AAP FactCheck

Restoring confidence in public statements by independently testing and verifying the facts

Is Prime Minister Scott Morrison guilty of peddling fake news about death taxes?

By Tiffanie Turnbull and Louise Evans

The Statement

"The Greens are up for death taxes. Even Andrew Leigh is up for death taxes, let alone the union movement."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. April 20, 2019.

The Analysis

Prime Minister Scott Morrison stands accused of spreading "fake news" by claiming Labor, the Greens and the union movement all support the reintroduction of a "death tax". [1]

AAP FactCheck examined Mr Morrison’s claims that the Greens, shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh and “the union movement” are all “up for” death taxes.

AAP FactCheck found the PM’s claim to be somewhat false.

Death taxes, otherwise known as inheritance taxes, are a one-off levy paid on money or property exceeding a certain threshold when the original owner dies.

They serve as another form of revenue for government and are considered to stimulate philanthropy by encouraging donations to charities. [2]

Death taxes were introduced in Australia’s colonies in the early 19th century. By federation in 1901, they had been adopted by all states. The federal government introduced additional death taxes in 1914, but by 1984 all death taxes levied at state and federal level were abolished. [3]

During the second week of the 2019 federal election campaign Labor accused the Liberals of running a “scare campaign” by peddling “fake news” on social media that Labor plans to introduce a death tax. [4]

Labor complained to Facebook, demanding the social media platform take down posts containing these false claims. [5]

Australian Council of Trade Union’s boss Sally McManus was dragged into the debate when a fake tweet, photo-shopped to imply it came from her account, was shared by conservatives including a former Howard-government minister Gary Hardgrave who later apologised for being duped.

The fake tweet read, “At the Labor National Conference the imposition of an Inheritance Tax was passed by a majority of candidates as being an objective within the term of the next Parliament, the ACTU proudly supports this initiative.” [6]

Greens leader Richard Di Natale told AAP FactCheck the prime minister was “desperate” and “lying” by claiming the Greens were pro death taxes. “An inheritance tax is not part of our fully-costed election platform in 2019,” the senator told AAP FactCheck.

Last month however Greens Queensland Senator Larissa Waters told ABC Radio’s RN Drive that death taxes were in the party’s “policy platform”, but it was not a policy they were taking to the election.

“We have reams and reams of fantastic policy that our members write, and it’s up there for all to see. We then craft from that an election policy platform that we cost,” Senator Waters said. “But we’re open to the conversation.” [7]

A spokesperson for Senator Di Natale told AAP FactCheck the party did not object to the concept of death taxes in principle, but it was not policy they’ve adopted.

Regarding shadow assistant treasurer Andrew Leigh, he worked as an Australian National University economics professor, with a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard, before entering politics in 2010. [8]

In 2006, he wrote an article for The New Matilda, an independent news website, advocating for the return of the “inheritance tax”. “We believe that reinstating an inheritance tax on the super-rich would be consistent with the Australian values of egalitarianism and the fair go,” he said. [9]

Mr Leigh has since repeatedly said, most recently on radio 2GB on April 22, 2019, he no longer holds that view. Speaking on Money News Mr Leigh said: “Inheritance taxes died at the federal level 40 years ago in 1979. Labor has no plans to bring them back.”

“Thirteen years ago I was an academic floating ideas. Now, as a policymaker, I've been asked repeatedly my views on inheritance taxes, death taxes over the years. I've always said I don't support them. Let’s call it for what it is: it's a lie. It's a lie, pure and simple.” [10] [11]

Back in 2016 Mr Leigh also rejected claims he supported death taxes in an interview with Peter van Onselen on Sky News TV.

“Peter, you're like a dog with an old manky bone that has been dug up deep in the backyard. I think this is like the sixth time you've raised this issue with me… Inheritance taxes are dead Peter, get over it,” he told Sky News. [12]

Regarding the position of the ACTU, the current tax policy linked on the union’s website includes a section stating, “Congress believes that consideration should be given to taxing inheritances in the hands of the beneficiary. A lifetime threshold could be made available to the taxpayer with tax payable once cumulative inheritances exceeded the threshold.”

However, the ACTU does not prosecute a case for death taxes, as it does with other categories in its tax policy. [13]

A spokesperson for the ACTU told AAP FactCheck, “The ACTU supports the tax policies of the ALP. These do not include a death tax.”

Based on the ACTU’s statements, AAP FactCheck finds the PM’s claim about the union to be mostly false.

Based on Mr Leigh's strong and constant rejection of death taxes as a politician, AAP FactCheck finds the PM’s claim is false.

Based on the statements from the Greens, AAP FactCheck finds the PM’s claim is mostly true, as while a death tax is not a 2019 Green’s election policy, it is part of their suite of policy platforms.

The Verdict

  • Somewhat False - Mostly false but there is more than one element of truth.

The References

1.'It is a lie': Bill Shorten targets Liberals for death tax 'fake news' on Facebook’, by Fergus Hunter. The Sydney Morning Herald. April 20, 2019: https://www.smh.com.au/federal-election-2019/it-is-a-lie-bill-shorten-targets-liberals-for-death-tax-fake-news-on-facebook-20190420-p51fu6.html

2. ‘Death Taxes’, by Julia Kagan. Investopedia. May 22, 2018: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/d/death-taxes.asp

3. ‘A brief history of Australia’s tax system’, by Sam Reinhardt and Lee Steel. Treasury Department: http://archive.treasury.gov.au/documents/1156/html/docshell.asp?URL=01_Brief_History.asp

4. ‘The facts about an inheritance tax’. ALP: https://www.alp.org.au/the_facts_about_an_inheritance_tax

5. ‘Labor demands Facebook remove 'fake news' posts about false death tax plans’, by David Wroe. The Sydney Morning Herald. April 19, 2019: https://www.smh.com.au/federal-election-2019/labor-demands-facebook-remove-fake-news-posts-about-false-death-tax-plans-20190419-p51fpk.html

6. ‘Fake Tweet About Death Taxes Blasted As 'Dangerous Attack On Democracy', by Josh Butler. 10 Daily. April 22, 2019: https://10daily.com.au/news/politics/a190422thx/fake-tweet-about-death-taxes-blasted-as-dangerous-attack-on-democracy-20190422

7. ‘Greens abandon "death tax" policy’. ABC Radio RN Drive. March 27, 2019: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/drive/greens-abandon-death-tax-policy/10946236

8. Andrew Leigh MP: http://www.andrewleigh.com/andrew

9. ‘Bring Back the Inheritance Tax’, by Andrew Leigh. New Matilda. March 7, 2006: https://cpd.org.au/2006/03/bring-back-the-inheritance-tax/

10. ‘Tax havens causing real problems’, Transcript. 2GB Money News. Andrew Leigh MP. April 23, 2019: http://www.andrewleigh.com/tax_havens_causing_real_problems_transcript_2gb_money_news

11. ‘Inheritance taxes died at a federal level 40 years ago. Labor has no intention of bringing it back’, by Ross Greenwood. Radio 2GB. April 22, 2019: https://www.2gb.com/podcast/inheritance-taxes-died-at-a-federal-level-40-years-ago-labor-has-no-intention-of-bringing-it-back/

12. ‘Labor is making sure the omnibus savings bill won't hurt the most vulnerable’, by Andrew Leigh. Andrew Leigh MP. September 12, 2016: http://www.andrewleigh.com/making_sure_the

13. ‘A Fair Share: Tax and Revenue Policy. ACTU Congress18: https://www.actu.org.au/media/1034001/tax.pdf

  • First published April 24, 2019 18:09 AEST