Almost one-third of voting Australians have been “spammed” by billionaire-turned-politician Clive Palmer with a series of text messages making political campaign promises.
Mr Palmer’s United Australia Party sent out more automated texts on Monday, prompting thousands of complaints.
The texts include several ambitious election promises – such as 20 per cent income tax cuts for people in regional areas – as part of his pitch to return to Parliament with his United Australia Party (UAP).
Messages were sent to 5.4 million people, whose mobile phone numbers were legally purchased from an unnamed advertising agency.
That’s almost one-third of the 16.2 million people enrolled to vote as of September.
A party spokesman said the response to the mass messaging was “very good”, driving 260,000 clicks to the party’s website.
But 3000 people made complaints to the party directly, while 450 complained to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).
The electoral commission wouldn’t confirm how many complaints it received.
“The United Australia Party has received strong levels of support as a result of these texts from Australians who are fed up with the raw deal they are getting under the Liberal/Labor duopoly,” the spokesman told The New Daily.
— Sam (@SamTRowe) January 14, 2019
Speaking to supporters south of Brisbane on Monday night, Mr Palmer – who was elected to the seat of Fairfax in 2013 for one term – claimed US President Donald Trump modelled his successful election on him.
“Donald Trump contacted our office after the first year after we’d won the balance of power in Australia, and he was going to stand for the presidential election nomination for the Republican Party and asked for our speeches and our policies and what we did,” Mr Palmer said.
Mr Palmer has also been running billboards adapting Mr Trump’s presidential campaign slogan, writing: “Make Australia Great”.
The text messages made a range of vote-grabbing policies, with one offering country residents “pay 20 per cent less tax in the regions with our zonal taxation policy”.
The income tax cut would be available to those who live 200 kilometres or further from capital cities.
Zonal taxation isn’t a new concept in Australia. There’s currently an offset available for people living in ATO-selected zones, and both former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and mining magnate Gina Rinehart have called for more zonal tax rates.
Voters in Western Australia were promised a bigger share of the GST pie, with the texts suggesting UAP would keep 100 per cent of GST paid within the state.
KPMG chief economist for Australia Brendan Rynne said that proposal would create gaps between the quality of government services between the states.
“There will come a point where the basic level of services provided by government is met by the GST funding, and every additional dollar diminishes. Some states will be calling out for more money, while other states will keep spending but each dollar they spend will be less valuable,” Mr Rynne said.
— Vicki White | VLWphotography (@Vicki_White_) January 12, 2019
This risk is currently mitigated through the government’s horizontal fiscal equalisation, which aims to balance where money goes and ensures every state is able to provide basic services.
Monash University deputy head of economics Professor Philip Grossman said it would mean taking money from states that are presently subsidised by others.
“Tasmania and South Australia’s state budgets would be devastated,” he said.
It’s unlikely Mr Palmer would be able to garner support in either house of parliament to pass such a reform.
The federal government recently shook up its GST distributions to progressively give WA a bigger share, taking it up to 83 cents in the dollar by 2026-27.
Some voters were promised fast rail that travels 300 kilometres from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane CBDs in less than an hour.
The UAP spokesman said delivering one-hour train journeys 300 kilometres west of Sydney, for example, would ease the pressure on the city.
“This allows families to move out of the city, reducing infrastructure costs in Sydney and at the same time making housing prices more affordable,” he said.
Canberra is less than 300 kilometres away from Sydney. On the existing train infrastructure, it takes more than four hours to travel to the capital from Central Station.
The NSW government is investigating cutting the journey to three hours or potentially one hour.
Taree, a similar distance north, takes about five and a half hours.
A 2013 study by Infrastructure Australia planned for 280 kilometres of track between Sydney and Canberra, a journey that would take one hour and four minutes express.
The proposed Melbourne to Albury-Wodonga route needed 294 kilometres of track and would take one hour and nine minutes.
“The distances and travel times that Mr Palmer proposed in his text would appear to be within a window of technical feasibility – the route could be straightened out or the trains made to run a little faster,” James Whitten, PhD Candidate in Urban and Regional Planning at University of Melbourne, told The New Daily.
“But the big question is at what cost?”
The 2013 study found the rail network down the east coast would take about 30 years to build and $114 billion in 2012 terms.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian in December promised high-speed trains between 200km/h and 250km/h.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and the opposition both promised regional rail travelling 200km/h during the November election campaign.
The UAP also warned voters in some texts that “blackouts wreck our lives”. “We need affordable, reliable power,” that text said.
Mr Palmer was calling for state-based network charges – fixed rates to maintain the network of poles and wires – to be completely wiped.
The consumer watchdog in July last year estimated those fees made up about 43 per cent of the average residential energy bill in 2017-18.
Network costs were responsible for 35 per cent of power price increases between 2007-08 and 2017-18, the ACCC said.
Residents in Queensland, Tasmania and NSW were the worst affected due to over-investment, paying an estimated extra $100 a year.
The New Daily asked for costings of Mr Palmer’s policies but did not receive a response.
Political robo texts. Are they legal?
ACMA said political calls, emails and SMS are generally not commercial and do not need to abide by the Do Not Call register or the Spam Act.
And political parties are exempt from most telemarketing and spam rules.
The electoral commission said it has no power to restrict political advertising or the way parties and candidates communicate with voters.
In the lead up to the 2016 election, Labor sent text messages to voters containing warnings about the government’s supposed attitude to Medicare. The tactic was dubbed ‘Mediscare’ by the Coalition.
Federal police dropped an investigation into the campaign, saying no Commonwealth offences were identified.
The ‘Yes’ campaign also received a backlash during the same-sex marriage postal survey vote in 2017, after sending unsolicited texts.
Clive goes gaming
Mr Palmer on Monday launched an arcade-style gaming app called Clive Palmer: Humble Meme Merchant, which includes imagery of News Corp mogul Rupert Murdoch as the grim reaper and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as a cockroach.
Mr Palmer said the app was developed to engage with young voters.
Mr Shorten told reporters Mr Palmer should concentrate on paying back workers from his company Queensland Nickel following its collapse three years ago.
The New Daily has previously reported Mr Palmer attempts to claim three former prime ministers as his own by adopting the name of their defunct political party.
He borrowed the party name from that led by Robert Menzies, Billy Hughes and Joseph Lyons before it was dissolved into the Liberal Party in the 1940s.
He says his party has 10,000 members.