Mining industry lobby group creates PR ‘war chests’
THE mining industry's top lobby group has set aside more than $1 million in a public relations war chest to prepare for a new advertising blitz.
The Minerals Council of Australia's 2014 financial records show the nation's top resources lobby holds $1.3 million in its "campaign reserve".
The reserve is partly funded by leftover money from its $17 million advertising anti-mining and carbon tax campaign, and its promotional This is Our Story television advertisements.
University of Queensland political expert Graeme Orr said amassing advertising war chests for public advocacy marked a "new normal" for third-party political campaigning in Australia.
"It shows that these groups are carrying over the reserves from previous campaigns, but it may also be a sign that this type of large-scale multi-million dollar campaigning is very useful to the industry and is becoming entrenched," he said.
While the MCA's $1 million campaign reserve was small compared with the industry's
previous campaigns, financial records show it is bolstered by $8.9 million the MCA held in "accumulated funds".
That fund could be used for a range of purposes, but has in the past been transferred to campaigns.
The lobby group also uses special levies to help fund campaigns.
Professor Orr also said there was a divide between industry and "grassroots" campaigns.
"I do see a difference in corporate lobby groups funded by wealthy businesses and those funded largely by individual, small donations," he said.
"Environmental and social groups tend to have, by their nature, more community support, while the big cash-rich industry lobbies are mainly being backed by large corporate interests, which often already have a privileged position."
Financial documents show the MCA received more than $14 million in membership fees in 2014, down from $21 million in 2013, after it cut its membership fees for mining companies.
Across all states and territories, the top mining and gas industry lobby groups received about $50 million in total last year, largely in membership fees that mining companies can claim as a business tax deduction.
QRC, the industry's loudest voice lobbying for coal expansions in the Galilee Basin and Abbot Point port expansions, raised about $10 million last year, records lodged with the corporate regulator show.
Of QRC's total income, the vast majority, $7.8 million, was raised through membership fees, subscriptions and special levies, and a further $798,000 was raised from conference registrations and sponsorship deals.
The Sunshine State's mining lobby also spent $3.6 million paying wages, $2.2 million on "consultants and legal fees" and $498,761 on office accommodation last year.
A QRC spokeswoman said the lobby group did not spend any money campaigning during the 2013 Federal Election. While election campaigning is more tightly regulated, and some spending is regulated, Prof Orr said much more could done to regulate third-party lobbyists and industry groups.
He said many people viewed such campaigns as a sign of a healthy democracy, where many groups could advocate for their position. While a company promoting products is not allowed to make misleading claims, Prof Orr said there were no rules stopping lobby groups from making untrue claims.
"There's this grey area where a corporation might be able to mislead, as long as it's not for trade or commerce, so especially claims about science are not covered," he said.
"So they could say things in their advertising that may not be completely truthful, and there's no public law that can get at them over that."
MCA chief Brendan Pearson and QRC chief Michael Roche declined interview requests.
An MCA spokesman sent a statement that said the council complied with all relevant reporting requirements and made its annual report available publicly in the interests of transparency.