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Singapore Government, Temasek Implicated in Singtel-Optus Australian Political “Donations” Fracas

Singtel-Optus, commonly known as just Optus, has been found to have made political donations of around $70,000 to political parties in Australia.

This was revealed in Optus’ annual donor disclosure for the 2021-22 financial year.

Under laws introduced in Australia in 2019, political parties are prohibited from receiving donations of over AUD 100 from “foreign donors”, including foreign public enterprises.

Optus is an Australian company that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Singtel.

Temasek Holdings, a holding company owned by the Government of Singapore, 50.29 percent of shares in Singtel.

Interestingly, the CPF Board owns 4.79 percent of shares in Singtel.

The thorny political link stems from ownership of Optus, and whether the company is considered a “foreign public enterprise”.

Australian law flags such an enterprise as one where the government of a foreign country holds more than 50 percent of the issued shares of a company, or one that holds more than 50 percent voting power in the company, amongst other clauses.

The Australian Electoral Commission has said that the “donations” disclosed by Optus have been disclosed by the relevant political parties as “other receipts” rather than “donations”, and as such a further review needs to be conducted to determine whether a breach has taken place.

“There is a reporting discrepancy between the disclosures, and the nature of the transactions will need to be determined to establish whether a breach of the Electoral Act has occurred.”

Singtel acquired Optus in 2001, under the leadership of then-CEO Lee Hsien Yang.

Back in 2012, Optus was already topping the political donations list, providing $86,252 to state and federal Labor and coalition branches.

According to figures released by the Australian Taxation Office, the company paid zero income tax on Australian revenue of $8.4 billion in 2020-21.

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