Fossil-fuel industry doubles donations to major parties in four years, report shows

Coal, oil and gas companies trying to ‘buy political power’, says Australian Conservation Foundation

The fossil-fuel industry has doubled its donations to the major parties in the past four years, new analysis suggests.

A new Australian Conservation Foundation report examining last week’s dump of donations data suggests the coal, oil and gas industry gave $1.9m in 2018-19.

That’s more than double the $894,336 it gave in 2015-16, the ACF says.

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The three biggest donors in 2018-19 were the oil and gas behemoth Woodside Petroleum, the coalminer Adani, and industry lobby group the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association.
Across the four years, the largest donors were Woodside ($1m), Santos Limited ($567,537), Chevron ($452,017), Mineral Resources ($373,650), Origin Energy ($360,047), and Bluescope ($337,655). The analysis excludes the massive $83.3m in donations made by Clive Palmer’s mining company, Mineralogy, to his United Australia party.

The extractive sector was found to be overrepresented among large fossil-fuel donors.

Six of the 10 top donors were extractors, and since 2015-16 the extractive sector had donated $3.3m, or about 60% of fossil-fuel donations, the analysis found.

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Labor and the Coalition took roughly the same amount from the industry over the four years, other than 2017-18 when donations to the Coalition far outstripped Labor. Donations to the Coalition were only slightly higher than to Labor during the 2018-19 election year.

Fossil-fuel money has also been pumped into associated entities, groups that are aligned to the major parties.

The Minerals Council of Australia gave money to Liberal and Nationals-aligned entities such as the Australian Business Network, Enterprise Victoria, John McEwen House and Platinum Circle, and Labor entities such as Progressive Business, the federal Labor business forum, federal Labor business exchange, and the Hunter federal campaign.
Jolene Elberth, a campaigner with ACF, said the report showed the sector was attempting to “buy political power” through donations. “As more Australians demand action on climate change and the pressure builds on politicians to take the problem seriously, the fossil-fuel industry is doubling down by spending more money to influence public policy,” she said.

It is impossible to tell whether the donations declared by both parties represent the true extent of fossil-fuel political financing. Australia’s electoral laws require donations to be declared only if they are above $14,000. Donations can be split into multiple payments below $14,000 and still remain hidden, even if they total more than the threshold.

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That allows a large proportion of financing to remain hidden from the public. The Centre for Public Integrity and the ACF both estimate the amount of unsourced money – known as dark money – at $100m in 2018-19.

“This paper shows that both major parties are dependent on donations from the fossil-fuel lobby,” the ACF report concluded. “Not only this, but our major parties and their fundraising entities are responsible for a large sum of dark money in our system.

“With poor requirements for reporting donations, there is little transparency to hold donors and parties to account.”

The federal donations system has remained weak even as state governments have progressed towards transparency. NSW, Victoria and Queensland require donations above $1,000 to be disclosed. The donations are reported to the public in near real-time.

But federally, donations are disclosed only once a year, in February, making it impossible for the public to understand donors’ attempts to influence politics at any single point.

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