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License article

LNP in front on funding as parties' election war chests are revealed

Queensland’s Liberal National Party has amassed a campaign war chest almost twice the size of Labor’s and is raising money at double the rate of its rival, according to Electoral Commission of Queensland data.

As the parties gear up for the November 25 election, an analysis of ECQ real-time disclosures by Fairfax Media shows the LNP has received gifts totalling $7.1 million since January 2016, compared with the ALP’s $3.3 million in the same period.

The records show donations rolling in to the LNP at an average rate of $77,000 a week in the past two years, compared with about $36,000 a week for Labor. The pace of fundraising has increased in the past six months but the LNP is still raising about two dollars for every one collected by Labor.

However, this paints only a partial picture of the finances of the main parties, which in both cases are intertwined with the fortunes of in-house “associated entities” that have significant commercial interests but provide little public financial information. 

The Queensland ALP received $464,000 from its investment arm Labor Holdings during the first six months of this year, the only period available, although this does not appear in the ECQ “gifts” database. 

The ALP in Queensland disclosed to the federal electoral watchdog almost $3.2 million in receipts from Labor Holdings, which owns shares and other business interests, in the 2015-16 financial year, described as “donations” and “other”.


ECQ data shows the largest single gift to any party in the past two years was $600,000 received by the LNP in June 2016 from its in-house property company Altum, which owns industrial buildings in Brisbane and Gladstone and land on the Sunshine Coast.

The totals raised by the two major parties dwarf the finances of their smaller rivals. The Queensland Greens have declared a total of $360,000 in gifts since January 2016, the biggest contributors being the federal branch of the party ($94,000) and feminist and conservationist Ruth Greble ($35,000).

Katter’s Australian Party received a total of $156,000 in the same period, almost all of it from Queensland-based arms importer Nioa.

The Queensland branch of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation has declared just $6600 worth of gifts since 2016. According to the party’s periodic disclosure to the ECQ for the first six months of this year, all but $1000 of its income of $137,000 in the period came from “candidate fees”, with 40 candidates paying the party between $1000 and $4500 each.

The LNP’s coffers have enjoyed consistent support from a range of donors in the mining, property, hospitality and waste industries. Companies with “property” or “development” in their names gave just over $1 million to the party over the last two years, a contribution now under threat by government plans to ban donations from property developers.

The top individual donor to the LNP was mining entrepreneur Paul Darrouzet, who has given a total of $130,000 in four donations since January 2016.

The LNP received gifts worth $250,000 from the waste sector, including $146,000 from waste transport company JJ Richards, making it the party’s biggest external corporate sponsor. French utility Suez, which has interests in dumps, recycling and waste transport in  Queensland, gave  $90,000 but also gave the ALP $22,000.

Unions were the biggest single external source of funding for the ALP, giving the party $950,000, or just under a third of the total gifts received.

This amount included almost $300,000 received from United Voice in 30 separate donations, making the union the most prolific donor overall. Among these United Voice donations was a single $175,000 contribution in June 2016, the largest single gift received by the ALP.

The ALP also received $165,000 from the CEPU, which represents plumbers, electricians and postal workers, and $54,000 from the construction workers’ union, the CFMEU.

University of Queensland political scientist Graeme Orr said a new system of “instant disclosure” operating since July, under which donations must be declared within seven days of receipt, could be influencing the timing of gifts.

“There might be some ‘in the know’ who are holding their donations until it suits them,” he said.

Professor Orr said unions were among those that might wait until the last moment to make donations.

“Labor has an idea of when the election will be and the other side just has to gird its loins,” he said, prior to the election being called on Sunday.

Professor Orr added that Labor would benefit from union campaigning activities in the run-up to an election regardless of whether money changed hands.

Labor has ramped up fundraising in recent months, including by holding controversial “cash-for-access” fundraising events targeting businesses where guests each paid $5500 to attend a function with  senior ministers, including Deputy Premier Jackie Trad.

These activities have helped the ALP gather donations at a higher rate during the second half of this year and the party more than doubled the weekly inflow compared with a year earlier, to about $47,000 a week.

But its main rival has been taking in about $85,000 a week over the same period.

While the bedrock of LNP financial support remains the corporate sector, the ALP has also benefited from some significant corporate donors, including accounting firm KPMG ($74,000), Justice Services, an arm of Brisbane law firm Holding Redlich ($57,000) and developer Wingate Properties ($35,000).

The most prolific corporate political donor to any party has been developer Springfield Land Corporation, the property group run by Malaysian businessman Maha Sinnathamby with significant land holdings and development interests at Springfield in Ipswich. It made 19 donations totalling just under $115,000, split 60/40 between the ALP and LNP.

How we did it

Under Palaszczuk government reforms that came into force in March, political donations must be disclosed to the ECQ within seven days of receipt. The ECQ database has since been backdated to include information from 2015 onwards.

Although the ECQ database is searchable, there is no uniformity in the way donations are recorded, so the same party and donor are often described in multiple ways. Donors are not distinguished by type, such as union, company or individual and there are no requirements for donors to record their names in a particular way.

Fairfax Media rationalised and organised the more than 2000 gifts recorded between January 1, 2016, and October 7, 2017, using data management software called OpenRefine and analysed it in a series of spreadsheets to create rankings and tables. Where a party is described in different ways (“Labor”, “ALP”, “Qld Labor”, etc) , entries were grouped together. If donations were made directly to a candidate, they have been dealt with as having been received by that candidate’s party.

Searches using known components of names have been used to extract groups: for example “united”, “union” and acronyms were used to generate lists of union donors.

An ECQ spokeswoman said its disclosure regime was an “Australian first” system and efforts would be made to improve it over time.

“Because it’s in its infancy … there will be changes,” she said.