Every year, Australian governments and their departments spend billions of dollars of your money to help more coal, gas and oil to be extracted and burned. Favourable decisions include:
- tax-based subsidies
- direct contributions
- concessional loans from public financial institutions
- lax environmental laws and approvals for disastrous projects.
Meanwhile, drought and extreme temperatures are fast becoming the new normal and annual carbon emissions were up by 0.6% in 2018, driven mainly by gas export facilities.
So how has the fossil fuel industry come to enjoy such a cosy relationship with our politicians? A trawl of the latest political donations data, released on 1 February, offers some clues.
Fossil fuel donations up 32%
In 2017-18, fossil fuel companies donated $1,277,933 to the ALP, Liberal and National parties. This was up 32% from $968,343 in 2016-17 ($1.03 million in 2015-16).
Yet given Australia’s reputation for woefully inadequate political disclosure and ‘dark money’ donations, the true figure could be 5-10 times higher. Like last year, we found big discrepancies between what the major political parties disclosed, and how much the fossil fuel companies claimed to have gifted.
Leading the pack in 2018 with $237,300 worth of largesse was Woodside Energy, followed by Santos with $182,083 and Chevron Australia with $121,879.
Notably, Chevron paid no company tax over the four financial years to 2017 and received a government handout for a gas project linked to huge increases in Australia’s CO2 emissions (see below).
Check out the table below to see how much the other top 10 fossil fuel donors splurged, and explore the full list of industry donations further down.
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Top 10 fossil fuel donors 2017-18
|Minerals Council of Australia||$41,200||$43,250||$10,450||$94,900|
|The Trustee for St Baker Family Trust||$0||$50,000||$0||$50,000|
What about the rest?
The table below lists donations made by fossil fuel companies to major Australian political parties in the 2017-18 financial year. What we found astonishing was not just the scale of donations, but the discrepancies between what donors and parties actually reported. The total discrepancy in reporting came to over half a million dollars ($552,923)!
|Party||Donor||Donations disclosed by party||Donations disclosed by company|
|Alinta Servco Pty Ltd||$3,000||$68,500|
|Australian Drilling Industry Association||$1,350||NA|
|Caltex Australia Limited||$19,800||$44,138|
|Chamber of Minerals and Energy of Western Australia||$13,500||NA|
|Chevron Australia Pty Ltd||$34,550||$59,000|
|Energy Developments Pty Ltd||$5,480||NA|
|Mineral Resources Limited||$3,000||NA|
|Minerals Council of Australia||$40,500||$41,200|
|Qld Resources Council||$5,500||NA|
|Adani Mining Pty Ltd||NA||$35,000|
|Alinta Servco Pty Ltd||NA||$25,000|
|Caltex Australia Limited||$27,500||$52,769|
|Chevron Australia Pty Ltd||NA||$51,219|
|Minerals Council of Australia||$27,500||$43,250|
|The Trustee for St Baker Family Trust||$50,000||$50,000|
|Whitehaven Coal Limited||$25,000||$35,000|
|Alinta Servco Pty Ltd||NA||$25,250|
|Chevron Australia Pty Ltd||NA||$11,660|
|Minerals Council of Australia||NA||$10,450|
|TOTAL FOSSIL FUELS||$812,265||$1,190,678|
Money well spent?
At Origin Energy's 2017 AGM, shareholders asked the board why Origin pays more to attend political functions than its ASX peers, and why can’t it influence policy outside of such events. Chairman Gordon Cairns responded that the state of energy policy was largely due to their influence, and it was “money well spent”!
Given that Australia’s energy policy is nothing short of a train wreck, Origin Energy taking credit for it speaks volumes about the intention of its political lobbying. No wonder shareholders at its 2018 AGM voted in record numbers for Origin to review its membership of anti-climate lobbying groups such as the APPEA and Queensland Resources Council, which both feature on our political donations list.
Chevron: the worst of a bad bunch?
Perhaps one of Australia’s most egregious examples of corporate fossil fuel behaviour is Chevron. It paid zero company tax in Australia over the four years to 2017 according to the latest Australian Taxation Office (ATO) data.
Meanwhile Chevron Australia gave $444,893 to Australia’s major political parties over the same period. The latest donations data shows it gave $121,879 in FY2018.
In 2017, Chevron was ordered to pay more than $300 million in taxes after being pursued by the ATO. Jason Ward from the Tax Justice Network told the ABC: "It sends a clear message to Chevron and other multinationals that these tax dodging schemes won't be allowed any longer."
Chevron's influence is having a direct impact on our climate too - half of Australia's annual CO2 emissions increase in 2018 has been linked to a failed carbon capture and storage (CCS) project at Chevron’s Gorgon LNG project in Western Australia. This so-called ‘Gorgon Carbon Dioxide Injection project’ is backed by a $60 million federal government direct subsidy paid for by your tax dollars.
Why is donations disclosure such a mess?
The discrepancies in donations reported by donors and parties is the tip of the iceberg. Australia’s political disclosure laws are incredibly lax, so much so that in 2018 they were the subject of a Senate inquiry and a damning report by the Grattan Institute. The consequences of our pathetic legislation are many:
- Delayed reporting: learning about donations up to 18 months after they’re made
- Party and donor returns not reconciling
- Lack of standardisation of donor names
- Donations hidden in associated entities
- Donors can ‘split’ donations into small amounts that parties don’t have to disclose
All this adds to the ever-growing distrust that Australians have in our political system. It must be asked whether companies are making donations for access to politicians or to influence policy outcomes?
"Small groups of carbon-intensive firms, who would inevitably suffer most under a sound, national-interest policy proposal, were able to lobby much more powerfully than large groups like taxpayers or consumers, and arguably changed the proposal into something which better protects their special interests."Pezzey, Mazouz & Jotzo, 2010
How do the numbers compare to previous years?
The tables below contain all donations we were able to compile for the 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 financial years. If you know of other donation sources, please send us an email at [email protected]