Political donations: New data maps industries’ web of influence

Companies, organisations and individuals arguably make political donations for one reason only: to influence Australian politics.

In a bid to trace the money and map its flow, ABC News has analysed the official donations data to reveal the industries and people using their riches in a bid to buy influence.

ABC’s analysis reveals property and construction companies are the country’s biggest donors — that’s despite a New South Wales ban on donations from property developers.

Finance and mining companies are the other major players in the political purse, along with unions.

The ABC is now releasing a new dataset that categorises donors by industry, and need your help to improve it.

Here are seven things the data tells us about who’s using their money to try to influence politics in Australia.Screen Shot 2017-02-15 at 9.56.43 AM.png

Individuals are the biggest category of donors…

Individuals donated $6.6 million to political parties in 2015-16, more than any one industry.

But many individuals have vested interests

Many donors who gave in their personal names own businesses or have ties to corporations that can benefit from Government decision-making.

  • Mining entrepreneur Paul Marks was the largest individual donor, giving $1.3 million to the Liberal Party. Mr Marks is the chairman of Nimrod Resources and the Abbott government facilitated a lucrative deal he signed with a Chinese government-owned company in 2015.
  • Entrepreneur Graeme Wood gave the second-largest donation in Australian history to the Greens and last year pitched in $630,000 to their campaign coffers. Mr Wood is an environmental campaigner who openly seeks to influence Australia’s climate change policies.
  • Industrialist Michael Crouch donated $161,350 to the Liberal and National parties. He has substantial long-term investments in manufacturing, meat processing and beef production companies that are exposed to the Government’s trade, export and land ownership policies.

Some individuals donate using their trusts or holding companies.

Flight Centre co-founder and businessman Geoff Harris and his son Bradley Harris donated $520,000 to the Sustainable Australia party using two separate business names, Rufolo Pty Ltd and 26 Summers Pty Ltd. The senior Mr Harris has been a vocal advocate for lowering immigration and reducing population growth, which are the pillars of Sustainable Australia.

Other individuals with strong corporate links include:

  • Raymond Stack, who donated $112,000 to the Coalition, has interests in the mortgage finance industry. Mr Stack had previously loaned money to jailed NSW politician Eddie Obeid.
  • Orthopaedic surgeon Anthony Robinson and his wife Deborah poured more than $500,000 into their own party, the anti-Islamic Australian Liberty Alliance.
  • Reclusive gambler Duncan Turpie donated $500,000 to the Greens.

The banks were undeterred by royal commission debate

Labor’s election promise to hold a royal commission into the banks did not do any harm to their donations from the big four.

Westpac, the Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and ANZ all donated almost identical amounts to Labor ($310,000 in total) and the Liberals ($334,000).

Overall, the finance and insurance companies were the third-largest donor category for the Liberals and Labor.

Manufacturing, property and resources give more to Liberals

The industrial, manufacturing, property and construction sectors donated far more to the Liberal Party than Labor, although many split their bets and supported both major parties.

The difference is mainly due to five notable large donors.

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-10-01-47-am

Of the almost $1 million donated by industrial or manufacturing companies, $850,000 came from Pratt Holdings. It gave $830,000 to the Liberals but only $20,000 to Labor.

Pratt Holdings is the cardboard packaging empire of businessman Richard Pratt, who died in 2009. The Pratt family have been long-time Liberal supporters.

In the property and construction category, most of the $1.2 million extra money donated to the Liberals came from five companies: Servcorp, Omnioffices, Sovori, Walker Group Holdings and Hong Kong Kingson Investment Co., Ltd.

These companies can be boiled down to just three key donors.

Servcorp, Omnioffices and Sovori are owned by Alf and Taine Moufarrige and provide serviced and virtual offices, while the Walker Group is a property developer.

The Hong Kong Kingson Investment Company is connected to Chinese-Australian property developer Chau Chak Wing.

In the resources category, the gap between Liberal and Labor comes via a $400,000 donation to the Liberals from Chinese businesswoman Sally Zou, whose company Ausgold has gold and copper mining interests across Australia.

Please read more here.

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