In early June, the Australian Senate voted to keep the tax on women’s sanitary products. The move slipped almost completely unnoticed under the plethora of issues and controversies that surrounded this year’s budget.
In Australia, sanitary products are subject to a goods and services tax (GST) which has claimed 10% on most goods and services sales since it was introduced in July of 2000 by the Howard government. It has caused quite a controversy since then with views being projected from both sides of the argument.
It’s fair to say that some people are pretty bloody over it; all of us here at TABOO included. But, you know what, that is probably to be expected since we are a sanitary product company. So to stop the haters from calling bias, let’s forget that fact for a moment and focus purely on the evidence. After all, we elected a sane and sensible government right; a government that makes decisions for the benefit of all its citizens? Surely there’s an adequate reason for this tax to still exist. So calling all feminists, conservatives, capitalists, liberalist, left, right and centre; let’s come together and understand the so called ‘tampon tax’ through the cold, hard facts.
Keep the tax!
- The GST legislation actually makes no distinction between essential and non-essential items.
The main reason for the ‘tampon tax’ controversy is focused on how periods are a biological norm for most women and that menstrual management, thereby, should not be taxed. Menstrual hygiene products are ‘essential’ to women’s health; there is no denying that. However, many people do not realise the massive misconception in the idea that all ‘essential items’ are, or should be, GST free. It turns out that the GST applies to many items that are considered necessary for human health. For example: electricity. You know that that thing that allows us to turn the lights on and powers medical equipment? Yeah, that is subject to GST. Toothpaste and toilet paper are similarly sold with an extra 10% added for tax. All of these things are ‘essential’ to not only women, but humanity in general. Thus, it is clear that the GST legislation does not inherently make any distinction between ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ items: that is not the point of the tax. On these grounds alone, no one can argue that tampons and pads have a right to be GST exempt.
- It’s a massive income for the government.
Let’s imagine that a pack of pads, without GST added, costs $10. Adding on the 10% will bring it up to $11. That extra dollar will add up when we consider that, for a lot of women, some form of menstrual hygiene management is required monthly. But for many Australians with a regular flow of income, this monthly addition of $1 would be barely noticeable. It is a fraction of the whole price and in return, it serves as a huge regular income for the Australian government. A few dollars are collected every month from all women who are menstruating: that is a lot of money. This makes up 0.001% of the entire income from GST: $20 million. While it is easy to criticise the very nature of this system, it is worth noting that this money is pumped back into the community. For example, government funded education programs and research facilities could not exist without taxing the population. Of course, the way the money is distributed is an entirely different issue (more on that later).
Remove the tax!
- Disadvantaged women are made to pay extra for a necessity.
The thing about the GST is that everyone has to pay it. This includes women who currently find themselves in difficult situations. While $1 a month may seem insignificant for some, it may result in a decision having to be made around menstrual hygiene management for unemployed or low-income individuals. Major infection may occur in women who do not use proper management systems such as tampons, sanitary pads or menstrual cups. If one cannot afford these products, they are more prone to disease. In order to prevent such illnesses, society should attempt to avoid raising the price on sanitary products at all costs in order for equality in usage.
- Why are condoms, lube and nicotine tax-exempt?
Yes, you read that correctly! Condoms and nicotine are GST free. Interestingly, it is there benefits to human health which allow such an exemption. A key figure in the initial debate was former health minister, Michael Woolridge. When questioned about the tax on menstrual products, he exclaimed that “as a bloke, I’d like shaving cream exempt, but I’m not expecting it to be”. He went on to justify the exemption of condoms as a method to “prevent illness”; it saves the government money on public health care. First things first Michael, sorry to burst your bubble but shaving cream and menstrual hygiene management are not nearly in the same category when it comes to health. Condoms and tampons are: they both prevent illness. Finally, why on earth is Lubricant tax exempt? No rational explanation is recorded (someone please enlighten us on the point of this crazy addition). But wait a second; regardless of the necessity of these different products for human health, didn’t we just establish that the GST has nothing to do with what is ‘essential’ anyway?
The GST is considered by most economists to be a successful tax because of the very fact that it is hard to avoid. Although taxes alter behaviour in the economy, they are a necessary if we want to strive towards a society with adequate education, health care, security and aid for all. Once exceptions begin to be made, the system falls apart.
Hence, this is not a debate about money.
This is a debate about principles, double standards and an inherent disparity between the biological sexes within society. The issue is not that tampons are taxed but rather why condoms, lube and, not to mention precious metals, are not. Women’s issues have been ignored for a long time, and we are only beginning to catch up now. It may be true that removing the GST from sanitary products will not help women overcome the structural inequalities they face in their lives. However, for as long as our government decides to keep the GST on menstrual products, the $20 million should be put to good use. If you are taking the money of those who can afford it, ensure that it is used to help disadvantaged women in our own community gain access to something so vital.
It all comes down to one fact: periods are still a taboo subject. It is part of a natural cycle that is the reason that humanity exists. Yet, even in our progressive community, there are societal restrictions that stop us from talking about it. Here in Australia, men still outweigh women in parliament. The majority of representatives have never experienced the pains of the monthly cycle. If we do not talk about it, the necessity and problem of managing menstruation are not heard by those who have the power to influence change. So whichever side of the argument you may fall, don’t just sit back and go with the flow: have your voice heard.
Written by Thenu Herath