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26 March 2015

Liberal National party fundraising bodies forced to correct AEC returns

Queensland LNP leader Lawrence Springborg

AEC review reveals multiple errors amounting to millions of dollars were made in political donation disclosures while accounting for fundraising bodies was managed by the LNP

A group of powerful fundraising bodies linked to the Queensland Liberal National party have made substantial and repeated errors in their political donation disclosures while their accounting was managed by the party itself, and have been forced to make millions of dollars in corrections to their annual returns.

A series of AEC reviews into the Altum Property Trust, Altum HQ Trust and LNP Nominees Pty Ltd has found serious discrepancies in their donation disclosures.

The AEC has also revealed that the entity’s accounting was previously managed in-house by the Queensland Liberal National Party itself.

The findings form part of a broader cache of AEC compliance reviews released to Guardian Australia under freedom of information laws. These types of reviews are initiated periodically by the AEC to determine whether parties are meeting their disclosure obligations.

The reviews of the Queensland Liberal National party associated entities have revealed:

  • A series of significant errors were made by the Altum Property Trust that led to major discrepancies, including failing to acknowledge a loan of almost $3m used to purpose a property in its 2010-2011 return. The AEC review said it “met difficulty in obtaining the full set of requested records”, and that “sufficient documentation was not readily available” due to a failure to appropriately handover documents from staff.

  • A further review of the Altum Property Trust’s 2012-2013 filings revealed further substantial failures to report, including reporting an $8m debt to LNP Nominees Pty Ltd. A further error also occurred in calculating its total debts, which was “due to a typing error that added an extra zero to the figure, which had inadvertently increased the figure by a factor of 10”.

  • The Altum HQ Trust had listed a $200,000 loan payment that the AEC found “could not be verified or supported by records provided” in its 2010-2011 annual return. The review said the entity should change its practices to ensure “greater clarity and consistency” in accounting.

  • The LNP Nominees Pty Ltd entity did “not provide sufficiently comprehensive information” in its records to satisfy its disclosure obligations in its 2010-2011 return. The entity had underreported its total payments by $4m, and the AEC were unable to determine how the figure had been arrived at in the absence of provided working materials. In May 2014 a further review was finalised into the 2011-2012 disclosures of LNP Nominees, the Altum HQ Trust and the Altum Property Trust.

The reviews did not find any material discrepancies that required correction. But the current financial financial controller also said that they “did not have access to work papers of the previous financial controller”.

A spokesman for the Australian Electoral Commission has also since confirmed that the Queensland Liberal National party itself was previously managing the accounting of the entities in-house.

“The ‘separation’ mentioned refers to the accounting arrangements, not the disclosure status,” he said.

“The accounting/bookkeeping for the trusts has moved from being performed in-house by the LNP’s administrative staff to now being external to the party and maintained separately.”

“Both before and after this change in accounting responsibilities associated entity disclosure returns were being lodged.”

While some of the amendments made to the associated entities’ annual returns has been reported previously, the reviews provide new details about the circumstances of the changes and the pattern of findings made by the AEC.

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said the breadth of errors and inconsistencies was extremely high, and called for a more in-depth investigation into the entities.

“This incredibly complex web of multi million transactions really stands out,” she said.

“The next step with regard to Altum and St Paul’s terrace should be a really thorough investigation.”

The most recent financial controller of the Queensland Liberal National party associated entities has not responded to emails or calls. A previous financial controller who is listed on some of the amending returns, Monique Carlson, said: “I have nothing to do with that anymore. I haven’t had anything to do with that in ages.”

A Liberal National party Queensland spokesman said: “The LNP has assisted the AEC in answering all questions over its returns during the review and will take any advice into consideration.”

“The LNP fully complies with all state and federal electoral laws.”