Australia scraps controversial tampon tax

Australia is to scrap a controversial tampon tax bringing an end to an 18-year campaign to make feminine sanitary products exempt from a nationwide Goods and Services Tax (GST).

The move follows a landmark vote in the country’s Senate to remove the 10% tax on tampons and pads, items previously marked “non-essential” despite being required by most women on a monthly basis.

On Wednesday, lawmakers from each state and territory unanimously agreed to adopt federal proposals in a move supported by both major political parties.

Though the details have yet to be finalized, the ABC reports that products expected to be exempted under the new legislation include tampons, pads, menstrual cups, maternity pads and leak-proof underwear.

“We think this is an unfair tax. We think it should be scrapped,” Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer told CNN affiliate Channel 7 earlier Wednesday. “Millions of Australian women will benefit.”

Years of protest

The taxing of feminine hygiene products has been a source of outrage since the introduction of the GST in 2000, with opponents labeling the price hike as discriminatory and unfair.

During the launch of the GST, then health minister, Michael Wooldridge defended the decision to include tampons on the list of taxable items arguing that they didn’t prevent illness.

“As a bloke, I’d like shaving cream exempt but I’m not expecting it to be,” he told the ABC in 2000, adding that, “condoms prevent illness. I wasn’t aware that menstruation was an illness.”

Currently, condoms and lubricant are both exempt on health grounds.

Protests against the tax have gained momentum in recent years, with an array of high profile voices on both sides of the political spectrum calling for tampons to be dropped from the list.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the new move as “a bit of common sense.”

“It had always been our view that we wanted to see it changed,” reported the ABC.

Though both of the country’s major parties have adopted policies in support of reforming the tax code to exempt sanitary products, the bill was proposed and passed by Greens senator Janet Rice, who argued the tax was tantamount to a tax on women.

“Sanitary products are essential for millions of Australians to maintain health and hygiene connected with the cycle of menstruation,” said Rice during a second Senate reading of the bill in May this year.

“If it were cisgender men who required sanitary products in relation to a natural function of their bodies every month, it is unlikely that the GST would have been added in the same manner. The current Act amounts to a tax on the biology of people who menstruate and it never should have existed in the first place.”

Potential economic shortfall

Critics of a change in the law have pointed to a potential shortfall in state, territory and federal budgets. The ABC reports that the move will likely cost the states $21 million (A$30 million) a year in lost revenue.

In July, the government unveiled a major reform to the GST formula, in which an additional $6.4 billion (A$9 billion) in federal money would be made available over a period of 10 years, in an effort to ensure no state falls below a fixed benchmark.

The GST is based on a centralized revenue sharing model that sees wealthy states like Victoria support poorer states like Tasmania.