“Dark money” has made up almost half of the Coalition’s funding since 1999

According to data released by The Australian Electoral Commission, almost 40% of the money propping up the Coalition for the past 20 years has come from unidentified sources.

The release of the data has launched a national conversation about the lack of donation transparency laws: which currently state that parties only need to declare donations above $14,300. There’s also no legislation to prevent a donor from splitting up a large donation into multiple, smaller amounts to avoid disclosing their identity.

Centre for Public Integrity chair Anthony Whealy, a former NSW Supreme Court Justice, said the alarming percentage of dark money in a democratic system “[is] very unfortunate for [the system] and [is] just very discouraging for voters.”

coalition bench (1)
Photo: The New York Times

The Coalition isn’t the only party with a dark money problem, with the Labor party’s undisclosed donations making up approximately 28% of their total income. As reported by The Guardian, analysis by “both the Guardian and Centre for Public Integrity have found between $44m and $49m in party income was hidden from public view in 2019-20. That’s almost 30% of the total income received by all parties.”

The prevalence of this issue can be attributed to the lax reporting requirements (disclosures are made annually, FYI) and the lack of Australian Electoral Commission funding, allowing them to stringently enforce transparency, the auditor-general reports.

Reform has been attempted by political parties over the years, with the Labor Party aiming to reduce the threshold from $14,300 to $1,000 as the mandatory minimum for disclosure. To no-one’s surprise, however, the Coalition didn’t support the move, so there have been no modern adjustments to the law.

“That the most significant level of government has the weakest political finance laws is a grave weakness of Australian democracy,” Centre for Public Integrity director, Professor Joo Cheong Tham, said.

This news follows recent accusations that the NSW Liberal Party – one half of the Coalition – pork-barrelled bushfire relief funds, an allegations that was then confirmed during a scene of dickhead braggadocio by Deputy Premier John Barilaro.

Talk about going from one disappointment to the next.