Climate action starts with political donations reform


Corporate donations are distorting our democratic process. That means the most meaningful thing we can do to take urgent climate action is to reform our political donations system.

By Alison Xamon

A society in which all people get a fair go while also living in harmony with the natural world is completely achievable and possible. This is not simply a utopian but unrealistic proposition that some may want you to think it is. The scientists have done their jobs; they’ve shown us that we can absolutely turn around our current trajectory and avoid total climate breakdown.

The biggest barrier to climate action is political will. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either a petroleum company lobbyist or a member of the major parties, although these days it’s getting harder to tell the difference.

February marked the release of the Australian Electoral Commission’s annual donor returns. This is the yearly report that allows taxpayers to see which individuals and corporations donated to which political parties in the last financial year.

Here are some highlights from it:

  • Labor, Liberals and Nationals took over $1 million in donations from coal, oil and gas companies last year.
  • Clive Palmer used his mining companies to funnel nearly $90 million to his own Palmer’s United Australia Party, marking the largest ever election spending spree in Australian history.
  • Adani and its subsidiary donated $247,300 to the coalition ahead of the federal election, $200,000 of which came immediately after Adani secured federal approval to build their mine.

Big polluters from Western Australia also jumped at the opportunity to buy political influence:

  • Labor, Liberals and Nationals took in $283,340 from Woodside, which is currently seeking approval from the WA Labor government for a gas project in WA’s north-west that will be the nation’s biggest polluter.
  • Oil and gas giant Chevron, which operates WA’s #1 and #2 biggest polluters, donated $124,685 to Labor, Liberals and the Nationals.

You get the point. You can have your way with the major parties no matter the cost to our environment as long as you bring a blank cheque to your ministerial meeting.

And this is just the money we can see. Because of the way our donations disclosure laws work, it’s easy to hide where the money is coming from. And in WA, for instance, political parties are allowed to ignore state disclosure laws and only report donations that are larger than the federal threshold. Because the federal threshold is nearly 10 times higher, this loophole is no doubt leading to gross underreporting of how state parties get their money.

The bottom line is that corporate donations distort our democratic process. No matter how you vote, selling off community interests to the highest corporate bidder is fundamentally wrong. Australians deserve a government that listens to our voices and puts community values at the forefront of government decision-making.

Donations buy political influence and, because our donations regulations are so weak, that means climate-wrecking companies like Woodside, Chevron, Santos and Adani are given free reign to dictate our childrens’ futures. The major parties appear to be deliberately blocking the climate action that Australians so desperately want because their fossil fuel donors want them to.

In the wake of this summer’s bushfire crisis, I, like so many others, am gripped by climate grief. It’s terrifying to see the realities of the climate crisis unfolding in our own backyards. I am heartbroken for the families that have lost homes and loved ones, and mourn the loss of the precious forests and billions of native animals that have perished. But I am also in utter admiration of our firies and first responders who make unimaginable sacrifices to keep our communities safe. I am filled with hope in the communities that united to support each other and make their voices heard.

Australians are beginning to notice the coal, gas and oil-stained cheques. There is a growing understanding that for everyone to have a fair chance at the future we all deserve, governments need to start acting in the interests of the people instead of their donors.

We are at a pivotal crossroads in the fight for climate action – people are realising that corporate influence is undermining our chances at a safe future. The vested interests of coal, oil and gas donors means the detriment of our planet, and people are coming together by the thousands to take our democracy back from the big end of town.

Alison Xamon is a Greens WA MLC and spokesperson for Integrity of Government and Electoral Affairs

A version of this article first appeared in Green Issue.

Hero image: Tom Fisk via Pexels.

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