'Obscene amount of money': Anthony Albanese backs potential cap on political donations

Paul Karp
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Anthony Albanese has given in-principle support for a cap on political donations, citing the record $83m donation from Mineralogy to Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party as an example of “obscene” donations that must be curbed.

In a wide-ranging interview on ABC’s Insiders, the Labor leader also confirmed the opposition’s target of net zero emissions by 2050 will include all sectors of the economy and could be achieved in part by adopting the Turnbull-era national energy guarantee in the electricity sector.

Albanese agreed that Australia should introduce a cap on political donations at the federal level, arguing that such a measure is “common sense” because “democracy shouldn’t be for sale”.

“My state of New South Wales has a cap on expenditure and has real-time disclosure rules,” he said. “That hasn’t happened at the federal level.”

The 2019 election saw political donation records tumble, with $4.1m donated by philanthropist Isaac Wakil to the Liberal Party, second only to Mineralogy’s $83m donation to the United Australia Party.

The Mineralogy donation has sparked calls for caps on both donations and spending, as the UAP flooded airwaves with negative ads that Palmer said he had commissioned to polarise the electorate against Labor’s Bill Shorten.

On Sunday, Albanese said that people should be able to donate and “participate in our democracy”.

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“But what they shouldn’t be able to do is to spend an obscene amount of money, which is what we saw in order to change a political [outcome],” he said.

Albanese agreed that caps would “need to apply to everyone”, but noted that unions and businesses did not spend $83m – as Palmer’s company Mineralogy did before the 2019 election – which he labelled an “extraordinary abuse”.

“But what we need is transparency. So we need real-time donation reforms and disclosure.”

Albanese defended Labor’s target of net zero emissions by 2050, arguing that failing to mitigate climate change would cause a 25% contraction in the global economy, worse than the Great Depression.

He confirmed the target would apply to all sectors of the economy, including agriculture and transport, but noted that forestry and other measures could help achieve net zero despite emissions not being eliminated in all sectors.

Albanese would not commit Labor to announcing a new 2030 target before the next election, but said it would announce “interim measures” along the way to the 2050 target. He noted that when Labor adopted a target of a 45% reduction in 2015, it was a 15-year target.

Asked if Labor was open to introducing a carbon price to achieve its 2050 target, Albanese said he did not believe it was necessary.

“We will establish [our policy] well before the election, but we didn’t go to the last election with a price on carbon.

“What we’re open to is plans like the national energy guarantee,” he said, explaining that Labor “would have supported” the emissions reduction obligation in the electricity sector proposed by Malcolm Turnbull but dumped in the dying days of his prime ministership.

In response to the interview on Sunday, Turnbull tweeted that the planet would be “uninhabitable for billions of people” if net zero emissions is not achieved, and that the target can be achieved through renewable energy and storage, the electrification of industry and use of “green hydrogen”.

He concluded the volley: “Last tweet this morning: a policy which opposes net zero by 2050 is a policy of 3 degrees plus global warming and an uninhabitable planet.”

Scott Morrison is currently torn between Liberal moderates calling for adoption of a net zero target on the one hand and Nationals and conservative Liberals who want taxpayer support for coal power stations on the other. Morrison has said Australia should not sign up to targets in the absence of costings.

Albanese said he did not think a new coal-fired power station will be built in Australia, because “the market is determining” that question while Morrison “pretends that the world won’t change”.

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“He pretends, for example … his government is looking at a new coal-fired power station in Collinsville, but he knows that that is nonsense.

“That’s why they’ve had to give $4 million [for a feasibility study] to the proponents of that project.”

Albanese predicted Australia would still export coal in 2050, citing metallurgical coal, and said it could even still be exporting thermal coal.

Albanese also accused the Coalition of a “nuclear level of rorting” through its $3bn congestion busting fund, which Labor has referred to the auditor-general.

He said the government had committed funding for projects in the 2019 budget, then 83% of money went to target seats or those held by the Liberals and Nationals.

Asked about the killing of Hannah Clarke and her three children by her estranged husband and the children’s father, Rowan Baxter, Albanese said domestic violence must be called out and this incident was “a terrible murder and a scourge on our society”.

Albanese renewed calls for a national summit on domestic violence, and criticised the government for plans to abolish the family court.