Anna Palmer gave $330,000 to the Nationals while her husband Clive was seeking to re-enter parliament with a preference deal between his United Australia party and the Liberal-National Coalition.
The revelation is contained in the financial disclosures to the Australian Electoral Commission for 2018-19, published on Monday, which also reveal Palmer’s Mineralogy Pty Ltd donated $83.3m to the UAP.
Clive Palmer downplayed any suggestion he may have known of or approved his wife’s donation to the Nationals, telling Guardian Australia: “Women are independent [and] have the right to decide who they vote for or [who to] support; the days are long gone when a man can dictate to a woman and so they should be.”
In April, the UAP struck a preference deal with the Liberal party, agreeing to place each other ahead of Labor in lower house seats and the Senate.
In Queensland, where Clive Palmer was the UAP’s lead Senate candidate, the Liberal-National party placed UAP second on its how-to-vote. The then Labor leader, Bill Shorten, attacked the preference deal, prompting Palmer to claim that Labor had also approached him to strike a deal.
During the campaign Palmer and his lead New South Wales candidate, Brian Burston, boasted that Palmer would spend $60m or more on his own campaign. A week out from the 18 May election a Facebook account linked to the UAP paid to disseminate an ad for the Queensland LNP.
After Labor’s shock loss, Palmer said he had intentionally polarised the electorate with anti-Labor ads labelling Bill Shorten “shifty” in the dying weeks of the campaign.
The post-election reviews conducted by Labor and the Australian Council of Trade Unions both blamed Palmer’s ad spend for the result. In the last week of the campaign alone UAP spent $8m on advertising.
Analysis from the Grattan Institute suggests Palmer tried to “buy the election” with a $90m spend, largely made up of the $83.3m donation from Mineralogy.
“This is the single biggest donation on record, way above the previous record of $15 million – also held by Palmer – at the 2013 election,” senior associate Kate Griffiths said. “The largest non-Palmer donation ever was $4 million from a private investor and philanthropist.”
In addition to $330,000 given to the National party, Anna Palmer also gave $20,000 to Cherish Life Queensland, an anti-abortion group which campaigned against Labor’s plan to improve access to abortion.
The United Australia party’s declaration also revealed that on 30 June it owed Google Australia $8.2m. Google accepts political advertising both in its search functions and other digital platforms including YouTube.
A spokesperson for UAP reportedly told the ABC the bill had been “paid in full as per Google’s terms and conditions”. Palmer told Guardian Australia “that is not a matter for me”.
In addition to $83.3m from Mineralogy, the UAP declared a $106,342 donation from Waratah Coal Pty Ltd and $53,566 from Palmer Coolum Resort Pty Ltd.
Palmer’s vast campaign spend – which included more on advertising than McDonald’s, Toyota and Coles in the year before the election – prompted calls for spending caps and greater transparency and regulation of donations.
His advertising push, in part, relied on a large network of Facebook pages, which pushed out anti-Shorten and other material to users via paid advertisements.
Much of that material was created at the Coolum resort, where Palmer launched his campaign, and flew in a huge cohort of candidates for a three-day workshop. While at the resort, the candidates filmed scripted, word-for-word videos decrying the foreign ownership of Australian ports, and linking it to “border security” and stopping “leaky boats”.
The Palmer money added to an already large expenditure by the major parties. Centre for Public Integrity analysis suggests that major party spending was the highest in real terms since the 2007 election, at $102m. That is below only the expenditure recorded in 2008, when the major parties spent $127.8m, adjusting for inflation.
The donations data also reveal the individuals bankrolling Advance Australia, the rightwing version of GetUp. Advance Australia campaigned against Labor during the election.
It spent almost $2m during the campaign and has declared $1.1m in donations, including large contributions from a cluster of companies which corporate records link to the wealthy O’Neil family in Double Bay, Sydney, who made much of their fortune in property development.
Advance Australia’s backers also include the founder of medical technology company Resmed, Peter Farrell, who gave $50,000, and City Lodge Motel Pty Ltd, which appears to be linked to Brisbane businesswoman Kim Pradella.