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The Usual Suspects And The Just Plain Strange: Political Bankrollers Revealed

On Friday Aussie voters found out who was bankrolling our political parties more than 18 months ago. It's raised all sorts of questions. What took so long to tell us? And did they really drop that much cash?

Donations data for 2017-18 released by the Australian Electoral Commission disclosed where large political donations came from over the financial year.

Despite it being a year without major elections -- and financial services and developer donations all noticeably down -- the figures have raised some eyebrows.

It's furrowed others, with frustration over a lack of real-time reporting of donations and there have been renewed calls to ban gambling and tobacco industries from lining political coffers.

Who Gave What To Who

Australian Liberal Party

The Liberal Party received more than $62 million in donations. The overall dosh involved was considerably lower than 2016-17 where it was around $95-100 million.

The powerful Australian Hotels Association sent $600,000 the Coalition's way.

They also received $350,000 from the Michael Crouch Foundation.

Wealthy families gave some hefty amounts (especially in South Australia where they won the March election).

Retired mining technologists Ian and Pamela Wall donated $393 500. Shopping centre owner Grant Lewis Kelley and commercial lawyer John Kain both gave $100,000.  Chinese mining figure Sally Zhou also gave  $172,000.

Labor

There was $60 million in receipts which was down compared to $70-75 million the previous year.

The union movement alone injected $1.4 million -- including $146,000 from the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union.

The Victorian branch of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) was the largest spending political donor last financial year, handing than $1.1 million to Labor.

The AHA donated almost $450,000 to the party.

READ MORE: Forty Percent Of Political Donations Come From Unknown Donors

The Greens

The Greens attracted nearly $13 million in political donations.

The largest single donation by an individual came from retired professor and party co-convenor Chilla Bulbeck, who gave $600,000 to the Greens in Western Australia on behalf of her late architect father.

Union ETU also handed $200,000 to the Greens.

The Nationals

The Nationals racked up $8.1 million in donations.

The party has accepted more than $56 000 in donations from the tobacco industry ahead of the 2019 federal election.

It was the party’s second biggest donor behind agribusiness the Manildra Group, which gave $158 000.

One Nation

Donations came to a total of $1.7 million for One Nation.

Pauline Hanson’s party did not disclose any private or corporate donors, as the AEC requires only donations greater than $13,500 to be disclosed.

Instead, the party lodged $15,000 from mining company Adani as "other receipt".

What Are People Complaining And/Or Concerned About?

Donations From Gambling And Tobacco Industries

The Nationals have so far refused to bow to pressure to ban tobacco industry donations. In 2013 the Liberal Party announced it would no longer accept money from tobacco companies and Labor banned such donations almost a decade earlier.

"The Nationals accept contributions only from organisations which strictly meet Australia's political donation laws and regulations," Nationals leader Michael McCormack said in a statement to 10 daily.

All parties should refuse to accept donations from the poker machine industry, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie told 10 daily.

"Because, like tobacco, they produce a harmful product," he said.

"But they won’t because they’re too conflicted on account of the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year they get from the industry.”

On Friday, The Alliance for Gambling Reform called for a complete ban on political donations by licenced gambling operators.

According to the Alliance, gambling industry political donations hit record $3 million in 2017-18.

The Alliance for Gambling Reform says gambling donation was topped by the Labor Party’s 1973 Foundation (in the ACT).

Costello said it houses the profits made from four Canberra pokies clubs.

“It is ridiculous that Labor operates pokies dens in Canberra and Sydney," Tim Costello said.

The Delay 

Federal disclosure system requires only annual reporting and lags well behind systems in some states and territories.

Queensland requires donations to be declared in real time, Victoria within 21 days, and New South Wales also within 21 days in election periods.

At a state level donations of above $1000 need to be disclosed, whereas the federal system only requires transparency for donations above $13,800.

Parties' actual donations can also be much higher than those explicitly disclosed as donations, as they receive contributions in kind, such as rent and returns on investment.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au