The Liberals and Nationals have gained a lead in the financial race to prepare for the next election by collecting $69 million in total donation receipts last year compared to $55 million for Labor.
The donations came from business backers including packaging billionaire Anthony Pratt and mining magnate Sally Zou, who gave $203,000 to the Liberals even when her AusGold Mining company went into administration.
Illustration:Credit: Andrew Dyson
But the Liberals returned a $33,800 donation from Beirut company Dar Group, seen as a hostile bidder for Australian engineering company Worley.
Foreign donations were banned by federal law in November 2018 but Dar Group, also known as Dar Al Handasah, made the payment the following year, amid reports of national security concerns about its move on Worley.
The Liberal Party said it returned the funds.
The payments emerged in annual disclosures from the Australian Electoral Commission that confirmed the dominance of billionaire Clive Palmer, whose company Mineralogy gave $5.9 million to his United Australia Party.
While overall donations declined after the May 2019 election, the new documents revealed the growing capacity of conservative campaign group Advance Australia to take on unions and progressive campaigners such as GetUp.
Advance Australia, whose council members include former ABC chairman Maurice Newman and education commentator Kevin Donnelly, raised $1.3 million last year.
GetUp had receipts of $10.9 million, confirming its power compared to other campaigners, but appeared to spend less than Advance Australia on influencing voting intentions.
Advance Australia’s outlay on election-related campaign material was $1.5 million, just below the $1.52 million spent by the ACTU.
Mr Pratt’s private company, Pratt Holdings, gave $1.3 million to the Liberals and $250,000 to the Nationals during the year, although he has friendships with Labor figures including Bill Shorten.
Mr Pratt joined Labor supporters in Mr Shorten’s electorate on election night in May 2019, before the party’s hopes were dashed and Prime Minister Scott Morrison retained power.
Ms Zou, who once set up the Julie Bishop Glorious Foundation to support the former Liberal foreign minister, kept funding the Liberals even when her company, AusGold Mining, went into administration in the final months of 2019.
She made the payment through her private company, Transcendent Australia.
Other big donors included Ian and Pamela Wall of Adelaide, who gave $175,000 each to the Liberal Party. Mr Wall co-founded engineering company Codan.
Other donors showed a preference for the Liberals and Nationals but gave some cash to Labor.
The Pharmacy Guild of Australia, a key supporter of the Morrison government’s vaccination program, gave $151,000 to the Liberals and Nationals but only $63,000 to Labor.
Gas companies backed both parties, with Woodside giving $197,750 to the Coalition and $137,665 to Labor, while Santos gave $59,500 to the Coalition and $44,000 to Labor.
Telstra gave $55,161 to the Liberals but nothing to Labor. SingTel gave $27,500 to each side.
Tobacco company Philip Morris gave $55,000 to the Nationals. Other parties refused donations from the company.
Nine Entertainment, the owner of this newspaper, donated $62,906 to the Liberals and $27,500 to Labor. The support for the Liberals included an $35,406 estimate on the value in Nine hosting a fundraiser in 2019 at the company’s headquarters, something the company described later as a bad decision.
An analysis by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age of AEC 2019-20 figures suggests the Coalition outstripped Labor on total receipts, which is a measure of how much money political parties take in from all sources.
Labor’s state and federal branches received about $55 million while the Liberal Party, including the LNP in Queensland and Country Liberal party in the Northern Territory, received about $57 million with about $12 million going to the Nationals.
Those numbers are not indicative of how much money each party has to spend, because it does not consider costs, and takes into account money from other sources that are not donations as well as in-kind support.
In addition, the AEC system is based on paper documents subject to error, making final tallies uncertain.
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