AIP v ECQ: prohibited donors able to donate to organisations that campaign

"Prohibited donors" free to donate to us

The Supreme Court of Queensland has repudiated the Electoral Commission’s advice to the Australian Institute for Progress that it must not take donations from property developers if it campaigns in an election or incurs electoral expenditure.

While the court refused the AIP’s application for a declaration against the commission it ruled that it could accept donations from prohibited donors provided neither the donor nor the institute intended to spend it as electoral expenditure:

[153] Whether or not a gift falls within the part of the definition of “political donation” in s 274(1)(b) which I have been asked to construe depends on the circumstances in which the gift was made. It depends on the purpose of the particular donor and the particular gift: was it “to enable” the AIP to incur expenditure “for the purposes of a campaign for an election” for the Legislative Assembly?

 [154] The issue of whether the making of a gift engages the operation of ss 275 or 276 is fact-specific. Not all of the AIP’s activities, including its political communications, will be “for the purposes of a campaign for the [State] election”. Therefore, not every gift to it by a prohibited donor will fall within that part of the definition of “political donation” and be prohibited.

What this means is that the institute and its donors can relax, confident that they have not committed an offence under the act (which carries a criminal penalty). We will ensure that funding for campaigning is kept separate from that for education and research.

It also means that other community organisations, such as churches, environmental groups, and even sporting clubs who receive money from people who are “prohibited donors” are also free to campaign for the election of a candidate or party with the right precautions/procedures in place.

A survey of our membership found a small but important number are prohibited donors. Rather than most being full-time developers 30% were medical doctors and 20% were professional company directors. Full-time developers were only a further 30%, with the balance coming from a number of diverse areas.

These are just the sort of people who donate to all kinds of good causes, some of which also run political campaigns.

The definition of “prohibited developer” is incredibly broad and includes anyone with a 20% or greater interest in a corporation that makes development applications for the commercial sale or lease of land, or anyone who is an officer of such a company.

Their spouses and partners are also “prohibited”.

Many affluent professionals are involved in property syndicates as an investment and are caught by this definition. One of our “prohibited donors” is a chartered accountant in partnership with his son, who is building units for the NDIS.

“This legislation is bad in principle, but the way it was being interpreted was even worse. We can now plan our fundraising activities with certainty, as can a large number of community organisations who were also impacted.”

For further information contact Graham Young on 0411 104 801 or

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