The Liberal party received $4.1m from a single donor before the 2019 election, one of the largest amounts in political history, dwarfing former leader Malcolm Turnbull’s $1.75m gift before the 2016 election.
The donations, revealed in Australian Electoral Commission disclosures published on Monday, are second only to the $83.3m donated by Mineralogy Pty Ltd to Clive Palmer’s United Australia party.
Both major parties also took significant sums of money from the fossil fuel industry, including multinational giant Woodside, something environmentalists say explains government inaction in the “face of a rolling national emergency driven by climate change”.
The $4.1m donated to the federal Liberal party and its state branches was given in multiple instalments by Sugolena Pty Ltd, a company linked to philanthropist Isaac Wakil, who made his fortune in the clothing industry and invested heavily in property, with his wife Susan, around the Sydney suburb of Pyrmont.
The Wakils owned a property portfolio worth $200m, which they began to sell in 2014 to fund their charitable foundation.
Their philanthropy has included a $35m donation to the University of Sydney and $20m to the Art Gallery of New South Wales’ planned Sydney Modern wing – both the largest donations in those organisations’ history.
The Liberals declared $22.6m in donations and Labor $18.2m. Total receipts, which include all donations regardless of the $13,800 reporting threshold, other payments, returns from financial investments and loans, amounted to $165m for the Liberals and $126m for Labor.
Australia’s weak donation disclosure system continues to mask a huge chunk of political financing. Analysis by the Centre for Public Integrity shows that $1bn in party income has not been disclosed between 1999 and the last reporting year, almost 36% of total party financing.
But the disclosures that have been made continue to show the significant influence of the fossil fuel industry in Australian democracy. Clive Palmer’s Mineralogy, which gave $83,681,442 to Palmer’s United Australia party, was by far the single biggest fossil fuel donor.
An analysis by the Australian Conservation Foundation found a further $1.89m in fossil fuel donations to Australian political parties.
“This data explains why even in the face of a rolling national emergency driven by climate change and community demands for change, the government continues to defend and promote the industries that are the root cause of the problem,” ACF’s economy and democracy program manager, Matt Rose, said.
“Serious donations reform is needed now to make sure our political system works for the benefit of all Australians, not just those with the biggest wallets.”
The biggest fossil fuel donor to the major parties was Woodside, Australia’s biggest LNG exporter. It gave $135,400 to Labor, $136,750 to the Liberal party and $11,190 to the Nationals. The gas industry lobby, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA), was also a significant donor.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, recently identified gas as a key “transition” fuel for Australia’s economy, saying “we need to get the gas from under our feet”. He also recently struck a $2bn deal with the New South Wales government to increase gas supply and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector.
Donald Trump supporter and Australian rich lister Anthony Pratt continued to give generously in the election year. His company, Pratt Holdings, gave $1.3m to the federal Liberal party and $1.38m to Labor.
The federal Liberal party also declared two donations from Adani Mining Pty Ltd totalling $50,000.
Carmichael Rail Network, another wholly-owned subsidiary of Adani Australia, gave $50,000 to the federal Liberal party and $100,000 to the Nationals.
The major parties took more money from James Packer’s Crown Resorts, which was able to avoid a damaging parliamentary inquiry into allegations of corruption last year when both parties voted against it.
Labor accepted $45,412 in Crown donations and the Liberals took $15,000.
The alcohol and gambling lobby continued to donate generously to both major parties.
The various branches of the Australian Hotels Association gave $1.53m, the vast majority of which ($1.01m) went to Labor.
Labor also took $321,508 from the Pharmacy Guild, a frequent donor on behalf of the influential pharmaceutical industry.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of Labor’s election year funding came from unions, including the right-leaning Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, which gave Labor $1.6m in donations during the year.
The Cormack Foundation, an associated entity of the Liberal party, gave $2.5m to the Victorian branch and $3.5m to the federal party.
The Victorian Liberal party also declared $407,500 from the Bus Association of Victoria and $90,000 from the Chisholm MP, Gladys Liu.
The NSW Liberal party declared $2.8m in donations, including $300,000 from Reg Grundy’s widow, Joy Chambers Grundy, $140,000 from Roslyn Packer and $110,000 from Meriton Property Services. Meriton Group also gave $200,000 to the federal Liberals.
The Liberal National party of Queensland declared $217,500 from Apex Digital and $50,000 from Peter Hall.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation declared just one donation of $15,000 from Australians Against Counterfeit and Contraband Products.
The party was sustained by a $1.2m loan from its Queensland branch and $453,000 from Hanson herself. Hanson also gave the party $100,000 in “other receipts”.
On 1 February, Adani Mining updated its disclosure for the preceding year (2017-18), removing a $15,000 donation it had declared to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
Duncan Turpie, a reclusive mathematician, investor and high-end gambler, donated $450,000 to the Australian Greens.
The NSW Greens declared a $298,602 donation from the estate of Alan Roberts. The Greens candidate for Kooyong at the 2019 federal election, Julian Burnside, gave $50,000 to the Victorian branch.