AEC annual returns: Clive Palmer spends big, Liberals rake in more than Labor

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Political parties and lobby groups pulled in millions of dollars in political donations in the 2022-23 financial year, with Clive Palmer’s Mineralogy the biggest donor.

The Australian Electoral Commission published the annual returns on Thursday, revealing Mr Palmer’s company donated more than $7m to the billionaire mining magnate’s one-seat United Australia Party – well down from the company’s $116.9m spend during the 2021-22 election year.

With the release has come renewed calls for greater transparency around political donations.

The major parties reported receiving more than $200m in donations and other receipts – which includes public funding from the AEC and fees to attend the parties’ business forums.

On first look, Labor recorded a significant increase in receipts, totalling more than $219.7m – but that was driven by a typo out of the ACT branch which reported posting $136m in takings. The branch admitted that was a mistake and has lodged an amendment – with the real figure in fact $1.36m.

Taking that into account, the actual takings of the Labor Party were $84.5m.

The Liberal Party, across its national arm and state branches including the Liberal National Party in Queensland, received $111.6m, while its junior Coalition partner The Nationals received $13.6m.

The Greens received $25.6m.

Only donations over the $14,500 disclosure threshold were required to be submitted. That figure is indexed at the start of every financial year.

After Mineralogy, the second biggest donation was from The Cormack Foundation – a Liberal-aligned funding body – which gave the party more than $3.5m.

Anthony Pratt donated $1m to Labor though his company Pratt Holdings, giving nothing to the Liberal Party as he has done in recent years.

Of the big four consulting firms, PricewaterhouseCoopers donated $369,973 between the two major parties; Ernst & Young gave $227,853; Deloitte donated $177,126; and KPMG gave $163,200.

The release of the data has prompted The Australia Institute to renew its calls for real-time political donations disclosures, highlighting how flaws in the current system mean that some donations take over 18 months to be disclosed.

“These lags and other loopholes make it difficult to see how politicians and political parties are being funded, and by whom,” Bill Brown from the Australia Institute’s democracy and accountability program said.

“With Parliament resuming next week, this is a wake-up call that 2024 is the last chance for meaningful democratic reform ahead of the 2025 election.

“Australians should go to the next election with strict political donation disclosure laws, truth in political advertising laws in force and information about who’s meeting ministers made public as a matter of course.”

The donations and expenditure linked to the Voice to Parliament referendum won’t be released until April, but Advance Australia, the conservative lobby group that played a key role in the No campaign, doubled its receipts year-on-year to $5.2m.

Hadley Holdings, a Perth-based company, gave more than $1m to the group.

Advance’s declaration revealed the lobby group spent $4.5m on electoral expenditure over the financial year.

Climate 200, which backed the Teal MPs during the 2022 election, received a total of $4.7m in the financial year, spending $1.1m on electoral expenditure.