Gutwein promised the Tasmanian Liberals would disclose all donations over $5000. They didn’t.

Almost $70,000 in donations above threshold hidden from voters before May 2021 Tasmanian election
 February 8, 2022
Published:  February 8, 2022
Premier Peter Gutwein on election night, May 2021. Image: Bob Burton

The Tasmanian Liberal party did not disclose at least $69,600 in donations received before last year’s state election despite a promise by Premier Peter Gutwein that all contributions over $5000 would be made public.

A further $24,000 received after the election was also not disclosed, according to Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) data.

The AEC’s annual release of political donations shows before the election the state Liberal Party received $20,000 from Pratt Holdings, a company best known for its Visy cardboard recycling operations, and $10,000 from Ben Gray, the founding partner of the private equity fund BGH Capital and son of former premier Robin Gray.

Gutwein declared when the election was called on March 26 that the party would voluntarily disclose all donations of more than $5000 within two business days, but neither donation was disclosed on the party’s website.

Other donations not declared by the Liberal Party before the May 1 election included $12,600 from the drug company Bayer, $11,000 from Jefferson Investments and $10,000 from Macquarie Telecom. The financial services firm, Macquarie Group, chipped in $6000.

The six undisclosed donations amounted to $69,600.

There were another six donations, all for exactly $5000 and just under the Liberal’s disclosure threshold made before the election.

A $50,000 donation from a Melbourne-based supporter, Richard Smith, received on the same day as Ben Gray’s contribution was disclosed on the party website.

Tasmanian Inquirer asked Liberal state secretary Peter Coulson why not all donations over $5000 were disclosed as Gutwein had promised but he did not respond.

A spokesperson for Gutwein also did not respond to questions about why the donations had not been disclosed and whether the commitment to political contributions transparency had not been honoured.

The government has proposed amending the Electoral Act to require disclosure of donations of more than $5000, modelled on South Australian legislation. Its spokesperson said the proposed bill “strikes the right balance” and would “increase transparency and fairness” in the electoral system.

Labor and the Greens support adopting a real-time disclosure system for donations of more than $1000, with caps on expenditure by candidates and parties.

Labor’s shadow attorney-general, Ella Haddad, said the latest AEC disclosures showed that the government’s support of a draft bill for political donations did not mean “that they are actually accountable or transparent”.

“Anything less than that is unacceptable to Tasmanians,” she said. “This is about getting big money out of politics and making sure there is a true level playing field.”

“The Premier ought to explain: where did the Liberal Party’s money come from for the 2021 election?” Roland Browne, Election Funding Reform

The Tasmanian Greens’ leader, Cassy O’Connor, said “the Liberals’ lip service on transparency around political donations would be laughable if it wasn’t so offensive”.

“Their self-interest is so brazen as they conceal donations and drag their heels on reform,” she said. The Greens voluntarily disclose donations of more than $1500.

The AEC data shows that some donations to the Liberal party after the election were also not disclosed. Kinetic, the new owner of the Tasmanian Redline bus company, donated $20,000, which was disclosed on the party’s website. However, donations of $14,000 from the Canberra-based lobbying firm National Advisor, and $10,000 from another lobbying firm, BDAAS Consulting, were not revealed.

In total, the Liberal party did not reveal at least $93,600 of donations above its nominated disclosure threshold last financial year.

The party’s donations disclosure web page was deleted in late 2021. It was last indexed on the internet archive in late October.

Liberal pledge dismissed as “hollow”

Roland Browne, a director of the group Election Funding Reform, said the data suggested Gutwein’s commitment to disclose donations of more than $5,000 was “hollow” and “set to ensure there was next to no disclosure”.

“The Premier ought to explain: where did the Liberal Party’s money come from for the 2021 election? And where did it come from for the 2018 election?” he said. “Why is this a secret?”

Independent Legislative Council MP Meg Webb said the information released by the AEC raised the question of whether the government’s voluntary disclosure limit was “just a thought-bubble”  and  “a cynical PR exercise.

“It certainly looks that way if the government didn’t even bother to meet its own unchallenging commitment,” she said.

Note: After this article was published, Responsible Wagering Australia submitted an amended return to the AEC stating its disclosure of a $10,000 donation to the Tasmanian Liberal party was an error. The article has been amended to reflect this.

Bob Burton is a Hobart-based author, researcher, editor and freelance journalist. He is the Editor of CoalWire, a weekly bulletin on global coal industry developments for the US-based non-profit group Global Energy Monitor. His freelance journalism has been published in a wide range of news outlets from the British Medical Journal to the US-based PR Watch.

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