Queensland Liberal National party accepted more than $30,000 from previously ‘prohibited donor’

The LNP had earlier decided it could not take money from Sam Chong’s company under state laws that ban property developers from giving political gifts

File photo of Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaking in state parliament
Experts say it’s unclear if LNP donations from Sam Chong’s company are captured by Queensland’s developer donation ban, but the Greens say if they are legal then the laws are broken. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP
Experts say it’s unclear if LNP donations from Sam Chong’s company are captured by Queensland’s developer donation ban, but the Greens say if they are legal then the laws are broken. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAP

Last modified on Thu 15 Apr 2021 17.07 EDT

The Queensland Liberal National party has banked more than $30,000 in donations from a company owned by the billionaire Brisbane skyscraper developer Sam Chong since February last year, despite deeming the company a “prohibited donor” two years ago.

In 2019, the LNP returned two donations made by Zashvin Pty Ltd – an investment company jointly owned by Chong and his wife, Lai Kion – citing state laws that ban property developers and associated entities from giving political gifts.

However, Electoral Commission of Queensland (ECQ) disclosure data shows that since February 2020, the same company has made four separate donations to the LNP totalling $31,500.

Chong, who made his fortune in the mining sector, has been repeatedly referred to in media reports as a “property developer” since he built the 33-storey Four Points by Sheraton skyscraper on Mary Street, which opened in 2014.

Since then he has built a neighbouring 38-floor skyscraper, the Westin/Mary Lane development, which opened in late 2018.

He holds a third significant consolidated CBD site in Margaret Street, purchased in 2012, which had previously been earmarked for a major development.

Zashvin is a separate corporate entity to Chong’s Breeton group of companies – including property companies Felicity Hotel, Mary 111 and Margaux 93 – though company records show all are ultimately owned jointly by the billionaire and his wife.

Experts say the nature of his development activities – single large-scale projects built over several years – raise a question as to whether Chong and his companies are captured by developer donation bans.

Graeme Orr, a political law expert from the University of Queensland, said the law defines a property developer as an individual or entity “engaged in a business that regularly involves the making of relevant planning applications by or on behalf of the corporation”.

Orr said it was possible that the resumption of donations to the LNP was based on an interpretation that his businesses did not make “regular” development applications, or had ceased to do so.

The LNP’s state secretary, Angela Awabdy, did not respond to questions.

Chong, who is known to keep a low profile, could not be contacted. Listed phone numbers for Zashvin were not answered.

Uncertainty about the operation of the prohibited donors law – and separate claims that property developers have used “loopholes” to make donations from separate entities – have prompted critics to call for the restrictions to be strengthened.

Michael Berkman, a state Greens MP, said that Chong and his associated companies should be classified as a property developer.

“If these donations are legal, then the laws are broken,” Berkman said.

“It’s irresponsible for [the government] to allow developers – by any reasonable person’s understanding of the term – to continue pouring money into politics.

“My message to Labor is that it’s time to wake up: your laws aren’t working, you could drive a bulldozer through the loopholes, and property developers will keep exploiting this until you fix it.

“If we want to actually clean up politics then all corporate donations should be illegal, but getting the developer donations ban right is just the absolute bare minimum.”

The ECQ said it could not comment.

“For reasons of confidentiality, the ECQ does not release details of any compliance activities that may or may not be under way,” a spokeswoman said.

“The ECQ has an active compliance program and continues to work with all stakeholders to ensure they are aware of their obligations.”

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