When donations to political parties from property developers in NSW were prohibited by then-NSW Labor premier Nathan Rees in November 2009 the decision was not well received by significant groupings in the state Labor and Liberal parties.
The ban followed an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry into Wollongong City Council which, in 2008, found that local developers had received favourable treatment from elected councillors and staff.
ICAC referred briefs of evidence to the Director of Public Prosecutions in relation to 1 people found to have acted corruptly. Convictions were eventually recorded against three of them. The one person to receive a custodial sentence served four months in prison.
Rees did not last 12 months as premier following the ban, thanks largely to the organising capacity of the right wing of the Labor Party where Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi then held sway.
The developer Frank Vellar was found to have engaged in “serious corrupt conduct” with council planners.
Local member for the state seat of Wollongong and leading figure in the Labor right, Noreen Hay, was not subject to an ICAC corruption finding in 2008. But she was found to have lobbied Wollongong councillors on behalf of developers. Her 2007 election campaign space was provided rent-free by Frank Vellar.
When Hay was challenged in a December 2014 preselection ballot she received 80 votes to her challenger's 35 votes, in what many locals thought was a rigged ballot. More than a dozen Labor members were turned away from the preselection meeting after being told they were not financial. They included South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris who promptly resigned from Labor and ran against Hay on an anti-corruption platform, which attracted 21% of the vote.
Hay, who has held the seat of Wollongong since 2003, has had a “colourful” career as a member of parliament. She has been stood down from various positions in the Labor Party on three occasions — twice in 2008 and again in 2015.
Following an Australian Federal Police (AFP) raid on her electoral office in July last year over allegations of enrolment fraud, Hay stood aside as Opposition Whip. In early May she was reinstated after informing Labor leader Luke Foley she was no longer a suspect in the AFP investigation.
But a fortnight later the AFP charged Hay's long-serving staffer, Susan Greenhalgh, with electoral fraud offences and Foley once again demanded she stand down. Hay refused, leading to an ultimatum from Foley that if she did not go he would resign from his leadership position.
At the Labor Party caucus meeting on May 26 Hay backed down.
The largest category in the finalised ICAC investigations is at the local council level — 16 out of 70 reports. Besides Wollongong, 11 New South Wales local councils have been investigated by ICAC in the past decade.
ICAC Inspector David Levine has come up with a novel solution to remedy this telling NSW Premier Mike Baird that local government should be removed from ICAC's jurisdiction. That is sure to stop corrupt behaviour.
Prior to Hay's latest unedifying performance, the NSW Electoral Commission announced it was withholding $4.4 million in public funding from the NSW Liberal Party until it agreed to formally disclose who donated $693,000 that was channelled through a fundraising body called the Free Enterprise Foundation — a link that was uncovered in ICAC proceedings.
The electoral commission said in a statement that NSW Liberal Party officials had deliberately used the Free Enterprise Foundation to disguise donations, some of which were from prohibited donors.
Australian Electoral Commission data from 2013–14 revealed that $137 million in speculative political capital was invested in the Coalition and more than $78 million in the ALP — and this is just the declared donations.
Property developers were prominent among the donors, often having a bet-each-way by giving money to both of the major parties.
An analysis of federal political donations by the Greens shows that payments made and declared by donors but not by Labor or the Coalition amount to $4,430,529 for Labor and $2,739,376 for the Coalition over the past five years.
Then there are the “shadowy entities” used by individual Liberal MPs which are not subject to independent oversight. Fairfax Media reported that four Liberal ministers managed to raise more than $1 million through such entities, with only 10% of the money contributed by disclosed donors.
Top of the class is minister for resources Josh Frydenberg, whose Kooyong 200 Club raised $444,730. Assistant Treasurer Kelly Dwyer raked in $301,000 from her Higgins 200 Club. Former John Howard and Tony Abbott minister Kevin Andrews snared $144,000 via his Menzies 200 Club and former minister for trade, Andrew Robb's Bayside Forum managed to attract $156,000.
In Robb's case $100,000 came from executives linked to the Chinese conglomerate Yuhu Group which stood to gain from the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement that he negotiated. One donation of $50,000 was made on the day that the free trade deal was agreed.
The shared venality of the two major parties knows no bounds.