Of the 1,498 companies on the list, 132 have given money to the Labor party, the Coalition or one of their ‘associated entities’ since 1998, with a total of $9.5m going to the parties. Photograph: Mike Bowers for the Guardian
One in six companies on a list of entities exempt from reporting financial details to the corporate regulator are either political donors or government contractors.
The 1,498 “grandfathered” companies are exempt from filing annual financial reports with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Asic), which includes tax information, under a deal done by the Keating government in 1995.
Of the 1,498 on the list, 1,335 are still listed as registered in Asic’s company register. Of these, 132 have given money to either the Labor party, the Coalition or one of their “associated entities” since 1998, with a total of $9.5m going to the parties. Here are the top 20 donors by amount donated to any party:
One hundred and thirty-three of the companies still registered have held government contracts worth a total of $2.3bn between 2007 and 2014. The largest contractor, Haulmark Trailers Australia, has held contracts worth a total of $528m to provide vehicle trailers for the Australian defence force:
Labor had a policy to remove this tax reporting exemption before it came to government in 2007 but it did not implement that promise. The exemptions have now re-emerged as a political issue amid Senate negotiations over the future of separate tax transparency measures introduced by Labor in 2013.
Those tax transparency measures would have allowed the tax commissioner to publish tax and revenue information for companies with at least $100m in annual income – including companies on the Asic exemption list. But the Coalition government wound back aspects of the transparency measures in legislation that passed the Senate in October. The legislation exempted Australian private companies from the tax publication requirement (while retaining transparency for big Australian companies listed on the stock exchange and multinationals).
Since the repeal, key crossbench senators have joined the Greens and Labor to demand the government reinstate transparency measures, and Senator Ricky Muir has been pushing for the removal of the Asic exemption for grandfathered companies. Senator Jacqui Lambie has also called for the exemption to be scrapped.
While some of the high-profile companies on the list, including one of the prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s investment companies, have already been scrutinised by the media, there are many more that have yet to be examined.
For this article, we ran the list of companies against databases of political donations from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC, covering 1998-2014), government contracts from AusTender (covering 2007-14), and the Asic company register to get a better picture of the companies involved.
Of the 1,498 on the list, 1,335 are still listed as registered in Asic’s company register.
The chicken company Ingham’s Enterprises tops the list of donors, having donated large amounts to both Labor and the Coalition. Next is Pratt Holdings, and further down the list is Visy Industries. Both are part of the Pratt family packaging business empire.
While the AEC calls any sum of money given to a political party a donation, parties are able to classify amounts as “donation” or “other receipt” at their own discretion, where other receipt may refer to anything from financial returns from investments, or payment for membership fees or event tickets in lieu of donations.Also in the top five for government contracts by value are the engineering consulting companies GHD and Sinclair Knight Merz, and the medical imaging and pathology company Specialist Diagnostic Services.
Guardian Australia is not suggesting any wrongdoing by any of the donors, contractors or political parties named.
You can search and view the entire list here, download more detailed spreadsheets here, and download the scripts used to cross-reference the datasets here. The method used to match companies relies on similarities between the common names in each dataset, so it may have missed companies that reported donations under significantly dissimilar names.