Bill to axe the tampon tax has finally passed Senate

About bloody time.

By Kate Wagner

Today in the Senate, the Greens have had their bill passed to eradicate the 10 per cent GST tax on sanitary products. The controversial tampon tax has plagued the government since the GST came into operation back in 2000.

Almost two decades ago, then-Prime Minister John Howard was challenged on his decision to tax sanitary items on the 7.30 Report.

"I mean, of course if you look at tampons in isolation — just as you look at something else in isolation — you can mount an argument to take the tax off it," he argued.

"I could mount an argument to take the tax off children's clothes."

"I could mount an argument to take the tax off old people's clothes; I could mount an argument for a whole lot of things.

"But we've had that argument and if you start doing that, you will have no GST in the end, and the whole system will begin to unravel."

To compare buying hygiene items — products women need as a direct consequence of their biology — with buying a new wardrobe is outrageous and testament to why we need female voices in parliament.

When Greens MP Janet Rice brought the bill to the Senate, her reason to have the tax removed was simple: "Menstruating is not a luxury."

Just ask any woman who's experiencing debilitating pain, dramatic changes in mood or has been forced to change her plans to accommodate her period — we're pretty sure the answer will be overwhelmingly in the negative.

"If cis men required sanitary products because they bled every month, do you think there'd be GST added to them? Absolutely not. It is unfathomable," Senator Rice added.

"This is a sexist and unfair tax on the biology of people who menstruate and it never should have existed in the first place."

Rice also argued the tampon tax can't dismissed as a frivolity, especially once lower income women are considered.

"It's easy for some to dismiss this as a non-issue," Rice said, "But there are people who are sometimes faced with having to make a choice between buying tampons or buying food. The fact that they're charged more for an essential sanitary product because of the GST is simply unacceptable."

The bill was supported by Labor and crossbenchers Derryn Hinch, David Leyonhjelm, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick, but the Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker insisted the bill is not a reflection of the states and territories.

Last month, Minister for women Kelly O'Dwyer told BuzzFeed whether the Senate passed the bill or not was irrelevant; ultimately it's a decision for the states of territories.

Removing the tax would cost states and territories around $40 million per year — 0.05 per cent of the $62 billion generated by the GST annually.

Rochelle Courtenay, founder of charity Share the Dignity — a charity that donates tampons and pads to women in need — explained just how devastating the effects of the sexist tax are.

"I met a girl in Melbourne and the week before she'd gotten her period at school," Rochelle recalled to Now To Love.

"She stained the back of her dress and all the boys laughed at her, you know, that's happened to all of us, right?

"Then she went home to ring mum to ask if she could get some pads or tampons but the mum didn't get paid until Thursday, so this young girl missed two-and-a-half days of school. And it's not uncommon."

It's for that reason Share the Dignity has made sure to install their iconic pink boxes which dispense packs of tampons and pads for free in multiple schools across the country.

"We're not talking about every school; we're talking about schools where 40% of the families are on welfare," Rochelle explained to Now To Love.

"We also look at the education of periods. We now have a lot of refugees who live in Australia and the education of menstruation is sometimes just not there."

Stories are similarly distressing around the world — one girl told BBC Radio Leeds how she coped with her time of the month: "I wrapped a whole tissue roll around my underwear, just to keep my underwear dry until I got home," she said. "I once sellotaped tissue to my underwear. I didn't know what else to do."

"My wish list is just to take the GST off because simply it's not fair and it's not right. It's a basic human right to have access to sanitary items – it's not a luxury. Ferrero Rochers are a luxury in my house," Rochelle asserted.

Hopefully, the bill passing Senate is a sign of what's to come rather than hot air.