Topic: EconomicsBudget

Last updated: March 9, 2019

On July 29th, 2000, the Prime Minister John Howard and the federal government introduced a good and services tax, or as we know it to be- the GST. The GST is a 10% value tax on most good and services sales, although, there are some exemptions to the GST such as, healthcare, some foods and certain housing items (“GST”, 2017). Sanitary items such as tampons, pads and panty liners were one of the many health items that were slapped with a 10% value tax, resulting in women spending an extra $3, 840 on sanitary items in their lifetime. The GST discussion blew up in January 2001, when Australian women realised that not only are sanitary items taxed as a luxury item, under Subsection 38-47(1) of the GST legislation, items such as condoms remain tax-exempt (“Sanitary Pads – Still a ‘Luxury Item'”, 2016).

The fight against the demolishment of the tampon tax has been en route since 2001 when a conversation on the ABC’s Triple J with Adam Spence, interviewed Michael Wooldridge, the health minister at the time, on the labelling of menstruation and menstrual cleanliness as a “luxury” (“Sanitary Pads – Still a ‘Luxury Item'”, 2016). Further, the fight continued through to 2013 when the debate exploded online when Sophie Liley, a student from Western Australia famously typed, “Charging women as a direct result of their basic biology is hugely and fundamentally sexist – especially given that condoms are classified as GST-free, essential health products while sanitary items are not.” (“Sanitary Pads – Still a ‘Luxury Item'”, 2016).

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Then in May 2015, a Sydney University student, Subeta Vimalarajah and her fellow activists danced out front of parliament house in giant tampon costumes to protest the tax of female biology. These giant dancing tampons made headlines all over the country and their Facebook campaign reached more than a million people online, while 11, 000 submissions had been made to the Better Tax Review (“Tony Abbott has a tampon problem”, 2015). Then, in June 2017 Larissa Waters’, the current Greens Senator proposed an amendment to the Treasury Laws Amendment (GST Low Value Goods) Bill 2017 to demolish the GST items from sanitary items such as tampons, sanitary pads and panty liners (“Greens to introduce bill”, 2018). She wrote to the Western Australia, New South Wales, Northern Territory and Tasmanian governments with her proposal and asked them to join Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory to put an end to the “tax on women’s biology” once and for all. Water’s proposed plans which involved the government alternatively adding GST to ‘low value goods’, which would raise an extra $300 million a year; further, the Parliamentary Budget Office costings commissioned by the Greens presented that axing the GST on sanitary products would cost only $115 million (“Senate Votes To Keep The GST”, 2017). So basically, if states and territories waved goodbye to the tampon tax, they would still end up $185 million better off over the next three years.

Although, Waters’ amendment was declined by both the Coalition government and the Labor opposition. The Coalition and Labor both voted down the move with the government, which it lost 33-15 (“Coalition, Labor block bid”, 2017). Although, in April 2018, Labour announced that it will rid of the GST on sanitary pads, panty liners and tampons if elected at the next election. Labour claimed that instead of the tampon tax, alternative health treatments that are currently exempt from the GST and Chief Medical Officer and National Health and Medical Research Council claim are not supported by scientific evidence will adopt the GST tax of 10%. These health treatments include naturopathy, shiatsu, reflexology, homeopathy, kinesiology and ideology; taxing these alternative health treatments will recoup the money lost from scraping the GST on sanitary items (“Labor to axe the tampon tax”, 2018). This 2018 axe the tampon tax amendment is the stand out movement for women’s rights, not only because it is supported by Greens senator Larissa Waters and Labour leader Bill Shorten, but because an alternative funding source has been identified which leaves the government better off in the long run.

The development of a social work task force to work towards policy change is a primary recommendation for the axe the tampon tax movement. Social workers have the outstanding ability to facilitate and improve the social policy formulation process through discussion and information processing. Social workers have been identified in the past as “policy actors” (WEISS-GAL & GAL, 2013), where they play an active role in the policy process by participating in discussions in a parliamentary committee. The creation of a “axe the tampon tax” task force or policy actors, can offer diverse input from social workers and other females, into a complex policy formulation process. Social workers in this task force can provide expert opinions and information on the topic that some politicians may not consider of understand, and bring the tampon tax axing process to a demand while addressing emergent social problems and along the way, possibly rectifying limitations of existing policies and institutions (WEISS-GAL & GAL, 2013).


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