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Thursday, 17 February 2000
Page: 13817


Mr MURPHY (5:36 PM) —Last year my wife, Adriana, through me, wanted to express her outrage in this House on behalf of all women about the Howard government's discrimination against women in applying the GST to sanitary products. With all the recent faxes, letters, emails and conversations I have had with many women, I should have taken Adriana's advice. Today I am standing up for women, standing up to the Prime Minister and standing up against Dr Wooldridge. One of my constituents, Mrs Margaret Morgan of Russell Lea, deserves great credit for her campaign to make the community aware of the inconsistency and unfairness of the government's position on this matter. Margaret Morgan set up online petitions on her web site `Mother and Child'. This was reported extensively in the Daily Telegraph on 27 January this year. There has not been any tax on tampons or other sanitary products since 1948.

The Minister for Health and Aged Care, Dr Wooldridge, refuses to be drawn on the issue of exempting tampons from a GST because, according to Dr Wooldridge, tampons are not a matter of public health but a matter of personal hygiene. However, I bring to the House's attention that on 3 December 1996 the minister issued a press release entitled `Women's health under the microscope', which commences:

Preliminary Research findings from a study of women's health to be undertaken over a 20-year period, has found that problems with body weight, menstruation, tiredness and stress are key concerns of women.

The Australian Medical Association president, Dr David Brand, has asked the Prime Minister to recognise menstruation as a women's health issue. The AMA believes that tampons are a necessity rather than a luxury. Tampons are currently on the therapeutic goods list. Both the AMA and gynaecologists believe that tampons are health goods, particularly where they are used to alleviate the symptoms of menorrhagia or excessively heavy bleeding. Further, with the advent of hormone replacement therapy, women might be required to use these products until their 70s.

For me to gain a better understanding of the products, Adriana took me to a supermarket in my electorate of Lowe and showed me a full range of the products. For the benefit of Dr Wooldridge, tampon packaging carries an important health warning and a leaflet inside the package which provides more information about the product. The warning reads:

Tampon use has been associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)—TSS is a rare but serious disease which may lead to death.

There are many other items too long to describe here, and I suggest all men take a long look at these products the next time they visit a supermarket. It is disgraceful that women should be taxed on something over which they have no control. These products are necessities in the lives of women. Manufacturers can price them to suit themselves. Each year women spend $200 million on these products.

A member of the Howard government, the honourable member for Leichhardt, Mr Warren Entsch, was reported on 16 February on Channel 10 as referring to protests about breastfeeding and sanitary products as `nonsense', saying that half a dozen protesters wearing T-shirts `I bleed and I vote' really is quite offensive. For the information of the House, I am holding a copy of the member for Leichhardt's speech made in this chamber on 24 February 1997 when he went to great lengths to highlight the disease, toxic shock syndrome, just over two years after a 13-year-old Queensland girl tragically became a victim of this syndrome. What an opportunist is the member for Leichhardt!

Taxation on tampons is an unfair and discriminatory tax on women. The government must act in the interests of all women to ensure that those who are most likely to be living in poverty are not worse off and that families with daughters are not discriminated against. Why are penile clamps and Viagra GST free when tampons and other sanitary products are specifically cited as taxable? This is a triumph for double standards. This attitude is the sort of blatant discrimination that women have worked so hard for a very long time to eradicate. Where was the Democrats leader, Meg Lees, when the negotiations on women's sanitary products were taking place with the Howard government last year? Obviously, Senator Lees left this one to the blokes to negotiate.

One of my constituents, Mrs Joan Collie, a grandmother from Concord, rang my office recently. She told me she voted for Mr Howard at the last election and is furious at this tax. She feels her granddaughters are being discriminated against because they are engaged in sport and need to use a variety of these products at different times. In relation to the ridiculous comparison drawn between men's shaving products and women's sanitary products, she has asked me to relay a message in this House to the Prime Minister: men can reuse a razor blade, Mr Howard, but women cannot reuse a tampon. I would like to encourage all women and men to support the Women's Electoral Lobby National Action Day, to be held on 25 February in all major cities. In concluding, I would like to send a strong message to the Prime Minister and the minister for health that they have let the women of Australia down. Finally, in the words of Margaret Morgan to me on behalf of women, the Howard government is reminded: they bleed and they vote.