opinion

Shadow Health Minister Catherine King: 'The tampon tax makes no sense. It has to go.'

Why on earth, in 2017, does Australia’s tax system treat female sanitary items as a luxury?

The idea that stocking up on tampons and pads every month is somehow tantamount to splashing cash on a shopping spree is ludicrous.

And yet all too often this issue comes up in the national debate – and just as quickly disappears.

Condoms. Sunscreen. Lubricant. Incontinence pads. All GST-free.

But sanitary items? Sorry – you’ll pay more. It doesn’t make an ounce of sense.

Catherine King says the tampon tax must go. Image via Facebook/Getty

The Howard Government imposed the GST on sanitary products when the tax was introduced. In 2015, then-Treasurer Joe Hockey sought to blame the Australian Democrats for the impost, saying "when [the GST] was negotiated through the Senate by the Howard Government, the Democrats had a list of things that they wanted excluded and they didn't have sanitary products on it".

Fast forward 17 years, and women are still paying more for a biological function they cannot control. I don’t think anyone would question that sanitary items are a necessity, not a luxury. But the real question is what it will take to change it.

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The Greens’ grandstanding that the Parliament voted against scrapping the tampon tax is an absolute joke. They wrapped up an argument about the tampon tax in a vote on imposing the GST on low-value items ordered online from overseas. Instead of having a serious conversation about the steps we need to take to get rid of this tax once and for all, they opted for a disappointing stunt that helped no one.

Listen: Why plenty of women are using the IUD to deal with their periods. (Post continues.)

It was Paul Keating who once said, "Never get between a premier and a bucket of money."

This is a key issue at play here. Every time a woman buys a box of tampons or a packet of pads, the extra tax they pay is flowing to the states and territories. The fact is that this additional revenue has become an inbuilt part of state and territory budgets, and it is why they need to be a part of the solution.

But there are some good signs. In 2015, four Labor states (Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT) and the then-Liberal Northern Territory Government supported removing the tampon tax. However, we need some national leadership from Malcolm Turnbull and his Cabinet colleagues to really fight for change.

When asked about the petition on Q&A, Hockey said the GST should be removed from sanitary products, and undertook to raise the issue with state treasurers. However, then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott ruled out a change within days.

Quite frankly, it’s time we get serious and get rid of this tax. Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison need to sit down with the states and territories and sort this out once and for all. Who cares why sanitary items are taxed the way they are – what matters is how we fix an unfair situation.

Sanitary items are health items, full stop. Women know they are health items, the tax system should treat them the same.

Catherine King is the Federal Member for Ballarat and the Shadow Minister for Health.

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