The federal Labor Party accepted $200,000 last year from three donors it knows almost nothing about.
In its donations register, the party has only the donors’ names, incorrect addresses, and undisclosed phone numbers. One donor, Shenglong (Australia) Investments Group Pty Ltd, gave $100,000 — the fourth largest donation given to the federal party that year. The others, Shangjin Lin and Yi Lin, gave $50,000 each — an amount several times larger than any other donation from an individual. None of the three have lodged donation disclosure returns with the Australian Electoral Commission, as is required by law.
Yi Lin is Co-director of Shenglong Investments. The company’s address is listed as in Chatswood in Sydney but nobody named Yi Lin is registered to vote in the electorate of North Sydney, and no one called Shangjin Lin is registered to vote anywhere in Australia.
Public documents state Yi was born in China, and is listed at a Chinese address.
Previously, Labor has given back donations from foreign sources. Months before the 2007 federal election, Macau billionaire gambling tycoon Stanley Ho and his associates gave Labor $1.6 million. The party returned $1.3 million, but didn’t clearly explain why.
Federal Labor and the Greens have tried on a number of occasions to introduce legislation to ban all foreign donations to political parties but have been consistently blocked by the Coalition and Family First Senator Steve Fielding.
Labor doesn’t know what industry Shenglong Investments Group works in, but the two individual donors are thought to work in hospitality, Assistant ALP National Secretary Nick Martin casually told New Matilda after asking around the office. No one knew for sure. They also didn’t know Yi Lin is Co-director of Shenglong Investments.
The nationality of the donors may also never be revealed — Martin said his party will not seek disclosures from Shenglong or the two Lins because it is the responsibility of the AEC.
The AEC has sent letters demanding all three donors submit mandatory disclosures, but received no responses.
This is hardly surprising. In the case of Yi Lin and Shangjin Lin, the Labor-supplied street number doesn’t exist. And when New Matilda visited the address that Labor has on file for Shenglong Investments Group in Chatswood, the company’s name had been taped over, and the letterbox was overflowing with months worth of junkmail. The real estate agent who manages the property said it had been empty for at least two years — which means the company was not based there at the time of its donation to the ALP. Only two letters in the box were addressed to the company — both from the AEC, postmarked February and March this year. The tiny 30-square metre office is leased for about $8000 a year according to the agent.
Public documents show the company now has a new address — an apartment in a high-rise Chatswood building. But a daytime visit went unanswered, as did phone calls to a number listed under the address and Yi’s name.
Other information on the company is scarce. There is no searchable information online, and it is unclear what business it is in, or with whom it may be affiliated.
An AEC spokesperson told New Matilda they will send another letter, and if that fails, will refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. But they said legal action is unlikely due to the offence’s minor penalties and the DPP’s other priorities.
According to the Electoral Act, donors can be fined up to $1000 for failing to lodge a return, and up to $5000 for supplying false or misleading information. But donors who fail to lodge are common, and AEC sources say none have been fined for either lodging a false return, or not lodging a return, since the mid-1990s.
The AEC’s younger NSW-based sibling, the Election Funding Authority, is far less gun-shy. In 2008 it authorised the Crown Solicitor to prosecute 900 donors for failing to disclose a total of about $8 million prior to the 2007 state election. Culprits included the Australian Workers Union, Channel Seven, News Limited, Foster’s, Tooheys, GlaxoSmithKlein, Woolworths, the NRMA and the Queensland Liberal Party. About 400 donors subsequently fell into line but by 2009 nearly 300 face possible criminal convictions and fines of up to $11,000. The EFA didn’t respond to New Matilda’s enquiries into the status of these charges.
New Matilda made a final request to the federal Labor Party for more information on the three mystery donors, but Assistant Secretary Nick Martin confirmed they didn’t have any and offered a compromise. "I can give you a stock-standard line from a party spokesperson about us adhering to the disclosure laws," he said.
And here it is.
A spokesperson for the federal Labor Party said "the ALP fully adheres to the donation disclosure provisions of the Commonwealth Electoral Act. All donations above the threshold are fully disclosed. Furthermore, the ALP opposed moves by the Liberal Party in government to restrict information relating to donations which took our disclosure laws backwards."
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