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the tampon tax on Q&A: where are we now?

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

On Monday, May 25, young activist Subeta Vimalarajah appeared on Q&A to talk to Joe Hockey about the ‘tampon tax’. She and a group of fellow activists had sent in a video question, the group holding a giant tampon in their hands: ‘Mr Hockey, STOP TAXING MY PERIOD!’ The tampon was signed by supporters. ‘Do you think that sanitary products are an essential health good for half the population?’ Vimalarajah asked.

And then on national television, Hockey said ‘I think so… I think so.’ And then when asked by host Tony Jones if the GST should be removed? ‘It probably should, yes. The answer’s yes.’ He agreed to raise the issue with the states in July.

But a day later, Tony Abbott spoke on the topic. ‘I understand there’s long been a push to take the GST off goods, which are one way or another regarded as health products,’ Abbott said. ‘It’s certainly not something that this Government has a plan to do. There’s a long history to this matter.’

On the Wednesday, people in tampon suits drove their truck, with its billboard of Abbott crouching behind a tampon, to Parliament House, with the aim to high-five politicians. The group of activists have also been collecting money through CommunityRun to orchestrate more stunts, including full-page newspaper ads, and a choreographed dance to Taylor Swift’s ‘Bad Blood’.

The giant tampons are part of a wider campaign, centred around a CommunityRun petition, which already has 99,317 signatures. ‘Since 2000, the Australian Government has taxed every menstruating Australian 10% every time we get our period,’ the Petition site states. ‘It is estimated that our periods earn the government a whopping $25 million each year!’

Vimalarajah penned an article for BBC. ‘It’s one thing to make everything taxable, but it’s different when the government has identified “important” health goods as exempt, but refuses to acknowledge sanitary products as in this category,’ she wrote. ‘I can’t see the distinction between incontinence pads, sunscreen and condoms (which are exempt) and sanitary products.’

Menstruation is a natural bodily function affecting 10 million Australians, including women and trans* men. Menstruation, for some people, is a monthly (or even more often) event; it can be painful. Pads and tampons are not luxury items: they’re absolutely necessary health goods.

But why now? Well, it’s time for the Better Tax Review: over 11,000 submissions were made to the Review before its closure this past Monday. It’s a Review that offers a unique opportunity to change the legislation because previous protestations against the tax have been unsuccessful.

Complaints unheard in 2000 prompted this statement from Opposition health spokeswoman Jenny Macklin: ‘There is a $20 million tax for the first time on all Australian women who need to use either tampons or pads every month, the first time they’ve ever had to pay this tax, and it’s a huge tax on an essential sanitary item.’

All the way up until the #BloodyOutrage campaign in 2013 started by Perth student Sophie Lilley, protests have been ignored.

So in the end what are we asking for? A change to Item 18 of Schedule 3 in the GST Act, something that has been done before, as cleverly outlined by Tracey Spicer on Daily Life. The change is supported by Labor, the Greens, three states and both territories (with more discussion to come). So who’s standing in the way?

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