News Corp columnists have continued to beat the bushes for the Coalition at fundraising events, the latest batch of political donations shows. That may be no surprise. The question is whether they have been joined by the grey eminence of The Australian, Paul Kelly. Stephanie Tran digs around the disclosures.
Latest political donations data shows a surge in donations to the Liberal Party and News Corp commentators Peta Credlin, Alan Jones and Chris Kenny hitting the star-studded speakers circuit. The data also mentions, intriguingly, a “2020 Paul Kelly Event”.
If the veteran News Corp journalist has indeed joined the team of Liberal Party campaigners, he has not been as successful as a fundraiser. The NSW branch’s “Paul Kelly Event” for its Davidson SEC (state electoral conference), on Sydney’s northern beaches, raised just $40 on the evening of November 26, 2020.
The Paul Kelly of Rupert Murdoch’s employ is a long-serving journalist, columnist and author. Paul Kellys of similar prominence are the singer-songwriter; Australia’s Chief Medical Officer; and the AFL footballing great. It can be assumed that the troubadour would have brought in more than $40; the Down Under Dr Fauci would have attracted eyes and ears in a pandemic; and that even in a rugby league town, the Aussie Rules midfielder is prominent enough to rate a statue at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Representatives of News Corp were contacted for comment by MWM.
The political donation disclosures released by the NSW Electoral Commission outline the contributions made by the Murdoch team to the Coalition cause. Credlin, a prominent commentator for Sky News and The Australian, did her bit. She joined forces with Senator Amanda Stoker and commentator and Northern Territory politician Jacinta Nampijinpa Price on May 17 this year to raise $24,860 for the Liberal Party at a discussion moderated by Credlin, who was also chief adviser to former prime minister Tony Abbott.
One of the most successful of Murdoch’s fundraisers for the Liberal Party has been the veteran broadcaster Alan Jones, who brought in $8315 at a 2019 dinner in Tweed Shire.
But Chris Kenny, another News Corp columnist, and dogged critic of political bias at the ABC, barely covered the alcohol bill in North Sydney on the evening of November 28 in 2019 when the party held its “Kirribilli Cocktails with Chris Kenny”. Some $480 was raised.
In the 2019 election campaign, Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman was photographed campaigning in Liberal colours for Abbott in his seat of Warringah. Abbott lost to independent Zali Steggall.
Donations to the major NSW political parties increased over the past year from $6.04 million in the 2019-20 financial year to $7.05 million in 2020-21. The Electoral Funding Act 2018 (NSW) states that political donations are to be made “without consideration in money or money’s worth or with inadequate consideration”. Legally, individuals and corporations are not able to purchase favourable outcomes. However, there have long been questions about the effects of political donations on our democracy in giving donors undue influence over our public officials.
In the 2020-21 financial year the NSW Coalition held 201 political fundraisers in total. The Liberal Party held 124 political fundraising events raising $1,350,750, and the Nationals held 77 political fundraisers bringing in $425,428.
Comparatively, over the same period, Labor held just six fundraising events, raising $25,033.
In the case of the Coalition, ministers were the main attraction. There were 10 events that listed former Premier Gladys Berejiklian as the main attraction and eight events where then Treasurer Dominic Perrottet was the highlight.
Lobbyists were some of the most prolific political donors in NSW. Eight lobby firms made donations to NSW political parties totalling $51,651.
- Barton Deakin donated $4450 to Liberal Party and $4400 to Nationals to attend four Liberal Party events and two National party events.
- PremierNational donated $8296 to the Liberal Party to attend ten events and $6550 to the National Party to attend four events. Additionally, Michael Photios, the Chairman of PremierNational and his wife Kristina Photios donated an additional $6525 and $1900 respectively.
- Wells Haslem Mayhew Strategic Public Affairs donated $1650 to the Liberal Party to attend two events.
- Precision Public Affairs Pty Ltd donated $5050 to the Liberal Party to attend two events
- Public Policy Solutions Pty Ltd donated $6000 to the Labor Party.
Three lobby firms did not lodge donor disclosures, potential breaching NSW donation disclosure regulations. The NSW Electoral Commission requires the disclosure of donations above $1000.
- Kurrajong Strategic Counsel donated $2340 to the Liberal Party to attend two events.
- DPG Advisory Solutions Pty Ltd donated $1000 to the Liberal Party
- CT Corporate Advisory Pty Limited donated $3490 to the Liberal Party
NSW Electoral Commission disclosures also show that the Liberal Party paid lobby firm Crosby Textor $118,115 to target marginal seats.
Last year an investigation revealed that Crosby Textor had access to 27 million unlisted Australian phone numbers after the Coalition changed regulations to enable access to private phone numbers for ‘political research’.
The public can make up their own minds about what all this to and fro-ing means. Certainly, we can’t see the immediate effect of political donations but these figures at least show how individuals and corporations are buying access to our politicians.
”At least in NSW the disclosures cover those sorts of fundraising events but there’s a broader question of the influence of money in politics,” says former judge Anthony Whealy, QC.
“At the federal level the position is really dreadful, because donations do not include money that’s paid to fundraisers and events where people pay to sit at the same table as politicians. I think therefore it does mean that we’ve got to absolutely reappraise the whole system to avoid those sorts of perceptions of undue influence and too much access.”
(Additional material by Mark Sawyer)
Stephanie is the editor of the Revolving Doors series. She is studying a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism)/Bachelor of Laws at the University of Technology Sydney. She was a finalist for the 2021 Walkley Student Journalist of the Year Award and the winner of the 2021 Democracy's Watchdogs Award for Student Investigative Reporting.