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Padding out the GST

By The Redhead - posted Monday, 11 October 2010


I’m not usually one to play the gender card. Today I do.

Now that we have a female Prime Minister can we PLEASE have the GST removed from feminine hygiene products?

While the broad-based nature of the GST has been, I think, quite a good thing for the nation and for the economy I still struggle to understand the reasoning behind applying the tax to tampons and sanitary pads.

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When the GST was first being designed and refined there was great discussion across Australia with interest groups of every kind wanting this, that and the other made exempt. Some were a fair call but others were clearly pushing the commercial self-interest barrow. By and large I think it’s been applied very wisely, very fairly and very well. Except for tampons.

An average Aussie woman will require these products for about one week every month of her adult reproductive life which lasts for about 40 years. It’s more than blood flow - it’s a cash flow! According to recent research by the Australian Sex Party for the 2010 federal election campaign, that industry is worth about $14 million is GST revenue each year to the government. Hardly a figure any government would want to give up.

Unfortunately the federal parliament decided in 2000 that tampons and pads are luxury items. Female coalition MPs were not happy and tried unsuccessfully to dissuade both the then Prime Minister John Howard and Health Minister Michael Wooldridge. Their voices were joined by senior coalition MPs across the nation, and female MPs generally, not to mention health groups, women’s health organisations, women across the nation and even the Australian Medical Association.

At the time Health Minister Michael Wooldridge caused quite a stir by likening tampons to shaving cream, therefore a bit of a luxury. Dr Wooldridge - you can choose to shave or not? Right? This raised the ire of the female collective but neither he nor Mr Howard were moved.

In an ABC Radio interview on January 25, 2000 Mr Howard said this:

If you take the GST off, say, tampons, within a few days, I promise you, there will be a group of people mounting quite a respective argument in isolation to take it off children's clothing. Everybody needs clothing. And that argument can be mounted. I mean, our original idea was that you had it on virtually everything.

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Yes, everybody needs clothing but while I can buy second-hand clothing, or even make some things myself, I defy Mr Howard or anyone to suggest I could apply the same reasoning to tampons. Put simply tampons and pads are health items. Without them there would be biological material management issues. Interestingly incontinence products are GST exempt for exactly this reason, so why not tampons?

Is it because blokes can be incontinent too? Surely the implementers of the GST were not THAT shallow!

Mr Howard again:

There's nothing in front of me that suggests there is any form of discrimination involved of any kind.

I could probably stomach some of the argument for keeping it on if certain other items also had the GST applied. For instance - herbal medicine, naturopathy, KY jelly, condoms, and the full range of nicotine replacement aids like patches, gum and lozenges.

These come under the GST Act’s “GST-free Health Goods and Services as specified by the Minister Determination”.

Here’s why I don’t think these items should be GST-free.

Complementary health services and herbal medicines: Unlike registered pharmaceutical drugs, most herbal and complementary medicines are “listed” by the TGA, which means their makers pay a fee and are expected to have evidence to back their claims. Listed products are not reviewed by the TGA but are subject to random audits. There’s even a federal government discussion paper out about this because of the concerns around how these products are handled, regulated and marketed in Australia. Until complementary treatments meet the same level of evidence in efficacy as other medical treatments they should not be GST free. If you choose to make use of those services and products that’s your choice - this discussion is not about how well you personally believe your Chinese herbalist treats your digestion issues. This discussion is about tax.

Condoms and lubricants: Please don’t tell me these are not luxuries! The only people who require these as non-luxury items are sex workers. Of course I think condoms are important and I’m happy to shout from the rooftops about how well they protect against STIs and unwanted pregnancies. But they are not the ONLY way to avoid those things. If nappies for babies (the result of not using a condom perhaps?) have a GST applied then why shouldn’t the condom?

Nicotine patches: Of all the exemptions in this particular list the nicotine patches are the ones that really make me angry.

Smoking is a personal choice and there is no way we taxpayers should be watching the patches and the gum and the lozenges go GST-free because a smoker has decided to quit. Good on that smoker, but why shouldn’t the quitting aids have that tax applied? You can fire all the “incentive” arguments at me you like but while they have a choice to smoke or not, I do not have a choice to menstruate or not. Unless I choose to go condom free (which would ironically be GST-free) and get pregnant, but then I’d be stuck with the GST on the nappies ... such a vicious cycle!

During the recent election campaign the Australian Sex Party suggested that if an exemption cannot be had then at least have the resulting funds quarantined from general revenue and channelled into research and care around ovarian cancer - after all the ovaries and menstruation go together. It’s not the best outcome, but at least it’s something.

While tampons and pads have new-found fame in popular culture as fun toys for cats or cool stick-on armour you can wear while leaping around the house yelling “schwing schwing” they are not a luxury item. They are a necessary health item and should be listed as such.

So come on Julia - you’re so proud at being the first chick to hold the keys to the lodge, how about you do the one thing every female voter will approve of regardless of their politics and take the GST off tampons and pads. The blokes might even think it’s a good idea too.

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About the Author

While making a main career in the media, The RedHead draws on a bit of life experience from the slightly less glamorous, but extremely fulfilling years mustering cattle and running a bottle shop. All have honed her skills for observing human nature and her sense of humour. She has a teenage son and a husband, and enjoys the satisfaction of the toilet seat always being down. Love Is never having to ask!

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