The prudential regulator was grilled by the House economics committee on Friday around the appropriateness of industry fund political donations, saying the “principles-based” nature of the sole purpose test made it hard to identify whether such donations would constitute a breach.
Facing questioning from committee chair and Liberal MP Tim Wilson around donations made by Sunsuper and Industry Super Australia to state divisions of the Labor Party, APRA deputy chair Helen Rowell said it was “difficult to comment” on the nature of the donations without more specific information.
“We’ve had donations made by Sunsuper to the Queensland branch of the ALP and APRA has dismissed it,” Mr Wilson said.
“I raise it in the context that we’ve raised this issue publicly with Industry Super Australia who has misled this committee – they’ve said they made no donations, then we found out there were tickets to events, and we’ve then found out they made donations of up to $150,000 when you factor in state divisions of political parties.
“How is this consistent with the sole purpose test?”
“It’s difficult without looking at the specifics to comment on individual cases,” Ms Rowell said.
“As we’ve said in many responses to questions on notice in this issue, it’s difficult to see how direct political donations via the trustee could be consistent. If it is not an APRA-regulated entity, that’s a different thing where considerations don’t arise.
“With the principles-based nature of the sole purpose test, you need to look at the circumstances to determine whether it would be likely to comply. I’m happy to look into the specific cases mentioned, but with the information you’ve provided it’s hard for me to look into it.”
Mr Wilson further questioned how state political donations could have “any consistency” with the sole purpose test.
“According to the AEC they are classified as a donation – if they consider it a donation I expect you would,” he said.
“We’ve found there is varying practice in terms of how information is reported to the AEC – it’s a different nature of payment so it’s a difficult area to provide a black and white answer on,” Ms Rowell said.
“We’re happy to look at cases where we can get information, [but] the sole purpose test isn’t framed around black and white ruling out of particular types of expenditure.”