The tip of the iceberg: Political donations from the mining industry

by Han Aulby

Political donations in Australia are difficult to monitor as many go unreported. Only donations over $13,000 are disclosed to the Australian Electoral Commission. The majority of donations are likely to be under this disclosure threshold or hidden through other means, such as through associated entities or party fundraising events.

Despite these shortcomings, the disclosures that do exist allow for analysis of which companies make major, disclosed donations to which political parties. This report focuses on donations made to political parties by resource companies as disclosed to the Australian Electoral Commission. This includes donations over $13,000 made to state and federal political parties. The poor quality of data provided by the AEC makes more detailed analysis difficult.

This report finds that:

  • The mining industry has disclosed donations of $16.6 million to major political parties over the last ten years (2006-07 to 2015-16)
  • Disclosed mining industry donations to political parties have increased from a base of $345,000 in 2006-07 to a peak of $3,788,904 in 2010-11
  • 81% of these donations went to the Coalition, including 71% to the Liberal Party
  • Mining industry disclosed donations reached over $1 million for the first time in 2007-08, the first year that carbon pricing policy was taken to an election in Australia
  • Mining company donors often make significant political donations in years they pay no company tax
  • Donations correlate with the election cycle, timelines on project approvals, and debates on key industry policies such as the mining tax and carbon price

This influence is just the tip of the iceberg. Significant sources of political donations are hidden from public view, for example donations under $13,000, donations given through party fundraising events, and some donations hidden through associated entities. Mining companies have a much larger political expenditure budget, including spending on lobbying, advertising and entertaining political representatives. And political donations and expenditure are indicative of much broader political influence through other means, as demonstrated by the corruption of the mining licence process in NSW revealed by the NSW ICAC.

To reveal the full extent of mining industry political influence, exerted through political spending and other means, the Australia Institute recommends:

1. Improved disclosure and regulation of political donations and expenditure; and

2. The establishment of a federal ICAC, with public hearings to publicly investigate and expose corruption in federal politics and the public service

Full report