The most generous personal donor to a political party last year was Roslyn Packer, the widow of billionaire Kerry Packer, who was once Australia’s richest man.  

Mrs Packer gave the Liberals $580,000 in 2012-13, beating most corporate donations to the party and dwarfing all other personal donors.

The nation's biggest personal political donor, Roslyn Packer.

The nation's biggest personal political donor, Roslyn Packer. Photo: Peter Stoop

Mrs Packer donated more than triple the amount given by the next largest donor for either political party.

The second most generous donors were Huang Changran and Luo Chuangxiong, who each gave the Labor Party $150,000.

Mr Huang appears to be the chairman of Chinese investment company Yuhu Group, while a search of Fairfax Media's press archives back to the late 1980s reveals no record of Mr Luo.

Donors appear to have realised early that Labor had little chance of winning the 2013 election.

Donors appear to have realised early that Labor had little chance of winning the 2013 election. Photo: Glenn Hunt

Most individual donors, who donated more than the disclosure threshold of $12,100, gave $20,000 or less.

Other notable personal donors to the Liberal Party included media mogul Harold Mitchell ($17,094) and Qantas chairman Leigh Clifford ($15,000).

The Coalition appears in much better financial shape than the Labor Party, with the Liberals and Nationals making about $26 million more than Labor last financial year.

Kerry and Ros Packer at the prime minister's Christmas drinks at Kirrabilli House in 2003.

Kerry and Roslyn Packer at the prime minister's Christmas drinks at Kirrabilli House in 2003. Photo: Steve Lunam

The 2012-13 annual financial returns from political parties and donors, shows the Liberal Party's total revenue was $73.1 million last financial year, compared to Labor's $54.7 million. The Nationals further bolstered the Coalition's haul with $8.3 million. The Greens recorded $8.1 million in revenue.

Donors appear to have realised early that Labor had little chance of winning the 2013 election.

Labor received $3.6 million in donations last year. Labor's most generous donors included chicken and turkey purveyor Inghams Enterprises ($250,000) and the Australian Hotels Association ($150,000), which successfully neutered Labor's gambling reforms, and Chinese investment company Yuhu Group $200,000.

The Liberal National Party received a combined $13.8 million in donations. The Australian Hotels Association was again a major donor, giving the Liberals $372,500. Tobacco company Philip Morris gave $107,000 to the LNP.

Given the cut-off for the disclosures was June 30, these figures do not include money taken by parties during the 2013 election campaign.

The Liberal Party made nearly $20 million more in 2012-13 than it did in 2011-12 (where the party made $55 million). Labor made only $5 million more last year than the previous year, in which the party made $49.5 million.

Given the recent focus on union corruption, senior Coalition figures have suggested that Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's reluctance to launch a royal commission into the union movement was due to Labor's financial dependence on unions.

The full extent of Labor's financial reliance on the unions is hard to gauge. Labor received $656,000 in direct donations from unions including the CFMEU – which is facing allegations organised crime has infiltrated the union - United Voice and the Transport Workers Union.

Tens of millions of dollars more were spent by unions last year on political advertising or causes that benefited Labor.

This money is trickier to isolate. Most unions are registered as "associated entities", which means their millions of dollars of expenditure are mostly listed as lump sums.

For example, a single division of the CFMEU – the NSW construction and general division – spent $12.4 million last year on all of its activities. But there is no breakdown on where this money went.

Similarly, the Health Services Union - which has also been in the headlines because of allegations of fraud against its former national president Michael Williamson and former Labor MP Craig Thomson - spent $3.4 million last year. It is unclear how much of this was political expenditure.

Of the unions that declared political expenditure, the hospitality, child and aged care union United Voice, said it spent $751,000 in 2012-13. This included $344,375 on "public expression of views on a political party" and $245,606 on "broadcast of political matter". The National Union of Workers spent about $44,000 on political expenditure.

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