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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Christopher Knaus, Nick Evershed and Paul Karp

Clive Palmer’s mining company pumped $116m into UAP at 2022 election, helping it outspend major parties

The mining company owned by Clive Palmer (pictured) donated $116m to the United Australia party at the 2022 federal election.
The mining company owned by Clive Palmer (pictured) donated $116m to the United Australia party at the 2022 federal election. The UAP spent a total of $123.5m in 2021-22, more than both Labor ($116m) and the Liberals ($118m). Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

Clive Palmer’s mining company, Mineralogy, donated $116m to the United Australia party in the last financial year, helping it outspend the two major parties at the 2022 election.

Annual returns, released by the Australian Electoral Commission on Wednesday, show the UAP spent $123.5m in 2021-22, more than both Labor ($116m) and the Liberals ($118m).

The revelation is likely to add to transparency stakeholders calls’ for spending and donation caps, which have the backing of the Albanese government and qualified support from crossbench senator David Pocock.

Across its national, states and territory branches, Labor raked in $124m in donations and “other receipts”, a category which includes fees to attend the party’s business forums, public funding from the AEC, jobkeeper payments from the ATO and any other payment.

The Liberal party has declared $106.7m in donations and other receipts, with a further $11.5m declared by its Coalition partner, the Nationals.

The Australian Labor party declared most of its biggest donations were from union affiliates including $1.2m from the electrical branch of the Communications, Electrical, Plumbing Union and $273,000 from the Rail Tram and Bus Union.

Labor’s biggest donor was Anthony Pratt’s Pratt Holdings which gave $1.78m across all branches, while Clubs NSW gave a total of $178,336.

The ALP declared “other receipts” from the Minerals Council ($102,500), Santos ($69,500), Sportsbet ($120,000) and coal baron Trevor St Baker’s St Baker Energy Innovation Trust ($31,900).

The federal Liberal party’s biggest donation was $3m from the Cormack Foundation, which is an associated entity of the party. Pratt Holdings gave $2m across all the party’s divisions.

Sugolena Pty Ltd, a company linked to philanthropist Isaac Wakil, who made his fortune in the clothing industry and invested heavily in property, gave the Liberals a total of $1m. Sugolena gave the Liberals $4.1m before the 2019 election.

Other large donations to the Liberals included: $500,000 from Jefferson Investments; $450,000 from the Greenfields Foundation, which the party also owes $1m; $300,000 from Hemmes Trading; and $230,000 from Meriton.

The New South Wales Liberals also declared a $100,000 donation from Justin Hemmes. Clubs NSW gave the Liberals and Nationals a total of $116,641.

Australian Romance Pty Ltd, which is directed by Chinese businesswoman Sally Zhou, gave $445,783 to the Liberal party in South Australia.

Mineralogy’s total of $116m to the United Australia party far outstrips the $83.7m Palmer’s company donated to the UAP ahead of the 2019 election.

Mineralogy also donated $250,000 to the Liberal Democrats in 2021-22. The minor party struck a preference deal with UAP during the 2022 federal election and were both heavily opposed to vaccine mandates.

Philip Morris declared donations of $55,000 each to both the Nationals and the Liberal Democrats.

The Greens declared about $22m in donations and other receipts in 2021-22. Most of their donations came from individuals, including Duncan Turpie and the trust of Tasmanian icon David Walsh, who both made money from gambling.

David Pocock’s party declared almost $1.7m in total receipts including $856,382 from Climate 200 and $200,000 from Keldoulis Investment Pty Ltd, the share trading firm of Robert Keldoulis.

ACT senator David Pocock received $856,382 from Climate 200 and $200,000 from Keldoulis Investment Pty Ltd.
ACT senator David Pocock received $856,382 from Climate 200 and $200,000 from Keldoulis Investment Pty Ltd. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

Keldoulis, who said in November he planned to continue to fund independents, also donated $24,000 to Pocock under his own name.

The UAP annual return also shows it has debts of $9.3m to Google Australia and $751,902 to News Corp.

The belated nature of donations disclosures – this time a full eight months after the May 2022 election – has been the subject of frequent criticism by integrity and transparency campaigners.

The Albanese government has committed to implement a system of real-time political donation disclosure and to lower the disclosure threshold to $1,000.

The joint standing committee on electoral matters is currently considering spending and donations caps as parts of its review of the 2022 election.

The ALP national secretary, Paul Erickson, has warned that inquiry that the lack of regulation allowed “extremely high-net-worth individuals, groups and networks to distort the political conversation with levels of advertising that were previously inconceivable in Australian elections”.

“Expenditure from some actors crowds out all others. Further, the pestilential quality of some of these campaigns is eroding trust and confidence in our elections and in the democratic system.”

The Liberals have so far resisted donation and spending caps, arguing Labor lacks a mandate for the changes.

Pocock has proposed that limits on donations should continue to allow funding entities to collect and “pass through” donations to candidates and parties and that these secondary donations should be uncapped.

Climate 200, a funding vehicle that donated to the teal independents’ campaigns, has warned changes should account for the incumbency advantage of major parties. The AEC returns show Climate 200 both spent and raised $12.9m in 2021-22.

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