Energy giants’ donations boost Coalition and Labor
AUSTRALIA’S major political parties have accepted almost $2.7 million in donations from companies associated with unconventional gas between 2010 and 2013.
The unconventional gas industry’s short-term future in Victoria has hung in the balance since a series of increasingly strict moratoriums were placed on surveying and extracting onshore natural gas.
However, the crucial role that MPs will play next year in deciding whether or not to lift those moratoriums has not stopped major parties accepting donations from companies associated with unconventional gas.
The National Party Victoria accepted a $3000 donation from Santos in 2010, while the Liberal Party Victoria Division accepted more than $98,600 from unconventional gas companies and their investors between July 2010 and June 2013.
In Victoria, the Australian Labor Party state branch topped the charts by accepting almost $112,000 during the same time frame from donors associated with unconventional gas.
On the federal level, the Liberal Party of Australia has accepted more total donation amounts from unconventional gas companies and investors than any other major party.
The Cormack Foundation, an ‘associated entity’ to the Liberal Party of Australia, has directly invested in a company that aims to develop unconventional gas.
That investment generated $37,500 in dividends or share sale windfalls during 2012/2013.
The ALP has the same financial arrangement with ‘Labor Holdings’, which reaped over $16,000 during 2013/2014 from shares in a company associated with unconventional gas
The flow of money peaked in 2010/2011 at $1.1 million but the Liberal Party’s share of unconventional gas money picked up again as its election prospects took off heading towards late 2013.
The close financial links between all major parties and the rapidly-expanding unconventional gas industry has been uncovered though The Spectator’s comprehensive survey of Australian Electoral Commission annual party returns.
A number of companies intend to explore for shale-type unconventional gas in south west Victoria and across the South Australian border.
Shale gas deposits tend to be much deeper than coal seam gas deposits but almost all deposits must be hydraulically fractured or ‘fracked’ to release the gas.
Fracking involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to break through rock layers that have trapped the gas.
The granting of exploration licences for unconventional gas exploration in prime dairy and beef production areas has prompted a number of local public meetings organised by anti-fracking activists.
The State Government responded to rising community concern by running an ‘open day’ in Casterton last month.
Gas industry representatives have denied that fracking represents a threat to the health of aquifers, surface water or human health.
The gas industry maintains that unconventional gas development is vital for meeting Australia’s energy needs and will generate considerable economic growth for the nation and for regional areas.
Wannon MP Dan Tehan sent The Spectator a letter to the editor in response to a claim by a reader that he favoured protecting jobs in mining and coal seam gas over those in renewable energy.
Mr Tehan’s letter stated that “the Coalition has made it very clear it will only support the responsible development of the coal seam gas industry if certain conditions are met”.
“I strongly support the current ban put in place by the Victorian State Government on the coal seam gas exploration,” he said.
“I also support legislating the ban on the use of B-Tex chemicals (benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xyelene) in any coal seam gas operations.”
The Victoria state secretaries of the Liberal and National parties were reluctant to discuss the issue of political donations over the phone and insisted that questions be sent in writing.
ALP Victoria state secretary Noah Carroll told The Spectator that the Labor Party in Victoria “fully complied with any and all disclosure requirements for political donations”.
The Spectator asked if the unconventional gas companies had received any special meeting or access in return for their donations.
Mr Carroll said “you’ve got my answer” and promptly hung up the phone.
National Party Victoria state secretary Jenny Hammett said in a statement on the $3000 donation by Origin energy that the company “attended a paid dinner”.
“Any suggestion the company gained favourable treatment from this attendance is wrong – the Nationals, as part of a Coalition Government, has put a moratorium on fracking and new exploration licences, ordered the biggest independent study of Victoria’s water resources ever undertaken and banned the use of BTEX fracking chemicals permanently,” Ms Hammett’s statement said.
“Labor receives millions from the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, which represents mining industry workers.
“When Labor was in power, mining companies conducted fracking 23 times without community consultation or input.”
The Spectator asked Liberal Party of Australia Victorian Division deputy state director, Andrew Cox, if it was appropriate for the party to accept donations from companies associated with unconventional gas given the impending moratorium decision.
The Spectator also asked Mr Cox if the Liberal Party would consider a ban on unconventional gas donations smiler to the ban on tobacco company donations ordered by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
A party spokesperson provided a single response to all questions that said “the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party always acts legally and ethically in full compliance with AEC electoral laws.”
The total money donated to political parties came from companies directly involved in unconventional gas exploration such as AGL, Santos, Origin, Arrow and the petroleum industry lobby group APPEA.
Donations were also provided by the National Australia Bank, which along with a number of foreign banks had considerable share holdings in companies exploring for unconventional gas in south west Victoria.
NAB owns, through its investment subsidiaries, $264m worth of shares in South Australian gas company Beach Energy and more than $15m in Cooper Energy.
Beach and Cooper have a stake in exploration tenements across south west Victoria.
Beach has attracted controversy by being one of the first companies to complete exploratory drilling for shale-type unconventional gas at its ‘Jolly 1’ site near Penola, SA this year.
Beach Energy gave $102,000 to the SA Liberal Party during August 2010 and $55,000 to the Queensland Liberal National Party in 2012/2013 via a rented office in Brisbane.
A Beach spokesperson said the company “does not comment on political donations”.
The total was also substantially boosted by the ‘Washington H, Soul Pattinson’ that had a 59 per cent stake in New Hope Corporation, which wholly owns Bridgeport Energy.
Bridgeport Energy holds exploration rights for gas and oil deposits, both conventional and unconventional, in south west Victoria and recently started seismic surveys near Dartmoor.
The NAB also has a 1.57 per cent stake in Washington H Soul Pattinson worth $57m and a 1.45 per cent stake in Bridgeport Energy.