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Tuesday, 15 February 2000
Page: 11750


Senator McLUCAS (10:31 AM) —I also rise to take note of Senator Herron's response to my questions asked in question time today. First of all, I note that Senator Herron actually failed to answer my questions in any way at all. I am quite sure that he, as a doctor, understands the term `therapeutic item', and he failed to tell the Senate whether he agreed at all with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruling in 1992. Further, I note that Senator Herron responded to my supplementary question not by answering it but simply by attacking me.

My supplementary question was: what is preventing the minister from including tampons and sanitary pads on the list of GST exempt health products? The answer I received from Senator Herron, I suggest, was: nothing—nothing is preventing this government responding to one of the largest community campaigns that I have seen and have witnessed in this nation. Senator Faulkner today is tabling a petition of over 10,000 petitioners, most of whom are women, most of whom are offended by this government's attack on their gender.

The net result of this measure is that women's tampons and pads for the first time in 50 years are going to be taxed. It is true that women have complained about the cost of sanitary products for many years, and it is recognised that women have actually paid more for these products than we should have. However, this is the first time that the government will tax sanitary items that all women have to use in our lives, not by choice, like shaving cream or a health spa holiday, as Senator Herron advised, but by biology.

I understand that incontinence pads will be exempted. They have been deemed a health item. I understand that the grounds for their exemption are: if they are not used then the sufferer would be disabled. In my view, that is fair, that is reasonable. It is an acceptable policy decision and I think is supported. However, I fail to see the logic that this argument cannot be extrapolated to include menstruating women.

This debate has shown to all across our country just how unfair this GST is. It will now discriminate against fertile women. I am sure the events of the last two months have reinforced to the Democrats that they erred in doing their deal with the government to support the GST in the way they did. Senator Lees, however, should have known that tampons and pads were going to be an issue. She was advised in a letter from the Women's Action Alliance in June 1999 that they were concerned about the inclusion of tampons in the GST net. Unfortunately for women, she did not act on this request. Even as late as January this year she was still not acknowledging that it was a huge issue that was galvanising women across the country. Tampons slipped through the Democrat net in the deal and now we know that breast feeding pumps did too. How many more items will come to light in the months to come that have slipped through the coalition net?

The government has an opportunity at this time to undo this discrimination, to listen to the thousands of emails that we have received over the last months, to acknowledge that sanitary products are a health necessity and that without them women will be disabled. The ball is now in the government's court and women are watching to see how they will deal with it.

As I said earlier, this GST is an unfair tax in principle and in its application. It is unfair to women in general, but for women in rural and regional Australia the unfairness is magnified. Today a packet of 20 regular Meds tampons in Manuka Woolworths costs $3.67. The post GST price will be something around $4.07. In Cloncurry, the cost today of 20 regular Meds tampons is $4.09. Post GST it will be something around $4.50. On Badu Island in the Torres Strait the price of those tampons today is $5.95. Post GST it will be something like $6.55. Badu women will be paying 60c tax for the pleasure of being a woman living on Badu Island—33c more than women living in Canberra.

Coalition senators will tell us that these prices will be compensated for, but I can tell you that people in the bush are doubting those promises. People are doubting those promises from the experience we had last week with petrol prices. We want to hear how it is going to work so that people do not pay more for the pleasure of living in the bush. Women are for the first time going to be taxed for their biology, for being fertile, and I can tell you that women are offended.