Major parties were again big beneficiaries of fossil fuel money in 2020-21, with gas, oil and coal interests donating more than $2 million to the Liberals, Nationals and Labor.

The political donations data, released today by the Australian Electoral Commission, shows:

  • Federal Labor declared a total of $67.3 million in donations, while the Liberal and National parties declared a total of $82.1 million.
  • Dark money is on the rise: 37% of the total income declared by political parties had no identifiable source (up from 32% the previous year).
  • Fossil fuel industry sources gave a total of $2.1 million to the major political parties ($1.3m to the Coalition parties, $794,880 to Labor).
  • Woodside was the biggest single fossil fuel industry donor, declaring $232,350 to the major parties.
  • Low Emission Technology Australia (a body that recently changed its name from COAL21) donated $111,500 to the major parties.
  • Other big fossil fuel funders were the Minerals Council ($193,943), Northern Star Resources ($105,500) and Chevron ($74,650).
  • Trevor St Baker, who is seeking public money to upgrade his Vales Point coal-fired power station, donated $165,202 to the major parties.
  • In some cases, donors declared amounts that were far greater than what the parties revealed. For example, the gas lobby group APPEA (which is pushing for public money for carbon capture and storage) declared donations of $107,010 to both major parties, but only $12,320 of that was disclosed (by the Queensland branch of the ALP).

Dark money

  • Labor declared a total of $67.3m in donation receipts but provided the source details for only $47m.
  • The Liberal Party declared a total of $49.7m in donation receipts but provided the source details for only $27.9m.
  • The National Party declared a total of $8.9m in donation receipts but provided the source details for only $4.5m.
  • The Liberal National Party of Queensland declared a total of $23.4m but provided the source details for only $15.5m.
  • The Victorian Nationals disclosed the source of $0 of the $1.9 million in donations the state party received.
  • The Greens Party disclosed a total of $15.9m in receipts but provided the source details for only $8.2m.
  • Between the parties, the origin of $62.2m of donations remains undisclosed.

“This data shows just how dark and opaque the financing of our politics is, with 38% of the money that funds Australia’s major parties having no identifiable source,” said the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Democracy Campaigner Jolene Elberth.

“Fossil fuel companies and lobby groups are big donors to the major parties.

“More and more we are seeing corporates report their donations while the parties don’t disclose where the money has come from. For example, the Liberal Party didn’t declare any of the money it received from Chevron or from oil and gas lobby group APPEA and the WA Liberals didn’t declare any Woodside donations. The companies declared them.

“Hefty donations and membership fees to exclusive party forums give fossil fuel companies easy access to our elected representatives. Over time, access translates to influence.

“Many smaller contributions are for fundraising dinners or similar events where coal and gas executives can literally buy a seat next to a minister.

“The problem feeds itself: as political parties rely on big donations to run their election campaigns, they have an interest in not putting their donors offside, even when doing so is in the public interest.

“It’s a repeating cycle and it leads to bad policy outcomes – like the so-called gas-led recovery – where private financial interests are put before the public interest.

“Clear and simple reforms could be enacted today to improve integrity and make the system more transparent.

“There are stronger laws regulating donations in almost every state and territory than there are at the federal level.

“Caps on donations, a lower threshold for revealing donations and more regular disclosures would vastly improve the integrity of our political system.”

ACF Media Enquiries

Journalists with enquiries may contact Josh Meadows on 0439 342 992 or Freya Cole on 0477 638 774. For all other enquiries please call 1800 223 669 or email [email protected]l.acf.org.au