An investigation shows close links between the tobacco industry and the National Party as former deputy PM John Anderson plots his political comeback. In this final of our State Capture series on corporate members of political parties, Stephanie Tran reports on the company in which Anderson is a shareholder and its links to Phillip Morris.
While Labor stopped taking donations from the tobacco industry in 2004, and the Liberals followed suit a decade later, the Nationals continue to accept donations from the tobacco industry.
Australian Electoral Commission data shows that since the 1998-99 financial year tobacco giant Philip Morris has donated $613,608 to the Nationals. The company is also a top-tier member of the Nationals, paying a $55,000 membership fee in the 2019-20 financial year.
Party stalwart John Anderson announced last month that he was seeking Senate pre-selection for NSW. The former deputy PM under John Howard between 1999 and 2005 left politics 15 years ago.
In the first part of our State Capture series, Michael West Media revealed how some of Australia’s largest companies were effectively members of the Labor and Liberal parties through the “Federal Labor Business Forum” and the Liberals’ “Australian Business Network”.
Over many years these companies have paid for party memberships ranging from platinum level at a cost of $110,00 through to gold ($55,000) and silver ($25,000) memberships.
In this instalment of our State Capture series, we delve into the Nationals’ corporate memberships, which reveals the close links between the tobacco industry and John Anderson.
Patterns in donation data
Using similar methodology that identified the Liberal and Labor corporate members, we noticed significant patterns in the Nationals’ data reported to the AEC. The Nationals corporate membership body is called “The National Policy Forum”.
While Labor and the Liberals hid donations under the banner of “other receipts” To their credit, in 2019-20, the Nationals declared eight out of the 14 membership contributions we identified as “subscriptions”.
The memberships of the National Policy Forum reveal that the top tier “Foundation Members” in 2019-20 were tobacco giant Philip Morris, oil and mining giant Woodside Energy, and JJ Richards & Sons, each of which gave $55,000.
In what maybe tacit recognition of their lesser influence as a junior member of the Coalition, the top tier of Nationals’ membership costs exactly half that of the Liberal party.
National Party members 2019-20
|JJ Richards & Sons||$55,000|
|Fortescue Metals Group||$22,000|
|Coal21 Pty Ltd||$22,000|
|Minerals Council of Australia||$22,000|
|The Pharmacy Guild||$22,000|
|Australian Agriculture Company Limited||$22,000|
|Caravan Industry Association of Australia||$22,000|
|Australian Automotive Dealers Association||$19,062|
Tobacco industry influence
Although the two major parties have stopped accepting donations, Philip Morris continues to have a pervasive presence in the political arena. Last year, Philip Morris paid News Corp tens of thousands of dollars to run a series of articles in The Australian that promoted vaping as a safe alternative to traditional smoking. The Australian Council on Smoking and Health (ACSH) has questioned whether the articles breached the Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992.
The sale of nicotine e-cigarettes is prohibited in Australia. Maurice Swansen, the chief executive of ACSH, accused Philip Morris and News Corp of undermining “Australia’s cautious approach to the regulation of e-cigarettes”.
Associated entities collect donations
Unlike Liberal and Labor, where membership fees are funnelled directly into party coffers as “other receipts”, the Nationals have two associated entities which collect the donations.
Established in 2015, Laneway Assets is the main body that collects membership fees for the Nationals. The two shareholders are former deputy prime ministers John Anderson and Warren Truss.
After leaving politics in 2007, Anderson joined the board of Santos (2007 to 2011). He also became the chairman of Eastern Star Gas (now owned by Santos). Santos’ Narrabri gas project is one of 15 projects that received fast-tracked environmental approval as part of the government’s “gas-led recovery”.
The directors of Laneway Assets, Jonathan Hawkes and Larry Anthony, are also notable members of the Nationals. Hawkes, a former director of public affairs at the Minerals Council of Australia, last year became the Nationals’ federal director. Larry Anthony, a former Nationals president, hails from a political dynasty, with his father Doug and grandfather Hubert Lawrence “Larry” long-serving Nationals’ politicians.
In 2019-20 Laneway Assets collected $121,000 from Philip Morris, COAL21, the Minerals Council and NAB.
John McEwen House
The Nationals’ other associated entity is John McEwen House. Company directors include current Nationals’ president Kay Hull and four former National Party presidents in Larry Anthony, Don McDonald, Shirley McKerrow and John Tanner.
Other directors include:
- Peter Langhorne, the former private secretary to John Howard
- Jon Sharp, a former Nationals MP who resigned over a travel expense rort
- Sandy Mackenzie, a former Nationals MP
In 2019-20 John McEwen House collected $173,062 from eight companies.
Unlike the secretive business forums of Labor and Liberal, the Nationals have a website detailing the benefits offered by each membership package.
For example, foundation membership costs $55,000 and includes seats at all Boardroom series event, corporate observer packages at the National Council/Conference and tables at the federal budget dinner and leaders’ lunch events and more.
A National membership costs $33,000 and includes seats at the Boardroom Series events, the Federal Budget Dinner and a corporate observers’ package and more.
An Alliance membership costs $22,000 and includes seats at all Boardroom Series events, the Federal Budget Dinner; a corporate observers’ package and more.
A Supporting membership costs $11,000, while a Contributing membership costs $5,500.
Full details of the packages can be found here:
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.