Home > Friends in high places: fossil fuel political donations

Friends in high places: fossil fuel political donations

31 January 2019

February 2019

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:

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%

political donations 2019 top 10

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.

To help Market Forces keep producing research like this and calling out politicians and their fossil fuel paymasters, please consider becoming a regular supporter today.

Share this Post

Top 10 fossil fuel donors 2017-18

Company ALP LIB NAT Total
Woodside $117,700 $118,500 $1,100 $237,300
Santos $85,610 $71,973 $24,500 $182,083
Chevron Australia $59,000 $51,219 $11,660 $121,879
Alinta Energy $68,500 $25,000 $25,250 $118,750
Origin Energy $54,500 $39,670 $16,425 $110,595
Caltex $44,138 $52,769 $0 $96,907
Minerals Council of Australia $41,200 $43,250 $10,450 $94,900
Cartwheel Resources $0 $52,864 $0 $52,864
Senex Energy $36,500 $15,400 $0 $51,900
The Trustee for St Baker Family Trust $0 $50,000 $0 $50,000
Are your retirement savings invested in these fossil fuel companies? Visit Super Switch to find out and take action!

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
APA Group $3,850 NA
APPEA $25,075 NA
Aurizon $11,000 NA
Australian Drilling Industry Association $1,350 NA
Brian Flannery $2,000 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
Origin Energy $38,500 $54,500
Qld Resources Council $5,500 NA
Santos $77,260 $85,610
Senex Energy $36,500 $20,000
Woodside Energy $110,000 $117,700
TOTAL $430,865 $490,671
Adani Mining Pty Ltd NA $35,000
Alinta Servco Pty Ltd NA $25,000
Brian Flannery $20,000 $20,000
Caltex Australia Limited $27,500 $52,769
Cartwheel Resources $36,000 $52,864
Chevron Australia Pty Ltd NA $51,219
Minerals Council of Australia $27,500 $43,250
Origin Energy $27,500 $39,670
Santos $42,500 $71,973
Senex Energy $15,400 $15,400
The Trustee for St Baker Family Trust $50,000 $50,000
Whitehaven Coal Limited $25,000 $35,000
Woodside Energy $118,500 $8,500
TOTAL $381,400 $610,645
Alinta Servco Pty Ltd NA $25,250
Chevron Australia Pty Ltd NA $11,660
Minerals Council of Australia NA $10,450
Origin Energy NA $16,425
Santos NA $24,500
Woodside Energy NA $1,100
TOTAL $0 $89,385
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 offshore platform

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]