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Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Page: 2759


Senator RICE (Victoria) (16:03): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

Senator RICE: I table an explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I introduce to the senate the Treasury Laws Amendment (Axe the Tampon Tax) Bill 2018,which seeks to remove the Goods and Services Tax (GST) from sanitary products. Sanitary products are defined in the Bill as tampons, pads, liners, cups, sponges and other products used in connection with menstruation.

Since the A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999 came into effect in 2000, people who menstruate have been paying tax on sanitary products. While items like sunscreen, folic acid and personal lubrication are exempt from GST as health products, sanitary items are not. Sanitary products are essential for millions of Australians to maintain health and hygiene connected with the cycle of menstruation. They are no less pertinent to the maintenance of personal and public health than the exempt items, therefore the justification for sanitary items attracting GST is flawed.

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.

From the very beginning there has 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.

The first petition to this parliament opposing the GST on sanitary items was tabled here in this place on 15 February 2000, with 10,355 signatures calling on the Government to make tampons and sanitary pads GST-free. Since then, there have been countless similar petitions started by individuals, community groups, university groups, charities and political parties.

The justification for keeping the tax on sanitary products that has been put forward by both Labor and Coalition is to say that it would be impossible to make the change without the support of the states and territories who are the recipients of GST revenue. It is certainly not impossible. It is a change that can be enacted by the Federal Parliament.

The engagement and input of the states and territories is however important for this issue, which is why I have written to state and territory treasurers to urge their support for removing this unfair tax. We know that a number of the states already support this reform. I commend this bill to the senate, as a way to demonstrate the national leadership and action that is required to finally fix this matter.

It's worth noting that the money the states currently receive from the tax on sanitary items represents only about 0.05% of the total GST revenue they will collect this financial year. This should not be seen as a genuine obstruction to changing in the Act. The legislation to impose the GST on sanitary items was made federally, and the federal parliament can lead the way and fix it.

For state, territory and federal budgets this tax is a drop in the ocean. The impacts of the GST on sanitary products are actually felt by people who need to purchase the 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 or buying food. The fact that they're charged more for an essential sanitary product because of the GST is unacceptable.

The Greens support the removal of this discrimination, and we want to see this matter addressed as soon as possible by the Parliament. I am introducing this bill on behalf of every person who has signed a petition, attended a protest, written to their MP, or felt the financial burden of this unfair tax. This reform is long overdue.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

Senator RICE: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.