JASON DOWLINGJune 19, 2010
BUILDERS and property developers have bankrolled the Labor Party in Victoria with lavish donations running into the millions of dollars during its decade in office, with many benefiting from government planning decisions.
Individual companies have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars and developers have confirmed a yearly phone call from the Labor Party seeking cash.
One large donor from the development industry, who did not wish to be identified, has called for an end to the cash grab and for the introduction of public funding for political parties.
Many developers will again be wooed for a Labor Party fund-raising dinner in August that will include most of the Brumby cabinet and federal Labor cabinet ministers including Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Invitations to the $1000-a-head dinner say it ”is the ideal platform for business and government leaders to interact and build dialogue”.
A snapshot of donations from just eight large developers to the Labor Party in Victoria over the past decade shows more than $1.2 million heading to the party’s coffers. The total amount from developers is much higher – including hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to Progressive Business that flows to the Labor Party.
Donations can be as high as $100,000 at a time and come from developers behind some of Melbourne’s biggest and most controversial projects.
Big donors include Grocon, Becton, Walker Corporation, Central Equity, Mirvac and Leighton Holdings. Some have benefited from government planning decisions or tenders for government projects valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. A spokeswoman for Planning Minister Justin Madden told The Age, ”Every planning application is decided on its merit.”
Developers contacted by The Age yesterday denied favouring the party in power and said they donated in a bipartisan manner.
The Liberal Party in Victoria, which also received large sums of money from developers, refused to commit to any changes to donation laws in Victoria.
A recent NSW parliamentary committee report has said donations of more than $2000 to any political party or individual candidate a year should be banned.
Monash University governance expert and former Labor Party MP Ken Coghill said it was time to ban political donations because of the impact they had on public confidence.
Large donations by developers have occurred at the same time the government has moved to make more land on Melbourne’s fringe available to developers and has moved to speed up the planning process for suburban developments.
The government has also taken over planning control for dozens of large development projects in the past year in response to the global financial crisis.
Australand general manager Robert Pradolin said he was contacted annually about donations to Labor. ”There is no pressure to donate. Everyone gets a phone call to say, ‘Look, it is that time of year again, but there is no pressure.’ ”
Justin Grogan, spokesman for Leighton Holdings, also confirmed the company was contacted about donations but said the company liked to participate in the political process and that was why it donated in a bipartisan manner.
The opposition’s David Davis said the Brumby government ”has run out of ideas and is therefore a soft target for lobbyists and the donors that pull its strings”.
The state secretary of the Victorian Labor Party, Nick Reece, called on the Liberal Party to stop accepting donations from tobacco companies and to support lowering the disclosure threshhold for donations.