Australia: Parties get $57m donations from unknown sources

An examination conducted by Australia reveals that the origin of at least $57 million, comprising approximately 25% of the total funding received by major political parties, cannot be identified. The analysis of yearly political returns, disclosed by the Australian Electoral Commission on Thursday, indicates that between 21% and 27% of donations and other financial contributions to Labor, the Coalition, and the Greens come from undisclosed sources.

According to regulations, political parties are obligated to disclose the source of donations and payments exceeding a specific threshold, set at $15,200 for the 2022-23 period. The disparity between the declared donations and the overall amount received constitutes “dark money,” signifying funds for which the origin is not publicly disclosed. In this instance, it amounted to $56.7 million, equivalent to a quarter of the total funds received by Labor, the Greens, the Nationals, and the Liberals. Party branches opting to declare amounts below the threshold reported a smaller proportion of undisclosed funds.

Labor received $84.4 million in donations and other receipts, with 26.6% ($22.4 million) originating from unknown sources. The Greens declared $19.4 million in donations and receipts, while the origin of an additional $6.2 million, constituting 24%, remained undisclosed. Although the Liberal party recorded $25.2 million in dark money, slightly surpassing Labor, the percentage of undisclosed funds was marginally lower at 22.4%. The Nationals had the lowest percentage of dark money at 21.6%, having declared $10.6 million out of their $13.6 million in total receipts.

Simultaneously, proposals for electoral reforms by the Albanese government include spending and donation caps, as well as a reduction in the disclosure threshold. An interim report from the joint standing committee on electoral matters supports legislating changes to cap political donations, lower the disclosure threshold to $1,000, and introduce real-time donation disclosures by June. The opposition criticized these proposals, accusing the government of attempting to favor Labor and unions financially.

The minister of state, Don Farrell, confirmed ongoing efforts to secure consensus on enhancing transparency and accountability in the federal electoral system. The Greens senator Larissa Waters cautioned against potential agreements between the Albanese government and the opposition, emphasizing the lack of clarity on proposed reforms even two months after the inquiry’s final report.

The Centre for Public Integrity, which has been monitoring dark money in Australia’s political system, asserts that implementing these changes would significantly address the existing issues and enhance public trust. Catherine Williams, the center’s research director, emphasizes the necessity of these changes for greater visibility into party and candidate funding to ensure transparency and public confidence in the political system. The OurDemocracy campaign group’s analysis aligns with Australia’s findings, revealing that 23% of major parties’ receipts in the 2022-23 financial year had an undisclosed origin.

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