Federal Politics

Liberal fundraising body the Free Enterprise Foundation on ice amid wider political donations drop

The Free Enterprise Foundation, the Liberal Party fundraising body accused by the Independent Commission Against Corruption of washing illegal property developer donations for the party's NSW division, has been put in deep freeze.

Donations records released by the Australian Electoral Commission on Monday show the Foundation raised just $845 in 2014/15.

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Donations to major parties slump

How much less money did Australia's political parties receive? Fairfax's Adam Gartrell goes through the numbers.

The previous year it had been one of the biggest contributors to the Liberal coffers, raising $1.4 million - comparable to a small union.

The Foundation donated $200,000 in 2014-15 but its fundraising activities appear to have been effectively mothballed 18 months after it was splashed across the headlines when ICAC revealed that major property developers - banned from the political process in NSW - had donated to the ACT-based, federally focused Foundation but the money had found its way back to the NSW branch.

Geoffrey Watson described the process used by the Free Enterprise Foundation as a "systematic subversion of electoral laws".
Geoffrey Watson described the process used by the Free Enterprise Foundation as a "systematic subversion of electoral laws". Photo: Nick Moir

Counsel assisting ICAC Geoffrey Watson, SC, described the process as a "systematic subversion of electoral laws".

The decline of the Free Enterprise Foundation came as Liberal fundraising in general plunged during the troubled reign of Tony Abbott as prime minister.


The party took $75 million in donations across all divisions, state and federal, a marked decrease from $125 million in the 2013-14 financial year.

It is normal for donations to fall away outside an election year and Labor also recorded a fall in receipts from $78 million the previous year to $66 million in 2014-15.

Labor donor Sean Tomlinson
Labor donor Sean Tomlinson Photo: Chris Hyde

The Nationals received $11 million, the Greens $9 million and the Palmer United Party received just shy of $10 million - almost exclusively from Clive Palmer's businesses Queensland Nickel and Mineralogy.

While the Free Enterprise Foundation appears to have been shelved, the Victorian-based Cormack Foundation upped its fundraising, providing the Liberals' biggest single donation of $5.1 million.

The Foundation supports the Liberals through dividends raised from a share portfolio that includes Commonwealth Bank, Wesfarmers, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

The biggest individual donation direct to the Liberal Party was $210,000 from Pratt Holdings, the cardboard empire of late businessman Richard Pratt.

Mining businessman Charles Bass and wife Sylvia gave $200,000 and Chinese-owned property developer Ever Bright donated $200,000. 

Other major donors included the National Australia Bank ($177,000), the Australian Hotels and Association ($157,000) and Woodside Energy ($127,000).

Ros Packer, the widow of billionaire Kerry Packer, donated $100,000 to the Liberals and businessman Harold Mitchell donated $175,000. Broadcaster Alan Jones gave $15,000 to the federal Liberal Party through his company Belford Productions.

The biggest single donation to the federal branch of the ALP was BRW young rich-lister Sean Tomlinson, who gave $253,300 to the party.

Resources company Woodside ($110,000), ANZ Bank ($80,000), the Macquarie Group ($72,400) and Clubs NSW ($66,000) rounded out the top five.

At a state level, Yilin Zhu gave the NSW branch $50,000 and PriceWaterhouse Coopers gave the South Australian branch $39,080.

Francis Gilbert gave the largest single donation to the Queensland branch ($65,000) closely followed by Cabcharge Australia with ($50,000).

And in Victoria, in a state election year, Jianping and Min Fu and Zhang are listed as the largest donor to the ALP, with $200,000. They were followed by the Hotels Association, which gave $171,000 and the Electrical Trades Union, which gave $131,000.

Six of the biggest donors to the Greens were their own MPs - federal senator Lee Rhiannon ($24,904) and NSW state MPs Jeremy Buckingham ($20,737), John Kaye ($19,269), Jan Barham ($19,254), Mehreen Faruqi ($19,004) and Jamie Parker ($18,666).

Labor and the Coalition were quiet on donations on Monday but Greens leader Richard Di Natale repeated his party's call for reform in the area, claiming "donations distort democracy".

"We need a national ICAC and donations reform to restore confidence in our political system, and the Greens have bills before Parliament to secure both before the next election. All we need is support from the other parties, which so far they've refused," he said.

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