Report details British billionare donations to Australian political party

Friday, February 3, 2006 File:Liberal Party of Australia.png

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An Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) report has revealed that British billionaire Michael Ashcroft made a record AU$1 million donation to the Liberal Party of Australia. The AEC is legally required to make public the identities of major donors to political parties.

The controversial donation by Lord Ashcroft (deputy chairman of the British Conservative Party), to the Liberals in 2004, is believed to be the biggest single donation from an individual in Australian politics. His donation pushed the Liberal Party's total for 2004-05 to $66.5 million. Australian Democrats' senator Andrew Murray expressed alarm at the foreign donation. "There is no such thing as a free lunch," he said. "Foreign interference and influence in Australian domestic politics is absolutely unacceptable. Donations from overseas entities and foreigners must be banned outright."

Senator Murray has calculated that between 1998-99 and 2002-03 a total of $607,178 was paid to Australian political parties from foreign entities. He is concerned that foreign foundations can elude Australian disclosure laws.

"I don't know about you, but I've never met a businessman ever that will give you that amount of money without expecting something in return," Senator Murray said.

Australian Electoral Commission figures have also finally disclosed the backers behind the new right-wing religious party, Family First. Craig Winkler, chief executive of software firm MYOB, gave $200,000 to the party, while Dan Daniels, a Victorian pharmaceuticals millionaire, contributed $95,000.

The federal Opposition say around $8 million given to the Liberal Party in 2004-05 will remain undisclosed under looming changes to the rules governing political donations.

"If the Liberal Party receives the same level of donations next year, up to $8million in secret donations will flow to Liberal Party coffers with no public scrutiny," Opposition spokesman for state affairs Alan Griffin said.

Prime Minister John Howard led the Liberal/National coalition to its fourth consecutive election victory in 2004. The win has boosted the Liberal government’s majority, giving it control in both houses of parliament.

Ashcroft, 59, who is also the largest individual donor to the British Conservative Party, serves with Howard on the conservative International Democrat Union committee.