The 2018-2019 Australian federal budget is being released as I type. And, if you’re a budget geek like me, you’ll know there’s a dedicated budget website with its very own countdown to b-day. Each year, for the last few years, I’ve eagerly awaited the budget announcement and kept an eye out for any commentary from my favourite financial journalist, Alan Kohler. (Yes, I have a favourite financial journalist. Did I mention I’m a huge budget geek?). Usually, my rationale for the interest (pun intended) is to be informed on the foreign aid budget. But this year I’m adding a peculiar little tax cut to my reasons for paying attention.
Finally, the outdated and ridiculous tax on feminine hygiene pro… oh no wait, sorry, I mean beer. Yes, you read that right: beer. Apparently there’s an “outdated and ridiculous” tax on kegs. Who knew? The government has decided that for too long small craft breweries have suffered under the weight of this absurd and antiquated tax on kegs of less than 48 litres. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining that this will likely result in cheaper craft beer for beer snobs all over Australia (myself included). What I don’t understand is how pads and tampons are “luxury items”, and must therefore incur the goods and services tax, but beer deserves a tax break. Surely obscure hipster-micro-brewed beers, made from the tears of writers who wear scarves in summer, are more luxurious than the very necessary products used approximately 5 days out of every 29 by those of us who menstruate.
The goods and services tax (GST) came into effect on 1 July 2000. That’s nearly 18 years of ‘tampon tax’ and nearly 18 years that women and men have been protesting and petitioning for sanitary items to be exempt. Under the current system, other ‘health’ items like condoms, lubricants, and nicotine patches are tax-free, but liners, pads and tampons are classified as non-essential luxury items. Obviously this is patently unfair but what I find absolutely baffling, some might even say inconceivable, is that incontinence products are exempt. The legislation dictates that a urine leak should not be taxed but a blood leak is somehow… luxurious.
Last year, former Greens senator Larissa Waters (also the first woman to breastfeed in parliament) made a valiant attempt to have the tax removed from feminine hygiene products, but her amendment to the Government’s Treasury Laws Amendment (GST Low Value Goods) was defeated 33-15. It was opposed by both the Coalition and Labor. And to make matters worse, both sides of politics are perpetuating misleading information. As recently as April 29, Julie Bishop stated that "Any change to the GST must be agreed by each state and territory government, and there is no agreement from the states and territories on this issue." Strictly speaking, this isn’t true. RMIT ABC Fact Check has shown that the reasons for not removing the ‘tampon tax’ are political, not legal. And this tax break shows us that not scrapping the tax is a gendered political consideration, not a financial one. Perhaps it’s time to stop politicizing periods.
The average woman will have over 450 menses throughout her life, which equates to roughly 6.25 years of bleeding. Between whichever sanitary products you choose to use, and the pain relief, the birth control, the new underwear, and the regular doctor’s appointments – all expenses men generally don’t have to pay – that’s a bloody big expense. Plus GST. All for a monthly, largely unavoidable, natural biological event. And speaking of choices for period products, there are ways around the ‘tampon tax’ but it’s not for everyone. If you are a woman who is physically able to, and you can afford the initial expense, then menstrual cups are a great way to save money in the long-term, avoid the GST, and they are far better for the environment. And period panties are another excellent option, as long as you can afford to replace them every 6 months or so. But what if you don’t have the facilities to sterilise your cup or wash your underwear? How do homeless women deal with their period? Which brings us back full-circle to: periods – in far too many ways – are painful and they are a fact of life. Women shouldn’t be taxed up the wazoo for having them.
The word ‘tampon’ is from the medieval French word ‘tampion’ which means a piece of cloth used to plug a hole. This is fitting, because I find the tampon tax positively medieval. Axe the tax. Period.
Erin Martine Sessions is Associate Academic Dean at Morling College, Sydney. She’s a period-having-human, an indolent poet, mother to two tiny humans, and bends space and time to binge-watch Netflix.