A discredited NSW Liberal Party fundraising vehicle — supposedly shut-down almost a decade ago — continues to operate and now says it has made a $42 million-plus “typo” in an official donations disclosure.
For the 2020-21 financial year, NSW Liberal Party entity Bunori Pty Ltd — also known as the Millennium Forum and the Federal Forum — declared receiving $47.3m from donors, which is over seven times more than it has disclosed in any other year.
That “total receipts” figure has been on the public record for almost 18 months, since the NSW Liberal Party made the official disclosure to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) on October 20, 2021.
During that time there has been both a NSW and Federal election.
“You have picked up a discrepancy,” NSW Liberal Party spokesman Ian Zakon told The Klaxon, when we asked about the payments.
“The total payments figure is a typo”.
“You have picked up a discrepancy” – NSW Liberal Party
That was over a week ago.
Since then, no disclosure amendment form has been published by the AEC.
“The AEC is not in possession of any evidence to determine whether the total receipts reported by Bunori Pty Limited was incorrectly disclosed,” AEC spokesperson Alex Morris told The Klaxon.
“As is standard practice the AEC considers all applicable information, including such matters as are contained in your email.
“Any matters arising from this consideration will be addressed directly with the entity,” Morris said.
“Any matters arising from this consideration will be addressed directly with the entity” – AEC
The NSW Liberal Party’s $47.3m alleged “typo”. Source: AEC
The NSW Liberal Party in 2014 announced the Millennium Forum “has ceased to operate”, after it was revealed the Party had used the entity to launder illegal “donations” from property developers ahead of the 2011 NSW election.
Yet The Klaxon can reveal the entity remains registered and has — even after removing the $47.3m figure — almost tripled the amount of “donations” it is collecting each year.
“The Millenium Forum continues to exist and has almost tripled the ‘donations’ it is collecting each year”
The Klaxon first approached the NSW Liberal Party regarding the disclosure on April 27.
In a string of subsequent correspondence, spokesman Zakon has said the relevant person who deals with AEC disclosures at the NSW Liberal Party is away, but that he believes the actual figure is “$4 million” or “$4.5 million”.
“The $47 million figure was the typo,” Zakon said on April 28.
“The total receipts figure will obviously be $4 million rather than $40 million”.
On Friday Zakon said he was “very confident” that the “number for total receipts will come to $4.5m”.
“The relevant persons are still away on leave,” he told us Friday.
We asked how the alleged “error” came about but are yet to receive a response.
The disclosure form was signed and submitted by NSW Liberal Party “State Finance Manager” Peter Wheatley, an accountant.
If the disclosure contains incorrect information, the NSW Liberal Party is required to submit a signed amended disclosure form, stating the correct information.
If the $47.3m figure is incorrect it raises serious questions for the AEC, which has a duty to ensure proper disclosures.
As previously reported, the AEC has been heavily criticised for failing to do its job and enforce the law.
The nation’s top auditor, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), in September 2020 found “the AEC does not appropriately act upon identified non-compliance” and “it is not making effective use of its enforcement powers”.
It found the AEC’s “management of the disclosure scheme” was only “partially effective” and that the AEC “is not well placed to provide assurance that disclosure returns are accurate and complete”.
If the $47.3m figure is incorrect, it also raises broader questions regarding the effectiveness of political “donations” monitoring, given $42m-odd can apparently go unnoticed (and unreported to the public) during the nation’s two biggest elections, each contested by the Liberal Party.
The Millennium Forum made headlines in 2014 after the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) launched an “investigation into NSW Liberal Party electoral funding for the 2011 state election campaign”.
The investigation, codenamed Operation Spicer, revealed the NSW Liberal Party had used The Millennium Forum to launder “donations” from banned donors, including property developers.
NSW banned property developers from making political donations in 2009.
The ICAC found the NSW Liberal Party had run a scheme whereby money solicited by The Millennium Forum would be sent to a federal Liberal Party-linked body, the Free Enterprise Foundation, which would then send the funds back to the Millennium Forum in NSW.
The “donor” would then be disclosed by the NSW Liberal Party as the Free Enterprise Foundation, masking the true donors, many of which were property developers, the ICAC found.
In August 2014, following a string of damning revelations at public hearings — including admissions from key NSW Liberal Party figures — Mike Baird’s NSW Liberal-National Coalition Government announced a new ministerial code would be introduced.
At the same time media were given a letter from then NSW Liberal Party director Tony Nutt to Baird, in which Nutt said the NSW Liberal Party would “decline any donation from the (Free Enterprise) Foundation made in support of our campaign to win the 2015 State election”.
The August 20, 2014, letter continued: “I also confirm that the Millennium Forum has ceased to operate”.
Since then the Millennium Forum has been reported as being defunct.
Yet The Klaxon can reveal the Millennium Forum has at all times continued to exist and has been repeatedly re-registered by the NSW Liberal Party in the decade since.
Among those who made “donations”, and who met the definition of “property developer”, were Lang Walker of Walker Group Holdings, who made a $100,000 payment; manufacturer and developer Brickworks, which made a $125,000 payment; and shopping centre giant Westfield, then controlled by the billionaire Lowy family, which “donated” $150,000.
As revealed by The Klaxon, just weeks out from last year’s federal election the Lowy family used an obscure company with no website, no telephone number — and no employees — to make $550,000 in secretive “donations” to the Liberal Party.
They comprised a $250,000 payment to the Liberal Party Victorian branch and two payments, totalling $300,000, to the NSW Liberal Party, with all payments made in March last year.
The Federal election was held on May 21.
Money raised for the Liberal Party by Bunori/The Millennium Forum/Federal Forum has soared in recent years.
Operation Spicer found that during November and December 2010 the NSW Liberal Party used the Free Enterprise Foundation to channel $693,000 to the party, “a substantial portion” of which “originated from donors who were property developers”.
The NSW election was held in March 2011, and saw the Liberal-National Coalition win in a landslide, ending 16 years of ALP rule.
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