The end of the week saw the Commonwealth donations data release, with some analysts criticising what they called massive flaws in the Australian political donations system.
According to the data provided in the report, the local gambling lobby emerged as one of the largest contributors to local political parties. It donated over AU$500,000 to the Liberals in return to the party’s support in the operators’ opposition against poker machine removal from Tasmanian clubs and pubs.
The released report showed that the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) has been the second largest contributor to the country’s political parties, with the declared gifts increasing from AU$153,000 in 2016/17 to AU$1.1 million in 2017/18. The AHA donated a total of AU$289,000 to the Tasmanian division of the Australian Liberals to help its campaign against the promised poker machine crackdown of the Labor Party.
As mentioned above, the overall contributions made by the gambling lobby to the Tasmanian Liberals amounted to AU$513,750 in the last fiscal year. Further donations to the party came from mainland gambling interests, including a contribution of AU$12,000 which came from the AHA federal office, and an AU$2,750 donation from Tabcorp.
AHA Lobby Sought Political Support for Pro-Pokies Campaign
The thing is that the future of so-called pokies in Tasmania’s clubs and pubs was one of the major issues in last year’s elections. The local Labor Party started a campaign against the controversial poker machines, making a proposal for the state to eliminate the terminals by 2023. The Liberal Party, on the other hand, backed the machines and said they should be permitted in the state for no less than 25 years.
The AHA lobby carried out an aggressive advertising campaign during the election. According to some analysts, the lobby groups were using cash donations to guarantee political parties’ support to their cause.
After yesterday’s result in Tasmania election, I have a feeling Federal Liberal’s strategy will be to attack Labor on guns and gambling. All with the help of Cambridge Analytica. This is going to be a shit time in politics. #auspol #insiders
— Eddy Jokovich (@EddyJokovich) March 4, 2018
All in all, the donations received by the Tasmanian Liberals were a lot larger than the ones obtained by the state’s Labor Party. The total donations which the Liberals got amounted to AU$4.1 million, while the Labor Party got AU$1 million only. The Liberals were obliged to declare the source of only AU$950,000 of the overall amount because under the current rules political parties do not have to declare contributors who made donations smaller than AU$13,500.
More than 50% of the declared donations of the Tasmanian Liberals were generated by poker machine owners or their representatives.
Tasmania votes for guns and gambling. While the rest of us pay GST to pull them through.
— Mike Carlton (@MikeCarlton01) March 3, 2018
Donations Under the AU$13,800 Threshold Remain Undeclared
Contributions received by political parties are revealed up to 19 months after the donation is made.
The last couple of years have seen most states following far more transparent regimes, but the revelations in the latest Commonwealth donations data release regarding the extent of gambling businesses’ contributions to political parties in the lead-up to the Tasmanian election in March 2018 are still concerning.
Now, experts have criticised the Tasmanian Commonwealth regime for its lack of transparency, saying that local voters had to wait almost a year to see where the money came from. According to some specialists, there is really no need for such a delay, considering the many opportunities for instant communications on the Internet.
The disclosure threshold in Tasmania has also faced criticism. As mentioned above, local political parties are not obliged to declare donations which are under the AU$13,800 threshold, even in case that a certain contributor makes a number of smaller donations which together would surpass the aforementioned amount.
For example, the Tasmanian Hotels’ Association declaration shows that a total amount of AU$57,000 was granted to the local Liberal Party in seven separate donations only two days before the March 2018 election. However, none of these donations is included in the declaration of the Liberal Party, due to the fact that each of them was smaller than the threshold.