No excuses left on tampon tax - Op Ed, The Canberra Times

No excuses left on tampon tax

The Canberra Times, 7 May 2018

A tax on tampons and sanitary pads is a tax on women. But when our GST laws were written in 1999, they were mostly drafted by male public servants, reporting to a male-dominated cabinet, in an overwhelmingly male parliament.

As a result, tampons and pads were subject to a 10 percent GST. Yet incontinence pads, sunscreen and nicotine patches – even Viagra – are exempt from the tax.

In the nearly two decades since the GST has been in operation, this decision has come to seem stranger and stranger - and our state and territory leaders agree.

Scott Morrison’s go to excuse for his lack of action - blaming the states and territories - has all but dissolved with Labor leaders across the country backing in an axing of the tax.

Less than a week after it was announced, Federal Labor’s plan to remove the unfair and discriminatory tax on tampons and other sanitary products has received support from the Premiers of Victoria, Queensland and WA, the Chief Ministers of the ACT and the NT, and Labor leaders in NSW, SA and Tasmania.

To offset the loss of revenue to the states from GST on sanitary items, GST will be applied consistently to 12 natural therapies that are sometimes GST free, such as herbalism and naturopathy.

For the first time there is agreement from leaders in every state and territory that this unfair tax on women has to go with the leaders writing to Bill Shorten in recent days.

These are not discretionary items. Women need tampons, pads and other sanitary items for hygiene and health.

Indeed, in 2015 Treasurer Joe Hockey said that he would try to find a way of removing the GST from sanitary products. The problem was that he didn’t have a plan to replace the revenue. Without unanimous support from the states and territories, Hockey dropped the issue.

Scott Morrison cannot ignore it any longer.

A 10 percent GST on tampons and pads costs Australian women around $30 million a year. We estimate that over a lifetime, our decision would save the typical woman around $1000.

As with other issues – from marriage equality to wealth inequality – the tampon tax is an issue that has inspired social activism around the world. In recent years, Canada, New York, Illinois, Florida have removed the sales tax on sanitary products.

It’s a step forward for gender equality, and a marker of what happens when more women are at the decision-making table. Women now comprise 48 percent of Labor’s federal representatives, more than twice the share of the Liberal Party (23 percent). Just 10 percentof National Party parliamentarians are women.

We never should have put the GST on sanitary products in the first place. But now we have a clear way forward to scrap the tax. If the Turnbull Government doesn’t act, Labor will.

Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra

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