‘Death tax’: The familiar scare campaign circulating in Queensland’s election

Clive Palmer, leader of the Palmer’s United Australia Party, speaks during a campaign announcement. Source: AAP

Billionaire and Leader of the United Australia Party Clive Palmer has claimed Labor will implement a death tax if re-elected, despite there being no concrete evidence for the claim. Experts say it’s not the first time he’s made this assertion.

In the lead up to the Queensland election, the Leader of the United Australia Party, Clive Palmer, has been claiming Labor will introduce a death tax -- a claim that the party categorically denies.

“You can’t afford to give Labor your children’s inheritance, it’s as simple as that,’’ Mr Palmer said in a video posted to YouTube on Wednesday.

“The only way Labor can reduce its debt is by taking from Queensland families. They are out of ideas and have no policies that can deliver growth and a strong economic future for this State,’’ he added.

Despite being unable to provide any concrete evidence for his claim, Mr Palmer has previously claimed it’s his right “as a citizen” to make the assertion.

Clive Palmer at a press conference in August 2020.
Clive Palmer at a press conference in August 2020.

“Now, I’m entitled as a citizen and members of our party inform that view,” he said.

“Why take the risk with the Labor Party and a death tax when you don’t have to? It’s such a critical thing, 20 percent of your wealth.”

Mr Palmer claims the only evidence he has to back up this assertion is a call he received from a “treasury official”.

He’s also linked the supposed tax to Labor’s proposal to introduce euthanasia laws.

clive palmer
Clive Palmer claims Labor will introduce a death tax.

Mr Palmer’s claims have been vehemently denied by outgoing Tourism Minister Kate Jones.

"This is just Clive Palmer using his millions of dollars to scare the elderly and quite frankly, what Clive Palmer is doing right now is bullshit," she said on Tuesday.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick also called out Mr Palmer over text messages sent by his company Mineralogy to voters, which claimed Labor would introduce the tax.

"Clive, you and I know this — your claim about a death tax in Queensland is a big fat lie," he said.

Clive Palmer spent about $60 million on advertising –but despite not winning a seat, the UAP vote had a significant impact on some seat outcomes.
Clive Palmer spent about tens of millions on advertising in the 2019 election but the UAP didn't win a seat.

So, where did this ‘death tax’ claim come from?

John Quiggin, a Professor in Economics at The University of Queensland, says the death tax -- also referred to as an inheritance tax -- was used by previous governments to claim a portion of someone’s estate when they died.

Dr Quiggin says the tax was introduced in the early 1900s but was terminated in 1979 by the Federal Government after Queensland ditched the tax a few years earlier.

Mr Palmer first made the death tax claim last year, according to Dr Glenn Kefford, a Lecturer in Political Science at the University of Queensland.

“To the best of our knowledge, it was first made on a segment on Sunrise during the 2019 federal election,” he told The Feed.

“Social media accounts associated with the Liberal Party and a range of minor parties started to repeat the claim and this forced Labor to respond to questions about it,” he added.

Dr Kefford says the footage was then cut up and edited to make it seem as though Labor had thought about such a proposal. 

“Palmer subsequently used this in messaging, spending significant sums on social media and print media advertising repeating the falsehood,” he told The Feed.

“But there is no evidence that Labor has considered introducing anything resembling a 'death tax'.”

Dr Kefford says “the UAP appears to be nothing more than a vehicle for Palmer's business interests and vanity and adds very little, if anything, to Australian democracy.”

“This is an interest group masquerading as a political party and in the federal election last year and in this QLD campaign, the party has spread misinformation potentially misleading or confusing voters.”

When it comes to the death tax, for Mr Palmer, it may end up a case of “the boy who cried wolf”, says Dr Axel Bruns, Professor in the Digital Media Research Centre at the Queensland University of Technology.

“I think the more this claim is repeated, the more people will probably start seeing through it,” he told The Feed.

Dr Bruns says Labor believes there’s “an unholy alliance between the LNP, the Palmer Party and One Nation”.

“Labor is saying the name of the game is that people might vote for Palmer or One Nation, rather than direct their preferences to Labor,” he added.

Scare campaigns

Scare campaigns are nothing new when it comes to politics.

In 2016, Labor spearheaded the MediScare campaign that played on voters fears that the Liberal Party would privatise Medicare.

Former Prime Minister John Howard’s campaign around asylum seekers was based on the claim that children were thrown overboard from boats. The claim was later found to be incorrect but it’s had a lasting impact, with the Liberal Party’s ‘Stop The Boats’ messaging persisting to this day. 

Ex-prime ministers Tony Abbott (R) and John Howard's (L) busts in Ballarat have been covered in graffiti.
Ex-prime ministers Tony Abbott (R) and John Howard's (L).

Dr Kefford said misinformation in election campaigns can be extremely difficult to monitor and police.

“While it might be clear that some messages are untrue, like Palmer's, others might be half-truths or misleading but contain some factual information,” he said.

During Queensland’s election, Labor has also been running its own scare campaign accusing the LNP of cutting thousands of public servant’s jobs.

“Labor's claim that the LNP will need to cut 30,000 jobs to achieve a budget surplus is based on analysis completed by the think tank Per Capita,” Dr Kefford said.

“Labor's messaging is potentially misleading here unless it says that this is what modelling suggests will need to occur given the policies they have announced,” he added.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at the Queensland Labor election campaign launch in Brisbane on 18 October.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk at the Queensland Labor election campaign launch in Brisbane on 18 October.

But Dr Quiggin told The Feed he thinks Labor’s scare campaign differs to Mr Palmer’s in that it’s “justified”.

“The LNP has been careful not to announce things that sound as if you’re not going to have jobs. But it’s reasonable for Labor to say these cuts don’t add up,” he told The Feed.

Mr Palmer -- who failed to win a seat in Parliament -- said he spent between $50-55 million in advertising in the last election. He claimed he dedicated the last two weeks of his campaign attempting to stop Labor leader Bill Shorten from becoming prime minister.

"We thought that would be a disaster for Australia," Mr Palmer told ABC radio Brisbane.

"We decided to polarise the electorate and put what advertising we had left that hadn't been used into explaining to Australian people what Shorten's economic plans were for the country and how they needed to be worried about them."

‘The distraction’ 

Scare campaigns aside, Mr Palmer has featured in many headlines over the years for attempting to build a replica of the Titanic, creating his own bizarre video game, having his political party deregistered by The Australian Electoral Commission and facing multiple lawsuits.

His face has also been seen all over the country, popping up in ‘Make Australia Great’ billboards ahead of last year’s election.

clive palmer
Clive Palmer's video game.
Apple Store

Dr Bruns said Mr Palmer has been presented by the media as this “weird, madman Maverick” but it’s unwise to disregard him.

“I think it's, it's dangerous to just dismiss him as an oddity or an aberration,” he told The Feed.

Dr Bruns said a lot of Mr Palmer’s “stunts” could be seen as “calculated” to draw attention away from more “problematic” activities. 

“Ultimately, some of this ends up taking media attention away from from the things that he's doing in other parts of his business or in other parts of his politics.”

“It’s worth looking in greater detail at his activities and really understanding how they affect the overall electoral process.”

The Feed has contacted Mr Palmer for comment