There have been numerous documented cases of money paid to local government councillors by people like property developers who are looking to make a load of cash based on alterations to regulations determined by local councils. These are bribes. Donations to political parties, however, are not deemed to be bribes, despite the entities making these donations expecting some financial benefit.
First, a couple of examples of council bribes:
A long-awaited report from a five-year investigation by Victoria’s Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) recently found a property developer paid more than half a million dollars to two councillors from the City of Casey in southeast Melbourne, as well as pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the coffers of both the Labor and Liberal parties1. The bribes were paid so the councillors would support rezoning tracts of land on which the property developer had planned lucrative projects. IBAC also found the property developer sought to influence state government decision-making through bribes and even managed to meet with Premier, Daniel Andrews2,3.
Similarly, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigated whether a Hurstville, Sydney, property developer, Ching Wah (Philip) Uy had given large quantities of cash to former Hurstville and Georges River councillors Vince Badalati and Con Hindi, and former Hurstville councillor Philip Sansom, in return for aiding their projects in Hurstville between 2014 and 2021. Uy denied the charges but Badalati, a former Labor councillor, admitted he had accepted $170,000 from Uy in exchange for supporting his proposed developments. Badalati said that Uy had handed him a shopping bag filled with $70,000 after they met for coffee at Macchina Espresso in Kingsgrove in 20154,5.
At another level, Pratt Holdings Pty Ltd, which trades as Visy and is a multinational private company owned by Anthony Pratt, derives its revenue from packaging, paper, and recycling products and services6. Pratt Holdings made one donation of $750,000 to the federal Liberal Party in 2020-2021, in addition to several other smaller donations to the federal branch and some state branches7. At about the same time, Australia’s bushfire recovery fund gave $10 million to a paper mill in Tumut owned by Pratt, which was not damaged by fire8.
These corporations will tell you that they donate to all major parties because they believe in democracy, but that is simple bullshit. They work on a much longer and more nebulous time frame than your average property developer who wants a tract of land rezoned to stick up a building. Such corporations get their payoffs as grants, subsidies, government contracts and tax cuts or, in this case, a bushfire recovery grant.
How does this differ from the instances of bribery given above, apart from being legal? In addition, it is a form of money laundering. A proportion of the publicly funded grant received by Pratt is returned to the Liberal Party as a donation. So, public money becomes Liberal Party money it can use for advertising at the next election. While the instance above deals with he Liberal Party, other parties are similarly corrupt, as they all accept large amounts of money from corporations.