Facebook friends: Labor leaves nothing to chance as money-go-round rolls on

by | May 20, 2022 | Government, Latest Posts

Labor has spent almost a million dollars on Facebook advertising last week compared to the Coalition’s $300,000. It’s the tip of a massive iceberg of money politics. Callum Foote and Stephanie Tran examine the spending spree.

The Labor Party has been spending big on this election, with $964,000 spent on Facebook advertising between May 9 and 15 compared to the LNP’s $334,000.

Since August last year, as far back as Meta’s Ad Library data will go the Labor Party and its associated branches and big names have spent $3.2 million compared with $1.8 million.

Scott Morrison has been outspent by Josh Frydenberg $246,000 to $113,000 since 2020 and by $31,000 to $15,000 last week alone.

While Anthony Albanese is the only major Labor figure spending money through his personal Facebook account, having spent a quarter of a million since 2020 but less than a thousand last week.

Political campaigner Advance Australia spent only a thousand dollars last week but has poured in over $650,000 since 2020. GetUp spent $50,000 last week and $387 thousand overall.

Clive Palmer’s personal account also spent $50,000 last week and has spent $527,000 since 2020 while United Australia spent a whopping quarter of a million last week alone and $1.4 million since 2020.

Unfortunately, these figures do not include the Facebook ad spend from this week and clearly not the enormous sums spent on TV, online media and print advertisements.

Where have these parties got all this money?

As revealed by Michael West Media, every year corporations pay up to $110,000 to become “members” of the major political parties. These memberships entitle them to dozens of exclusive dinners and lunches with politicians. What’s worse is that none of this is publicly disclosed.

Go, ScoMo go: Morrison coalition beats Harvey Norman for biggest ad spend, even before election

The fossil fuel industry is perhaps one of the most successful when it comes to exerting undue influence on national policy. In 2021-22 the fossil fuel industry received $11.6 billion in subsidies from the Australian government. 

“Donations by fossil fuel companies are absolutely a perversion of our democracy …. It’s the best investment that money can buy,” said Tim Buckley, director of Climate Energy Finance.

Inadequate disclosures

The inadequacy of the current political donation disclosure regime has long been known but here are the five most glaring issues.

Lack of real time disclosures 

While donations are certainly ramping up in the lead-up to the election we won’t know who has donated until next February – eight months after the election.

High disclosure threshold

The federal political donation disclosure threshold is currently $14,500. This means that donors can engage in “donation splitting” where they make multiple donations below the disclosure threshold so they don’t have to be publicly disclosed.

“The disclosure threshold now federally, means that a corporation could give $126,000 to a single political party, without ever having to be on the public record,” said Greens Senate candidate for NSW David Shoebridge.

‘Other receipts’ 

Political parties will often lump membership fees and event tickets under the ubiquitous category of “other receipt” as they don’t technically fit the AEC’s definition of “gift”.

Political fundraisers remain undisclosed

Perhaps the most blatant expression of paying for access is corporations paying to attend dinners/lunches with politicians. Ironically, donors are not required to disclose payments to attend political events as because they’re getting something in return (i.e. a literal seat at the table) the payments don’t fit the AEC’s definition of gift.

No caps on donations

As there are no political donations and spending caps, elections have become an arms race, with corporations lining up to fill party coffers.

“At the moment we’re seeing large scale election spending. People like Clive Palmer are able to spend $100 million in a campaign and we’re also seeing the major parties caught in this arms race – who can raise the most money has got an electoral advantage,” said Han Aulby from the Centre for Public Integrity.

The problem’s only getting worse

Over the years, political donations to the major parties have ballooned. Between the 2016 and 2019 elections, total receipts to the federal branches of political parties more than tripled. 

In 2016 total receipts for Labor were $15.4 million with Liberals sitting just behind at $14.7 million. In the last election year these had grown to a staggering $50 million for Labor and $48 million for the Liberals. Time will tell if these have skyrocketed again this year.

 What this means for democracy

It is clear that political donations reform is long overdue. The influence of money in politics serves to undermine the fabric of representative democracy. NSW Greens Senate candidate David Shoebridge says. “Corporations aren’t giving their money away because they like democracy. Corporations are donating because they expect a return on their investment. Elections should be a contest of ideas, not bank balances”. 

Federal Greens take a small amount of corporate donations.

A Labor spokesperson said: ‘‘Labor has made its position clear – the donation disclosure threshold should be lowered to $1000. Because we believe in this, we voluntarily disclose all donations over $1000.’’

Paying dues: party card is just the ticket for media giants


Callum Foote is a journalist and Revolving Doors editor for Michael West Media. He has studied the impact of undue corporate influence over Australian policy decisions and the impact this has on popular interests.

Stephanie is studying a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism)/Bachelor of Laws at the University of Technology Sydney. She has a keen interest in public interest investigative journalism and is president of the UTS Journalism Society. As cadet reporter at MWM, she has built our database of grandfathered companies and their political donations.

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