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Monday, 18 June 2018
Page: 2993

Senator RICE (Victoria) (10:09): I rise to speak on the Treasury Laws Amendment (Axe the Tampon Tax) Bill 2018, which seeks to remove the goods and services tax from sanitary products. Sanitary products are defined in this bill as tampons, pads, liners, cups, sponges and other products used in connection with menstruation. Since the goods and services tax came into operation in the year 2000, people who menstruate have been paying tax on these essential products. That's 18 years of products that are essential to millions of Australians being 10 per cent more expensive than they should be. These are products that are essential to maintain health and hygiene while people menstruate. And it's frankly ridiculous that, while items like sunscreen, folic acid, toothpaste, lubricants, condoms and even Viagra are exempt from GST, sanitary products are not. Sanitary products are just as important to the maintenance of personal and public health as these exempt items. 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 that that would have been the case. This is a sexist and unfair tax on our biology, the biology of people who menstruate, and it should never have existed in the first place.

From the very beginning, there's been strong opposition from the public about the decision to apply GST to sanitary products. There have been protests here at Parliament House in Canberra and at universities and in cities around the country. For over 17 years, people have been protesting. In fact, I'm speaking here today bringing a very loud and a very clear message from a crowd of people who braved the Canberra cold just this morning out on the front lawns of Parliament House to say that it is way past time to axe the tampon tax. The first petition to this parliament opposing the GST on sanitary items was tabled in this place on 15 February 2000 with 10,355 signatures calling on the government to make tampons and sanitary pads GST free. And today, I'm able to tell the parliament that the most recent petition that has been brought together by the Greens and Share the Dignity has got over 127,000 signatures. This just shows the level of support from across the Australian community to scrap this sexist tax. Share the Dignity, who have collected many of these signatures on their petition, is a charity that works to distribute sanitary items to women who are homeless, at risk or experiencing domestic violence, and they have been campaigning hard to axe the tampon tax. I'm so humbled to have stood this morning beside their founder, Rochelle Courtenay, and their many supporters as they presented their massive petition to me to bring and share with this parliament. Rochelle is in the gallery today to observe this significant moment when this Senate has got the opportunity to pass a bill that would axe this sexist tax. It's clear: Australians have had enough. They want this unfair, sexist tax on sanitary products gone once and for all.

The justification for keeping the tax that's been put forward by the government is that it's impossible to make the change without the support of the states and territories, who are the recipients of the GST revenue. It is certainly not impossible. It is a change that can be enacted by this federal parliament. The legislation to impose GST on sanitary items was made federally, and the federal parliament should lead the way and fix it. The engagement and the input of the states and territories is, however, very important to this issue, which is why I wrote to the state and territory treasurers to urge their support for removing this unfair tax. We know that the majority of states and territories already support this reform, and I commend them for their support to axe the tampon tax. The only states that currently do not support axing the tax all have Liberal governments. The Prime Minister needs to show leadership, bring the remaining states into line, and support this Greens bill to axe the tampon tax. Or is the Prime Minister seriously telling the people of Australia that he doesn't have any influence over his coalition colleagues? That he doesn't have influence over just $35 million a year—0.05 per cent of the total GST revenue of over $62 billion? That he doesn't have influence over this tiny proportion of the GST revenue? Perhaps it is best if we just leave this question unanswered, if that's what the Prime Minister is saying—that he does not have influence over his coalition colleagues.

This is not a genuine obstruction to changing the act. All that's needed is political will from our Prime Minister. That such will is in short supply tells you all you need to know: this government is not governing in the interests of ordinary Australians. The government found $122 million out of its back pocket last year for a non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey on marriage equality. Surely it can cover the shortfall in revenue from axing the GST on sanitary products, and do what's fair and remove this tax. For state, territory and federal budgets, this tax is a drop in the ocean, but for some people—for the people who have to pay this tax—the impact of the GST on sanitary products means going without these essential health products. This tax disproportionately affects low-income women and transgender people, many of whom have insecure work and housing. It's easy for some to dismiss this as a non-issue, but there are people who are sometimes faced with having to make a choice between buying tampons and buying food. The fact that they are charged more for an essential sanitary product because of the GST is simply unacceptable.

The Greens urge the parliament to remove this discrimination. We could axe this unfair tax this week, if the government supported this bill. I thank Senators Hinch, Griff and Leyonhjelm for co-sponsoring this bill's introductory motion in May. I'm sorry that our limited time this morning does not give them the opportunity to speak on this matter. I thank the Labor senators in this place for their strong position against the tampon tax. I also pay tribute to my Greens colleagues who are going to support this bill today and to our former parliamentarians who have worked for this reform for years—in particular, Larissa Waters, who I'm so pleased is going to join us here again in this place soon. Larissa laid vital groundwork in the campaign to scrap the tampon tax, and she campaigned so strongly for this change.

This bill is a very simple bill. It removes the GST from sanitary products. It is a very straightforward, very simple bill—a small change that would make a huge difference to the people of Australia. I've introduced this bill on behalf of every person who has signed a petition, every person who has attended a protest, and every person who has written to an MP or felt the financial burden of this tax. This reform is long overdue. I want us to look back and remember that, in 2018, parliament did the right thing and finally axed the bloody tampon tax—because, as anyone who menstruates knows, menstruating is not a luxury.