Politics

We Can Axe The Tampon Tax Now. It’s Time For Labor To Put Up Or Shut Up

Why wait? We can get it done this week.

Janet Rice is a federal Senator for Victoria and the Greens’ spokesperson for women. This week, she’ll introduce a bill to scrap the tampon tax. She’s calling on Labor to back it.

Every month millions of Australians menstruate. For health and hygiene purposes, we use sanitary products like tampons, pads, liners, cups and sponges. Every month. And every month we pay tax on these sanitary products that we have no choice but to use.

Yet most other health products are exempt from the 10% GST. Items like sunscreen, toothpaste, condoms, lubricant and Viagra. Yep, even Viagra.

What Can We Do To Axe The Tampon Tax?

Some people have suggested direct action to protest this unfair tax. Staging a bleed in. Not using tampons and pads for a day. Leaving our mark as we travel on public transport, sit down in cafes, or visit our local MPs’ offices.

I think before it comes to this, we need to have one last try to get rid of this unfair tax once and for all.

I’ve heard some people try to dismiss this as a non-issue. But the impacts of the GST on sanitary products are felt by people who need to purchase the products. This tax disproportionately affects low-income women and transgender people, many of whom have insecure work and housing.

These are people who are sometimes faced with having to make a choice between buying sanitary products or buying food. The fact that they’re charged more for an essential product because of the GST is unacceptable.

In June last year my former Greens colleague Senator Larissa Waters introduced amendments to a GST bill that was before the Senate, as a simple way to axe the tax. These amendments failed when Labor and the Coalition voted them down.

Despite this, Labor has announced that they’ll get rid of this tax, but only if they win the next election and only if all states and territories agree to the GST change.

The simple fact is we don’t need to wait until the next election, nor does the federal government need all states to agree to a GST change. The parliament can do its job and axe this unfair tax now.

The Greens have led the way before and we’ll lead the way again with action in the parliament. I’m introducing a bill to the Senate this week that will amend the GST and get rid of the tampon tax. This time, I hope my colleagues on the Coalition and Labor benches support it.

What’s Taking So Long?

So what’s getting in the way of Labor and the Coalition removing this tax? It comes down to a lack of leadership. If Malcolm Turnbull showed some decisive leadership on this issue, the remaining three states that don’t support this change — all of which have Liberal governments — would come into line.

Joe Hockey as Treasurer had a go at addressing the tampon tax in 2015 after a question from the audience on the TV program Q&A forced him to admit sanitary items were essential health products. But he put the onus back on the states rather than clearly stating a way forward. So it went nowhere.

I’m pleased that Labor is talking seriously about getting rid of this unfair tax, but I’m wary, because we’ve heard this all before. Labor opposed the tampon tax when the Howard government introduced the GST, which came into effect in 2000. Former leader Kim Beazley promised Labor would scrap the tax if they won the 2001 election. They didn’t win so the tax remained.

But when Labor got into government in 2007, they had a memory blank. Even when all Australian state and federal governments were Labor, they didn’t act.

So Labor’s sudden talk that they’ll get rid of this tax only if they win the next election and only if all states and territories agree is just that: talk.

What happens if they don’t win the next election? What happens if not all states agree?

I recently wrote to all state and territory treasurers urging them to support this change. A number of them already do. But federally we can take the first step, regardless. The legislation to impose the GST on sanitary items was made federally, and the federal parliament can remove it.

There have been numerous changes to the GST since it was introduced. With federal leadership axing the tampon tax would be just another one.

In the scheme of things, it’s hard to see how the states and territories will feel too much pain losing $30 million, which they all share from the tampon tax. That represents a paltry 0.05% of the total $62 billion GST revenue they will receive from the federal government this financial year. Seriously. The federal government could easily make it up by increasing the general revenue they give to the states.

After 18 years of this unfair tax, the time for talk is over. What we need is action and we need it now.

I urge Labor, the Coalition and the crossbench to support my bill, so that we can finally axe this unfair tax once and for all.