Companies and lobby groups linked to the gaming industry, labelled Australia’s own National Rifle Association by critics, gave nearly $2 million to the major parties last financial year.
The Australian Electoral Commission’s annual returns, published on Thursday, revealed the extent of the cash poured into the political process – more than $207 million in total.
The disclosures show the major parties received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the big banks and major consultancy firms, while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s $1.75 million gift to his own re-election campaign was by far the largest donation recorded.
And as Tasmanian Labor breaks with its mainland colleagues by vowing to ban poker machines in the island state’s pubs and clubs, a move fiercely opposed by the Hodgman Liberal government, the new data also shows how much political parties received from gaming-linked groups in 2016-17.
Organisations linked to the gaming industry, branded Australia’s “equivalent” to the NRA by anti-pokies campaigner Tim Costello, were big donors in 2016-17, an analysis by The New Daily reveals.
They handed $614,825 in official donations to the Coalition, while the figure was $419,234 for Labor.
The bulk of those donations came from James Packer’s Crown Resorts, Tabcorp Holdings, Star Entertainment Group and the influential pubs and clubs lobby group Clubs NSW.
Wesfarmers gave $165,000 to the Liberals and $33,000 to Labor, while the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) handed more than $45,000 to the Coalition parties. Labor received $37,000 from the AHA.
Yet the level of cash received by the major parties from those same companies is in fact much higher, the documents suggest.
Gaming industry-linked organisations also handed a further $439,600 to the Coalition in payments marked ‘other receipts’, while $366,400 ‘other receipts’ were handed to Labor.
It means, in total, the major parties received about $1.85 million from gaming industry-linked organisations.
‘Other receipt’ payments are those that do not meet the “legislative definition of ‘gift’”, according to the electoral commission, which lists interest on investments, dividends on shares and market rate rent received on properties owned as examples.
Part of the reason why the poker-machine lobby is successful in defeating any attempt to contain it is its capacity to give big money to political parties. It can also outspend most lobbyists on public campaigns.
We have identified 31 individual politicians or specific re-election campaigns from both sides of politics receiving ClubsNSW donations. These are the donations we can track; currently, donations of less than A$13,000 do not need to be publicly disclosed.
It is naive to think donors don’t expect something in return. In fact, there is compelling evidence that donors seek to exploit the extraordinary access to politicians this arrangement engenders to influence policy to their perceived benefit. Professional lobbyists are an accepted part of the political process, as is the idea that if you have enough money to throw at a political party, you can buy access to its key decision-makers.