Alcohol and gambling companies and their lobby groups donated $2.165 million to Australia’s major political parties in 2021-22, representing a 40 per cent increase on the previous year, an analysis of disclosure returns published this week by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) shows. Callum Foote reports.
Collectively, the alcohol and gambling industries increased their donations by $1.535 million during the election year over the previous year.
These donations were split almost equally between Labor and the Coalition, with Labor receiving $1.12 million and the Liberal and National parties receiving $1.05 million.
Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) CEO Caterina Giorgi said:
When alcohol and gambling companies are allowed to donate large amounts to political parties, it creates a power imbalance, giving these companies greater access to politicians than the members of the community that they are elected to represent.
Companies and lobby groups with interests in both alcohol and gambling disclosed $905,000 worth of donations in 2021-22, while entities that profit from gambling but not alcohol and their lobby groups disclosed $678,000. Entities that profit from selling alcoholic products but not from gambling, and their lobby groups, disclosed $583,000.
According to Alliance for Gambling Reform (AGR) CEO Carol Bennett:
The huge increase in the number and value of donations from alcohol and gambling companies and their lobby groups to the major political parties is concerning. The community expects politicians to make decisions that are in the public interest and not influenced by donations made by these companies.
Bennett added that “The Labor and Liberal parties exclude tobacco donations. They could extend this to alcohol and gambling companies tomorrow if they wanted to. Like tobacco, alcohol and gambling cause significant health and social harms to Australians.”
FARE and AGR analysed the annual returns of alcohol and gambling companies lodged with the AEC under mandatory disclosure laws with data released on February 1, tallying donations to the three major parties and their associated entities in 2021-22.
This analysis examined the Detailed Receipts data from the AEC and is likely to under-represent the total donations made from these industries.
Previous research has also shown that there is a considerable amount of “dark donations” made to parties that are not required to be disclosed because they are below the threshold, which was $14,500 in 2021-22 and is $15,200 for the current financial year.
Other problem industries
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 this week 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||Lobbyists||Property Developers|
“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.”
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 who combined received $1,228,000.
Professional lobby firms also play a significant role in funneling funds from their clients to political parties.
Analysis of the AEC data 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.
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.