Every year, Australian governments and their departments spend billions of dollars of your money so that more coal, gas and oil can 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.
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 3 February, offers some clues.
Fossil fuel donations up 48%
In 2018-19, fossil fuel companies donated $1,897,379 to the ALP, Liberal and National parties. This was up 48% from $1,277,933 in 2017-18 ($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 2018-19 with $283,340 worth of largesse was Woodside Energy, followed by Adani with $247,300 and Mineral Resources with $167,000.
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 2018-19
|Minerals Council of Australia||$83,996||$62,250||$9,194||$155,440|
|The Trustee for St Baker Family Trust||$52,620||$27,500||$16,500||$96,620|
What about the rest?
The table below lists donations made by fossil fuel companies to major Australian political parties in the 2018-19 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 $834,279!
|Party||Donor||Donations disclosed by party||Donations disclosed by company|
|Alinta Servco Pty Ltd||$34,500||$57,000|
|Australia Pacific LNG||$3,960||NA|
|Caltex Australia Ltd||$8,100||$14,200|
|Chevron Australia Pty Ltd||$18,600||$54,600|
|Liberty Oil Corporation Pty Ltd||$5,500||NA|
|Minerals Council of Australia||$45,750||$83,996|
|Northern Oil & Gas Australia Pty Ltd||$19,250||NA|
|Port of Newcastle||$37,000||$51,000|
|Queensland Resources Council||$12,870||NA|
|Southern Oil Refining||$19,975||NA|
|The Chamber of Minerals & Energy of WA||$43,500||NA|
|The Trustee for St Baker Family Trust||$52,620||$40,450|
|Alinta Servco Pty Ltd||NA||$20,000|
|Australian Pipelines & Gas Association||$27,500||NA|
|Caltex Australia Limited||NA||$14,606|
|Chevron Australia Pty Ltd||NA||$53,125|
|Minerals Council of Australia||$62,250||$53,540|
|The Chamber of Minerals & Energy of WA||$25,000||NA|
|The Trustee for St Baker Family Trust||$27,500||$17,500|
|Whitehaven Coal Limited||NA||$17,500|
|Alinta Servco Pty Ltd||NA||$25,000|
|Caltex Australia Limited||NA||$1,500|
|Chevron Australia Pty Ltd||NA||$16,960|
|Minerals Council of Australia||NA||$9,194|
|The Trustee for St Baker Family Trust||$16,500||$16,500|
|TOTAL FOSSIL FUELS||$1,299,005||$1,661,474|
Adani’s donations timed around approvals
In a critical year for its climate-wrecking Carmichael coal project, Adani rocketed up the ladder to become the second-biggest fossil fuel donor in Australia, with some major donations to both the Liberal and National parties.
According to the Australian Conservation Foundation, a donation of $12,500 was made to the Liberal Party just a few days before the Federal Government ignored the concerns of scientists and rushed through approval of Adani's groundwater management plan. The next month, on the eve of the Federal election being called, Adani donated another $200k to the Liberal and National parties.
Meanwhile, in February Adani was fined just $20,000 for providing the Queensland Government false and misleading information about their land clearing.
Mineral Resources has predominantly been an iron-ore miner and mining services company. But since the company’s November 2017 acquisition of company ‘Energy Resources’, it now holds nine exploration permits for substantial oil and gas projects in the onshore Perth Basin, and has become the third largest fossil fuel donor to the ALP, Liberal and National parties ($167,000).
Mineral Resources is also reportedly the leading donor from the mining sector to political parties in Western Australia. The same report also noted that ‘in 2018-19, the oil and gas sector had huge projects in front of various government agencies and lobbied hard for the WA government to tame the WA Environmental Protection Authority after its surprise zero-carbon emission guideline announcement.
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 Centre for Public Integrity estimates that more than $100 million in donations were not disclosed in 2018-19, with the Liberal and National parties hiding about 40% of income and Labor hiding about 28% over two decades. 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, 2016-17 and 2017-18 financial years. If you know of other donation sources, please send us an email at [email protected]