The problem with Australia’s dodgy donation laws

Parties use political donations to help fund their campaigns and spread their message at election time.

The problem is there’s an all-too-cosy relationship between influential industries and policymakers that gives corporate donors all-too-much access to politicians. They sit with them at fundraising dinners and meet with them at Parliament House, and get a tidy return on investment in the form of favourable government policy.

Four of the past five federal elections have been won by the major party with the bigger war chest. Labor and the Liberal/Nationals have taken over $263 million from big corporations since 2012.

The dodgy deals between the major parties and their major donors are evidence that the system is broken – it simply gives those with money the opportunity to buy influence that the average person cannot afford.

Dark Money

As much as 55% of donations to political parties are not disclosed. In FY22, the source of around $119 million remains hidden. Without reforms to require disclosure of this ‘dark money’, we don’t know who’s paying the big parties’ bills.

In FY2022 the disclosure threshold was $14,500, so anyone who donated less than that is a mystery.

Data Dump

Donations are only disclosed and released by the AEC once a year, meaning we can wait up to 20 months to find out who is donating. And even then the public and journalists are forced to sift through mountains of information to make sense of it all.

If an election was in May 2022, we won’t know who donated what until February 2023.

Cash for Access

A company can pay to meet & greet ministers and MPs, contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars as “membership fees” to party-affiliated business forums, and not report those as a donation.

These types of meetings are often referred to as ‘cash for access’, and they’re not considered a gift (donation) if the corporation gets “value for money” from the event.

Dirty Donations

Coal, gas and oil corporations don’t donate millions every year to the Liberals, Nationals and Labor because they’re huge fans of democracy – they do it because their climate-wrecking projects keep getting approved.

Revolving Doors

Currently, it’s completely acceptable for former Ministers and senior staff to walk out the doors of Parliament House and straight into cushy, high-paid roles in the industries they used to regulate.