australian dollar in air

Money for nothin’ – I don’t think so.

We all like giving money to organisations that we have some emotional connection to and we rely on the fact that it will be spent appropriately. Charitable organisations are now under the scrutiny of the ACNC (Australian Charities and Not for profits Commission), who make sure that charitable money is spent where it is intended through increased accountability.

When it comes to political parties, the world is telling a different story. There is a continued call for more transparency in political donations.  For big companies and corporations political donations are power. It isn’t about feeling warm and fuzzy – these groups expect something far more tangible.  Political parties like to claim that the most corporate donors receive is ‘access’ – meetings with Ministers and party heavyweights but this access still provides corporates with a lot of influence: a massive advantage over any representative of the public interest.

FARE produced a report that examines Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) data for donations from the alcohol industry to the major Victorian political parties between 2010-11 and 2012-13.  They identified that that the total contribution of political donations from the alcohol industry to the major political parties was $901,829 between 2010-11 and 2012-13. The Liberals received the largest donations from alcohol industry donors ($546,042), followed by Labor ($298,107) and the Nationals ($57,680).

The Australian Electoral Commission requires that Political Parties and Associated Entities must give details of all receipts above the disclosure threshold of $12,800 and there are no caps on the amount that can be donated. We’re also a federated system. This means each state can have their own requirements for donations that are separate to the Federal rules, which can lead to perfectly legal double-up. A person or company might donate, for example, $12,000 to each state branch of a political party across the country and also to the Federal party, all without having the amounts disclosed.

Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia have no separate requirements and rely on the Federal rules.  Queensland requires disclosure of $1,000 or more. However NSW — and they should be commended for this — has stated they will not take money from the following prohibited donors:

  • a property developer;
  • a tobacco industry business entity;
  • a liquor industry business entity;
  • a gambling industry business entity;

It would be great if we could see other states and the Federal rules also apply these limitations.

According to the AEC, the Liberal Party received $10.418 million in donations in the 2014-15 period, including a $157,000 donation from Australian Hotels & Hospitality Association Inc. to the Liberal Party’s Victorian Branch.

The AEC also states that the Australian Labor Party received $7.193 million in donations in the 2014-15 period, including $171,000 from Australian Hotels & Hospitality Association Inc. to the Victorian Branch.

The Nationals received $613,000 in donations in the 2014-15 period including $86,049 Australian Hotels & Hospitality Association Inc. addressed to the National Party of Australia – Victoria.  Some other Nationals donors included: Crown Resorts ($12,000) and Philip Morris Limited ($10,780).

It is difficult to say if any large donations have an impact on government decisions, but even politicians are concerned about the increased influence of lobbyists, Wayne Swan addressed this very topic in an issue of The Monthly:

“It’s that tiny 1%, or even 0.1% who are trying to drown out the others, who are blind to the national interest, and who pour their considerable personal fortunes into advertising, armies of lobbyists, dodgy modelling and corporate and commercial manoeuvring designed to influence editorial decisions”.

All of this makes it virtually impossible for grassroots voices to be heard and for evidence informed interventions to be funded. If it goes unchecked, this behaviour will make it harder for health advocates to maintain and improve on the protective factors in our communities. It will continue to widen the gap between the political influence enjoyed by the top 1% and the great majority of the population.

Written by Julie Rae