A disgraced NSW Liberal Party fundraising vehicle — which the party falsely claimed was shut down a decade ago — has officially wound back over $42 million it reported receiving in 2020-21.
NSW Liberal Party state finance director Peter Wheatley has told the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) that Bunori Pty Ltd — also called the “Millennium Forum” and the “Future Forum” — received $4.57m in 2020-21, not $47.30m, which he reported in October 2021.
Wheatley, an accountant, filed the “amendment disclosure return” after The Klaxon questioned the $47.30m “total receipts” figure – given it was more than seven times bigger than any other year, spanning back over two decades.
That $47.30m figure — a $42.74m “error” in Australia’s political donations disclosures — was on the official record for 17 months, raising serious questions for the AEC, which is supposed to monitor and police disclosure reporting.
In that period there has been both a federal election and a NSW election.
The Australian National Audits Office (ANAO) said “the purpose of the disclosure scheme is to preserve the integrity of the electoral system” but in 2020 its review found the AEC “does not appropriately act upon identified non-compliance” and is “not making effective use of its enforcement powers”.
Despite the damning findings, neither the former Coalition government, which appointed Rogers in 2014 and reappointed him in 2019, or the current ALP Federal Government, have taken any action in response.
The NSW Liberal Party’s $47.3m alleged “typo”. Source: AEC
24 years of false disclosures
The Klaxon can further reveal the NSW Liberal Party has been making false disclosures regarding Bunori for more than two decades — including in Wheatley’s latest “amendment disclosure”.
The Millennium Foundation made headlines in 2014 with a NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) probe revealing the NSW Liberal Party had used the entity to launder “donations” from property developers ahead of the 2011 NSW election.
In 2009 NSW made it illegal for property developers to give money to politicians and political parties.
In its final report, released in 2016, the ICAC found nine current and former Liberal MPs had acted with the “intention of evading political donations laws” by taking money from property developers.
“Since 1999, the NSW Liberal Party has had a separate fundraising arm known as the Millennium Forum,” says the ICAC’s final report, released in 2016.
“Its principal purpose was to raise money for use by the NSW Liberal Party in its general activities and election campaigns.
“The Millennium Forum raised money in at least three ways: through subscriptions paid by different classes of “sponsors”, through fundraising events and through soliciting donations,” the ICAC said.
The Millennium Forum, Federal Forum and The 500 Club all currently registered business names of Bunori Pty Ltd. Source: ASIC
No mention is made of The Millennium Forum, the Future Forum or The 500 Club in any one of the AEC disclosures that the NSW Liberal Party has lodged for Bunori.
The AEC disclosure forms began asking whether disclosing entities have any “other business names” and to “list other trading names” from the 2008-09 financial year.
What Bunori/The Millennium Forum/the Future Forum/The 500 Club currently does — beyond channelling money between Liberal Party entities — is unknown.
“What the entity currently does – beyond channelling money between Liberal Party entities – is unknown”
That’s despite its annual “total receipts” having almost trebled since 2010 — the period that was the focus of the ICAC’s attention.
Last financial year Bunori declared total receipts of $6.57m.
Wheatley, the NSW Liberal Party — and Federal Opposition leader Peter Dutton, who is also responsible for the NSW Liberal Party — all refused to comment when asked for information about Bunori.
The murkiness around the entity is particularly curious because in 2014 the NSW Liberal Party announced the Millennium Forum had “ceased to operate”.
In a letter released to media, then NSW Liberal Party Director Tony Nutt wrote to then Premier Mike Baird that “I…confirm that the Millennium Forum has ceased to operate” and that new entity “the Federal Forum” had been created.
The Federal Forum had been created “entirely for the purposes of Federal fundraising and neither receives nor disperses money for State elections”.
“The Federal Forum was created ‘entirely for the purposes of Federal fundraising’,” NSW Liberal Party in 2014
Whether that remains correct — or even that it was correct at the time — is unclear.
It has not been explained why a NSW Liberal Party vehicle would be exclusively engaged in fundraising for the Federal Liberal Party.
Bunori directors, NSW Liberals State Director Chris Stone (left) and NSW Liberals treasurer Mark Baillie. Source: LinkedIn
The five directors of Bunori are NSW Liberals state director Chris Stone (above left); NSW Liberals treasurer Mark Baillie (above right); NSW Liberals state finance director Wheatley; NSW Liberals Finance Committee member John Pegg; and Maria Kovacic.
Bunori is registered to the NSW Liberal Party headquarters, Level 2, 131 Macquarie St, Sydney.
How did “error” occur?
How did AEC not spot it?
What does Bunori actually do?
Is it a state or federal fundraiser?
Bunori is considered a “small proprietary company” by the ASIC, meaning it is not possible to access its annual accounts.
Only large proprietary companies are required to lodge financial reports with the regulator.
The Coalition Government in 2019 changed the definition of “large proprietary company” so that it now captures far fewer companies.
A large proprietary company had been defined as one that met at least two of: having revenue of $25m or more, having gross assets of $12.5m or more, or having 50 employees or more.
A large proprietary company is now defined as one that meets at least two of: having revenue of $50 or more, having gross assets of $25m or more, or having 100 or more employees.
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