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Take a seat: Dutton plays host as LNP ramps up cash-for-access meetings

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Defence Minister Peter Dutton and other Queensland conservatives have helped the Liberal National Party attract $170,000 in new donations.

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The LNP might have lost the October state election but, ahead of the federal election, it is raking in the cash. The party will seize every money-making opportunity ahead of Queensland introducing a cap on donations in July 2022.

Dutton, the Member for Dickson, is a figurehead of the LNP’s Corporate Observers Program, along with other Queensland-based frontbenchers in Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews and Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business Minister Stuart Robert. Donors to the LNP have been offered the chance to meet with LNP politicians this month if they are willing to pay at least $6,600 to the party.

The LNP’s most successful local representative, Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner, is also featured on promotional material for the program, along with state Opposition leader David Crisafulli.

At the next event on April 30, at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Federal MPs and Senators, and State MPs will host tables of LNP donors. It is not clear who among the figureheads will prove most popular.

The LNP offers donors a “personalised meeting schedule” of discreet discussions to “maximise dialogue” at the event.

Those to already take advantage of the “early bird discount” of a minimum $6,600 contribution include companies such as hospital giant Ramsay Health and meat producer Australian Country Choice, industry organisations like the Taxi Council, and lobbying firms including Next Level.

Some, like the Queensland Hotels Association, Queensland Resources Council and Propero Technology, wanted to bring an extra ticket-holder, so paid $9,900. Others were regular LNP donors and tipped in $16,500 for a bunch of tickets.

Such events have long been labelled a potential corruption risk, including by former inquiry chief Tony Fitzgerald, but continue to be run by the major parties. Labor has held them while in government.

Some donors, like Propero and various industry associations, give money to both sides, to maintain access on a bipartisan level.

However, from next year, the cap for donations to individual candidates will be set at $6,000, and for parties at $4,000, restricting if not preventing future cash-for-access programs. An ongoing review of regulation around lobbyists may also bring changes.

Donors have shown up in the official diaries required to be disclosed by Cabinet ministers and the Opposition leader. There is no such transparency at a federal level, and Freedom of Information laws generally exclude what has been discussed on the basis that it is ‘party political’ and not solely government business, despite the corruption risk.

Since the state election, the LNP has raised $743,467 and Labor $569,148. The Greens have raised $88,393 – most from professional gambler Duncan Turpie – while Katter’s Australian Party still receives monthly donations from family and firearm connections. For the federal election, donations can also be channelled through other jurisdictions.

The LNP event comes amid jockeying for positions on the Queensland Senate ticket, the fallout over Andrew Laming’s behaviour and forced retirement, political pressure over the vaccination rollout and gender equality, as well as a review of the state election loss.

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