Malcolm Turnbull's $1.75 million to his own party made him the biggest donor in Australian politics last financial year

Suhaimi Abdullah/ Getty ImagesAustralian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull
  • Malcolm Turnbull was the country’s most generous political donor, handing over more than three times more than anyone else.
  • Political donations overall were up in 2016-17, helped largely by the post-election public funding given to parties for every vote they receive.
  • Nearly all political parties, at both state and federal levels, spent more than they received in funding and donations, leaving them millions of dollars in debt.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was the biggest donor in Australian politics last financial year, bankrolling the Liberals with his $1.75 million in donations.

After surviving his re-election campaign with a one seat majority, it was a lucrative time for the Liberals, with the federal branch topping the Australian Electoral Commission’s funding list for 2016-17 at $36.785 million, receiving around $2.5 million more than federal Labor with $33.294 million.

The figures including the generosity of taxpayers via election funding laws which pay nearly $2.63 per eligible vote to the party that receives it. It accounts for the vast majority of funds received. In the case of the Liberals, that tipped around $24.5 million into the federal account, while the ALP scored more than $23 million.

All up, in excess of $207 million was tipped into party coffers. The Coalition’s junior partner, The Nationals, had a pretty lean year. The NSW branch did best, in 10th place overall receiving $6.76 million but the federal Nationals were the poor cousins, scoring just $2 million with a 10% coming from the Queensland LNP and another 10% from the NSW Nationals, and leaving their fundraising effort well behind $2.374 million to The Greens and $2.218 million for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

But despite pledging budgetary restraint and balanced books to voters as they seek election, the major parties are remarkably spendthrift when it comes to the pursuit of power.

The Liberals overspent on the 2016 election to the tune of $39.5 million, leaving them $3.71 million in debt, while the ALP was $1.88 million in the red after blowing $35 million on campaigning.

But when it came to cashflow, 2016-17 was a good year all around for the Liberals, with various branches taking out five on the top six spots on the donations table. The NSW Liberals raked in $17.135 million, more than double the ALP’s NSW branch at $8.246 million. With the rare exceptions of the WA Liberals and the Northern Territory Country Liberals, every major political party, at both the state and federal levels, ended the year in debt, spending more than they received.

The Coalition’s income was up $12 million to $107 million and the ALP scored an extra $10m to $71 million. Income and donations to minor parties, including the Greens, were down slightly.

Political parties are, by law, required to disclose donations above $13,200, but the disclosure is released annually seven months after the financial year ends – and up to 19 months after a donation was made.

Turnbull donated $1 million to the federal party in October 2016, three months after his reelection as prime minister, and a further $750,000 two months later in December.

The country’s next biggest donor was Kerry Packer’s widow, Roslyn, who gave the federal Liberals $500,000.

Mining magnate Sally Zou, who was at the centre of the debate over Chinese influence in Australian politics last year, especially when it emerged that she’d sent up company called the “Julie Bishop Glorious Foundation”, was next in line, handing over $316,064 via her business Ausgold Mining Group.

The Liberals also enjoyed support from several corporate donors tipping in six-figure sums, including Wesfarmers, ANZ, PWC, Woodside, and private Victorian business Burnewang Pastoral Co.

Of donations of $100,000 or more, 17 of the 21 went to the Coalition at a state or federal level.

But some companies are more subtle in their support, including James Packer’s Crown Resorts business, which spread its support widely and mostly in amounts under $10,000 to the Liberals, Labor and Nationals for a total of $210,000. Gambling rival Star Entertainment was also similarly low key in its generosity to both sides, but the total figure of $145,000.

The ALP’s most generous corporate supporter was the ANZ Bank, which gave them $150,000, although it was politically even-handed, also giving the Liberals the same amount. The National Automotive Leasing and Salary Packaging Association was Labor’s next biggest backer with $128,100, but they also gave the Liberals $150,000. Woodside’s $110,000 was equal to its donation to the Liberals.

Just two weeks ago, Labor lodged an amended filing, handing back $2200 from Adani, the Indian company that wants to build the controversial Carmichael mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. The company is seeking a $1 billion federal loan to assist the development after Australia’s leading banks rejected funding the project.

The Greens received $150,000 long-time supporter, Duncan Turpie, a mathematician and gambler, while Maverick Queensland independent MP Bob Katter’s Katter Australia Party received $150,000 from United Petroleum, the privately-owned company which had been seeking a stock exchange float in 2016 before calling it off amid Fair Work Ombudsman findings that it had been underpaying employees at its petrol stations.

Here are the country’s top donors in 2016-17.

Source: AEC

And here are AEC’s income and expenditure filings for the country’s major political parties.

Source: AEC

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