Singapore GLCs political donations to Australia’s political parties

2 Feb

The Political Donations Act in Singapore prohibits political groups and politicians from accepting foreign funding. The purpose of this legislation is ‘to prevent foreign groups from interfering in domestic politics’.

Yet, it appears there are no qualms for Singapore Government Linked Companies (GLCs) to make corporate donations to both major Australia’s political parties. According to an article, ‘Mayne digs some donations data dirt’ published on Crikey, an independent Australian-based news website,

‘… Foreign dictators could pour millions into an Australian political party. Indeed, the Singapore Government gave $20,000 to both major federal parties through Optus, a business whose fortunes are particularly vulnerable to federal laws and regulations’.

Given that the reporter’s information was accessed from the Australian Electoral Commission website (which published such data on a yearly basis),  I decided to do a basic search to confirm the veracity of the claims.

Using a simple search based on ‘donor’, it was shown that Singtel Optus has given more than $20,000 to both Labor and Liberal for the year 2008/09. Similar amounts have also been made for the year 2007/08.

The other Singapore GLC company which has also donated to both parties is Australand.

(see screen captures below)

Singtel- Optus's political donations for the year 2007/08

Singtel- Optus's political donations for the year 2008/09

Australand's political donations for the yer 2007/08

The issue of political donations whether from corporations, wealthy individuals or foreigners is a contentious topic in Australia. The Democracy4Sale Project, an initiative of the NSW Greens, has been campaigning for reform in political donations  given they believe these ‘donations taint the democratic process – they allow big business to buy a level of access to politicians that ordinary people can’t afford’.

Nevertheless, even improving the disclosure process of political donations may prove to be futile. In a Sydney Morning Herald commentary, ‘The political play of being a donor’, Adele Ferguson claims that there are ways to work around it:

‘… Besides the most obvious – which is making donations of less than $9500 to escape the limit on disclosure – companies and individuals are being more creative in the way they influence governments.

For instance, some overseas companies with subsidiaries in Australia have been paying lobbyists directly to work on election campaigns, rather than pay the political parties. That way, donations never touch the sides of any political donations register (my emphasis).

In other instances, it is believed that some wealthy Australians have paid directly for market research on behalf of a political party rather than donating the money directly to it.

This avoids public scrutiny and accusations of corruption.

Other ways around exposure include the practice where external research houses charge different fees for government work and political work.

The way it works is that big invoices are written for work conducted under the “government” tag, compared with political work, which is done on the cheap.

Buying tables at breakfasts, lunches and dinners is another loophole that escapes the radar of the political donations register and can add up to millions of dollars a year in revenue for a political party’.

It is hypocritical for the Singapore’s PAP ruling party to enact legislations prohibiting foreign funding when its GLCs (under the guise of corporationhood) makes political donations in Australia. 

5 Responses to “Singapore GLCs political donations to Australia’s political parties”

  1. Singazine February 2, 2010 at 12:42 pm #

    Linked under, Politics. Cheers:)

  2. Gerald Giam February 5, 2010 at 2:25 am #

    Good that you spotted and pointed out this double standard. Thanks!

  3. Chew March 8, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

    Isn’t it the same hypocritical stance that PAP wants foreigner not to interfere with Singapore’s politics while they themselves goes round the world on taxpayers monies telling others how to run their countries?

  4. Phillip Chai September 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    Well, the usual statement will be that those are corporate entities and they are free to do what they want in their host country as long as it does not run afoul to any law of the land….. not that I condone the act.

  5. Wang September 24, 2010 at 3:19 pm #

    Please note that both are Australian companies based in Australia (legal entity in Australia)which were subsequently owned and in line
    with the legislation there.
    Optus and Australand per records would have continued in the past such donations prior to such takeover.

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