The corruption of corporate political donations is still here

Contributed by Jim Hayes

You can tell we are entering election season. Corporate donations are rolling into the political parties. The fossil fuel companies are there and have officially handed over are $1 million. The comes from analysis by environment campaign group of Australian Electoral Commission data. Top of the list though is he world of finance.

But the amount shown only represents that which given openly. Most corporate donations go via third parties or other hidden means, to exploit loopholes in the law and keep it out of site of the Australian public.

Only direct donations to political parties must be declared to the Australian electoral Commission. This imitation serves to give an underestimated view of real extent of political donations.

Instead of calling them donations, much of the money comes in as other receipts. Sometimes, they are put across as loans. One example of providers of donations by another name, is the Cormac Foundation, with its complex network of entities, disguising money transferred as investments. Another is Parakeelia, established in 1989 as a Liberal Party owned software development company, and really, a vehicle to transfer funds to the party as payments for services. A scandal during the 2016 election put Parakeelia into the headlines but was later ruled to not have broken any laws.

In 2019, property tycoon gave the Liberal Party $4.1 million. Anthony Pratt gave $1.3 million. An investigation by the Australian Conservation Foundation found a further $2 million donated by fossil fuel companies. Get the picture?

Analysis by the Centre for Public Integrity shows that $1 billion in money transfers to political parties was not declared between 1999 and 2019.

But all of these are small players in the corporate world operating within the Australian economy. Would anyone seriously believe that the biggest players don’t make political contributions? This is where the world of finances really comes into its own. Consider the shareholding of any major company and financial institutions own a substantial portion of the shares, and often a controlling interest. The law allows for the creation of complex and hidden entities, including nominee companies and trusts, which avoid the usual disclosure laws. It makes sense that the largest part of political donations will come via this route.

We don’t know how much this is. But the Panama Papers disclosed by WikiLeaks proved to what lengths the corporate world will go to hide the money trial to avoid paying tax, and they would undoubtedly to the same to buy political favours.

This is what it is all about. Donations, under whatever name they take, are made in the expectation of something in return. For big business it means policies that suit business ambitions, help with commercial deals, tax breaks and subsidies.

The dependency of political parties on donations corrupts the political process. They should be outlawed, and political parties made dependent on gaining the support of the population and not money from the corporate world.

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