Australia: Alcohol Industry Found to Hide Political Donations

The alcohol industry has been found to hide political donations in Australia.

Last year, The Guardian revealed, 13 companies – including corporate giant Woolworths, who operate their alcohol business through Endeavour Group Limited (which owns Dan Murphy’s and BWS) – had failed to declare sizeable political donations to the Liberal and Labor parties when seeking more than 50 separate approvals to develop property in New South Wales.

Failing to declare donations to planning authorities when seeking to develop or modify property is a criminal offence.

The companies had declared the donations to the electoral commission, as required, but failed to declare them to planning authorities. When The Guardian alerted the NSW planning department they began investigating further.

The NSW planning department has thus found, seven of the 13 companies revealed by The Guardian have in fact violated the law. They issued four of these companies with official cautions. These four companies did not include Woolworths. The three others were not mentioned or warned because the transgressions were considered “minor in nature”. It is unclear whether Woolworths was included in the three unmentioned companies.

When The Guardian originally revealed last year that Woolworths had failed to declare donations to planning authorities in NSW, the company conceded and blamed it on “administrative errors”.

Failure to declare donations is a serious crime whether “administrative” or not. The purpose of declaring donations to planning authorities is to minimize undue influence on planning processes which is an area of high corruption risk.

This is not the first time Woolworths was caught in unethical business. In May 2020, Movendi International reported that the Woolworths owned Endeavour Group was aggressively pushing for building a new alcohol superstore in Australia’s Northern Territory capital city Darwin, near alcohol-free aboriginal communities, despite the opposition from these communities. It is worth investigating whether the Group declared to planning authorities on possible donations before pushing for this superstore.

Woolworths – and alcohol industry giant in Australia

That Woolworths is an alcohol industry giant in Australia is out of question.

According to Trish Hepworth, Policy and Research Director at the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), Woolworths holds interests in alcohol retail through two businesses:

  1. The wholly owned Endeavour Drinks, which is mainly liquor retail, including big box outlets such as market leader Dan Murphy’s and delivery services such as the 30-minute alcohol delivery Jimmy Brings; and
  2. A 75% stake in ALH group, which is mainly on premise pubs with liquor and gaming, but also a large number of BWs and Dan Murphy’s off premise.

In July 2019 Woolworths announced that it was going to combine these two businesses (worth about $10 billion) and then demerge in the first half of 2020. Due to the pandemic this has been pushed back until at least the second half of 2021.

The Woolworths-controlled ALH group has recently received the largest penalty ever imposed by the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, for “systemically” giving patrons at two NSW hotels free alcohol to encourage their gambling, according to reporting by the Sydney Morning Herald.

As the the largest operator of poker machines in Australia, ALH group is deeply steeped in addiction industries.

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