1 February 2023: Political donations received by the major parties from the property and development industry, fossil fuel industry and lobbying firms were over $8 million last financial year, raising concerns about the issue of cash for access to political decision-makers.
The annual political donation disclosures released today by the Australian Electoral Commission were aggregated to provide sector-specific analysis by #OurDemocracy – a coalition of experts and organisations working to improve the integrity of our democracy.
|Party group||Fossil fuels||Third party lobbyists||Developers and Property Industry|
|Australian Labor Party||$958,009||$762,530||$1,004,473|
“Industries that are highly regulated, like fossil fuels, property developers, and the finance sector, are often the biggest donors to political parties, and donations reliably peak in election years”, says Saffron Zomer, Executive Director of Australian Democracy Network.
“We have to cap political donations so that millionaires and corporations can’t overpower other deserving stakeholders in the contest to be heard by our elected representatives.”
“Because campaign spending is uncapped, the major parties need these donations to remain competitive. This risks governments being dissuaded from properly regulating the industries that finance their campaigns. Cash for access reforms are critical for a democracy that seeks to work in the public interest, rather than private interests.”
#OurDemocracy analysis showed the fossil fuel industry gave $1.8 million to the major parties overall, with Labor receiving $958,00 marginally less than the Coalition, with the Liberal Party receiving $975,000 and the National Party $253,000.
Saffron Zomer, Executive Director of Australian Democracy Network. “Hefty donations and membership fees to exclusive party forums give wealthy interests easy access to our elected representatives. Over time, access translates to influence.”
Analysis of the AEC data by #OurDemocracy shows lobbying firms gave over $760,000 to Labor while giving $360,000 to the Liberal and National parties.
Alice Drury, Acting Legal Director of Human Rights Law Centre says, “Every year on 1 February, we learn the names of the millionaire donors who are buying influence over Australian politicians. This year, we’ve seen that many of those donors are also lobbyists – people paid by companies to influence our politicians. Lobbyists donate to politicians to secure meetings, which ensures they’re paid more by their client companies.
“Our national parliament is being treated like the stock exchange trading floor. Business people shouldn’t be able to trade political meetings and favours for financial gain – politicians are supposed to represent all of us, not just the wealthy few.”
#OurDemocracy analysis showed the property and development industry donated $3.3 million to the major parties, with $2.1m given to the Liberal party, outstripping the $1.2m given to Labor.
Joel Dignam, Executive Director of Better Renting raised the issue of the severe rental crisis facing many Australians, saying, “When making decisions on housing policy, our politicians should be aiming towards helping people in Australia to have stable, affordable, and healthy homes. But it’s hard to believe this is the case when you see a combined total of $3.3 million going from developers and the property industry into party coffers.”
“There’s a real concern that our politicians are doing what’s best for wealthy funders, and not necessarily what’s best for people just trying to secure a decent home. Reform of donation laws will help to address problems like the housing crisis, because it will prompt politicians to focus on what works, not just what their donors want.”
#OurDemocracy advocates for an overhaul of the disclosure regime, noting AEC data will provide an incomplete picture as long as a large percentage of party revenue has no identifiable source.
CEO of Transparency International Clancy Moore said the overwhelming presence of dark money in political donations is one of the drivers of Australia’s poor score in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index – released yesterday.
“Every year, the major parties line their pockets with millions of dollars in donations under the cover of darkness with no transparency as to the source of this ‘dark money’. This cabal of secrecy creates an uneven playing field and has a corrupting influence on our democracy. ”
#OurDemocracy calls for reforms to end cash for access, including publishing ministerial diaries, establishing a public register for professional lobbyists to disclose political meetings, implementing a ban on large donations to politicians and lowering the political donations threshold to $2,500, with amounts exceeding this to be declared publicly in real time. Full list of reforms can be found here.
Saffron Zomer, Executive Director – Australian Democracy Network
Alice Drury, Acting Legal Director – Human Rights Law Centre
Joel Dignam, Executive Director – Better Renting
Clancy Moore, CEO – Transparency International
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