioned from the vicious factional battleground of NUS politics into becoming the new young factional heavies of the Greens in NSW.

My enduring memory of Kerry was her tactic to reduce stress levels within the excruciating democracy of consensus decisionmaking; she used to sit in caucus and knit. I think one particularly gruesome national NUS conference, she churned out a whole sweater.
Check out the burgeoning student politicians lists here and it is also interesting to note that yet another unionist is set to sit on the Parliamentary leather with Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union national president Helen Creed tipped to win preselection for Geoff Gallop's safe seat of Victoria Park on Wednesday night.

And the list of former councillors in Parliament now has more than 150 names, so keep all the corrections and additions coming to