The Boardwalk #1
In 2012 political donations to parties in Queensland were capped at $5000. Donations from related corporations were treated as one from a single entity. Anonymous donations of $200 or more were banned.
However, there was a get-out-of-jail-free card. Gifts to political parties were uncapped so long as they were not for campaign purposes. Later that year the Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) explained in its report ‘The regulation of political donations and gifts in Queensland’:
‘Political parties, state candidates and third parties are required to establish state campaign accounts. Only electoral donations that fall under the cap are able to be deposited into the account and only electoral expenditure is allowed to be paid out of the account. Any electoral donation that exceeds the cap can only be deposited into a general administration account. There is no cap on general donations that are unrelated to election campaigns.’
Queensland’s Liberal National Party must have had a large administrative bill in 2012. Money was flooding in, even from interstate.
Controversial Newcastle mining and ‘magnate’ Nathan Tinkler was grilled at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) earlier this year about political donations in New South Wales, in particular to Liberal Party slush fund Eightbyfive. Political donations by property developers were banned in NSW in 2009. His defence, according to the Sydney Morning Herald: ‘I’ve given more to worse people’.
The Daily Telegraph summarized the money trail:
ICAC alleges $66,000 was paid through the back door in order to subvert electoral funding laws which prevented developers from donating to politicians. ICAC revealed yesterday Mr Tinkler made $214,000 in allegedly illegal political donations ahead of the 2011 state election — $50,000 to the Newcastle Alliance, $45,000 to the National Party, $66,000 to EightbyFive and $53,000 to the NSW Liberal Party through the Free Enterprise Foundation — at the same time he was lobbying for [a] coal loader in Newcastle.
It seems that Tinkler may have form in Queensland as well. At least two companies linked to him gave gifts to the Liberal National Party during the 2012 State election period: International Ports and Logistics Ltd ($22,500 contribution) and Boardwalk Resources Pty Ltd ($22,500 donation).
The LNP return to the Electoral Commission of Queensland (First Half 2012) gave the address for both companies as 366 Queen Street Brisbane Qld 4000. International Ports and Logistics used the following address on its own return for the same donation: C8 The Boardwalk Newcastle 2300. Aimee Hyde, Corporate Counsel at Tinkler Group from April 2011, completed the form giving the date of the donation as 21 March 2012, three days before the State election.
Tinkler apparently put up the Queen Street property for sale later that year. The address was also given to the Australian Electoral Commission for a Tinkler Group donation ($22,000) recorded on the Liberal Party of Australia disclosure form for 2010-11. However, the main AEC page shows the address at The Boardwalk.
Apparently the Tinkler Group website was taken down in December 2012, and his company Queen Street Capital was being wound up.
A tangled web indeed. Strange how everything and everyone is connected in this shadowy world. One of Boardwalk Resources’ directors is Peter Kane who is Group Managing Director of Guildford Coal. There’s more about Guildford in Townsville Money Trail: Political Donors in Queensland’s Deep North.
Nathan Tinkler and his group seem to be centred in Singapore of late. Let’s hope he’s read the various laws on foreign political contributions to Australian political parties. Crikey is still following his every move:
The Boardwalk #2
During research into Tinkler’s donations, Boardwalk Marine Investments popped up as a donor in Queensland. It appears to be a quite separate entity. In May 2012 it gave $10,000 to Forward Brisbane Leadership (FBL) , an associated entity of the Liberal National Party of Queensland. This campaign, slush fund was closed after corruption allegations against the Queensland Premier Campbell Newman.
Another business, BMI Group Pty Ltd, also donated $6,200 to FBL in 2011-12, on top of $14,400 given in 2010-11. Both gave the same address: PO Box 2117 Fortitude Valley QLD 4006. They shared more than a post box. They had the same company accountant. I won’t give her name as she is not a public figure like Aimee Hyde. Hyde was mentioned at the ICAC hearings but without “suggesting she did anything wrong”.
The wonderfully named Straddy Services Pty Ltd, gave FBL $4000 in February 2012. No prize for guessing that it had the same accountant and same address.
The LNP reported a fundraising gift of $1,100 on 21 October 2013 from Bemcove Pty Ltd, also at the Fortitude Valley PO Box 2117. According to BMI’s website, Bemcove is the former name of one of its facilities now known as Acacia Ridge.
BMI says it is ‘at the forefront of both the property development and waste management industries’. Apart from the address, its only apparent connection with Boardwalk Marine Investments is their common initials. Straddy Services has no web presence except an address, 11 Tramican St Point Lookout QLD 4183, and brief company info. You have to pay to get more, if it exists.
The Big Picture
On the release of CMC’s 2012 report, Dr Rebecca Denning, its Director of Applied Research and Evaluation,
“explained that the vast majority of financing for political parties and candidates came from private sources, adding that this was considered to be a legitimate exercise of political association and expression.
Broadly, she said an effective regulatory framework aimed to reduce the risk of corruption and increase the transparency and integrity of the political process, as well as the accountability of and equity between key participants”.
To test if the framework is working well, try a search of the AEC and ECQ returns for the Free Enterprise Foundation. ICAC has barely scratched the surface.
Or take a look at Victoria where the laws are very loose. The National Party receives much of its funding through associated entities such as Doogary Pty Ltd and Pilliwinks Pty. Ltd. The AEC has investigated the nature of these ‘trusts’ and concluded that they “are not required to lodge associated entity financial disclosure returns”. Without such a return the $55,000 donation by Boardwalk Resources to the Free Enterprise Foundation in 2010-11 would have remained buried.
A quick check shows that the National Party of Australia (Victoria) received $788,030 from Doogary in 2010-11, an election year in Victoria. The Age reported that it was $200,000. That’s a lot of money if it is just returns on their investments. Two of Doogary’s and Pilliwinks’ directors are former National Party parliamentarians, Ron Best and Bill Baxter. Baxter is a former Victorian Minister for Roads and Ports and the current Victorian State President of The Nationals.
You be the judge!
The boardwalk examples from either side of the border raise many concerns including:
- Who is making political donations in Australia?
- Are many gifts really political donations that exceed the legal caps?
- Are some single donors using multiple channels to cover their tracks?
- How many contributors are using intermediaries to disguise their gifts?
- Is anyone apart from corruption commissions monitoring the laws? Is anyone enforcing them?
- Are the laws adequate to ensure transparency, honesty, accountability and enforcement?
For citizen journalist sleuths, the best places to start are:
The Australian Electoral Commission: Periodic Disclosures
Electoral Commission of Queensland: Funding and Disclosures
Electoral Funding Authority (NSW): Disclosures
* This post is part of a series about political donations in Australia:
- Foundation 51’s Cosy Links with the Country Liberal Party
- Dare We Call it Whitehousegate
- In search of slush funds and off-books moneys in the NSW Liberal Party
- Townsville Money Trail: Political Donors in Queensland’s Deep North
- Nathan Tinkler & Co: Political Donors Anonymous
The featured image courtesy: MediaServicesSAP (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons]