Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 14 March 1973
Page: 563

Mr LAMB (La Trobe) - This Bill proposes amendments in 2 areas to the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act. The first area relates to the conversion of business and industrial equipment to the metric system and the second to contraceptives. These items are probably in no way connected. But as one of the pharmacists of this country I might add that we have dealt in metrics in regard to contraceptives for many years. I will try to be more relevant than speakers from the other side of the House who in my opinion used their contributions to this debate to rationalise their inactivity in the area of family planning or at least in the role that the Federal Government should play in the field of family planning.

This Bill will remove from the Second Schedule to the Principal Act those classes of goods that are specified as being subject to sales tax at the rate of 27* per cent. The Bill will remove contraceptives from that classification. Amongst those items in the First Schedule which are exempt from sales tax are included various forms of contraceptives. The inclusion of contraceptives in this grouping is irrelevant because this item is grouped along with slot machines, gambling machines, totalisator machines and the like which are strange bed fellows indeed. But one method of birth control, the rhythm method, has been jokingly referred to as Vatican roulette, so maybe this is a proper grouping.

We can say that sales taxes or indirect taxes generally influence patterns of consumption by discouraging or encouraging consumption through the imposition or removal of that tax. If the tax is increased the consumption of non-substituted products goes down. If the tax is reduced consumption generally increases. Also, indirect tax or sales tax can be used as a government policy for expanding or constricting the economy. But this can be used only where the product is in great demand, as is the case with motor cars. Therefore, I say to the House that the sales tax on contraceptives cannot be related to either of these 2 principles of taxation. In fact, in the past the tax on contraceptives has been nothing more than a moral tax.

On 24th August last year the then Prime Minister was asked by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) why the Government did not look at the question of the abolition of sales tax on contraceptives. The then Prime Minister replied:

In forming the Budget we looked at the whole question of a reduction of indirect taxation. We studied the cost involved and the value that might accrue if there is a reduction of the kind that the honourable member mentioned. In this instance we thought it was preferable to devote the money involved to other causes rather than to implement a reduction in indirect taxation.

I think that answer reinforces my argument that in the mind of the previous government it was a moral tax and was not used for other purposes. During that Budget debate Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, the then Federal Minister for Health indicated that removal of the sales tax would cost between $3 .4m and $3. 6m annually - a mere pittance. To the individual the saving would be about $3 per year, but to the community the saving is inestimable. Unwanted pregnancies result in criminal abortions, battered babies, emotionally deprived children who become juvenile delinquents, deserted and neglected children whom the State must support, and children with inadequate education. This matter was brought out well earlier by the honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews). These social problems not only lead to misery for the individual and the family but also increase enormously the cost of community services - social, medical and legal. Facilities to provide cheaper birth control are inexpensive and are negligible when compared with the cost incurred by the failure to make them cheaper. Those people who see all cost benefit approaches in economic terms will be pleased to learn that by reducing tha price of the pill and making it more readily available to those who need it, production in industry should actually increase. In support of this proposition I mention that on 16th October 1971 Dr Margaret Raphel in an article in the 'Medical Journal of Australia' entitled The Role of "the Pill" in the Workforce' said:

From a study of 825 employed women, it appears that oral contraceptives enable women to work better. The users had fewer menstrual symptoms, and took less time off at work, were less worried about unwanted pregnancy and were less accident-prone.

In any developed country similar to Australia which boasts of an affluent society there always exists an underprivileged group, varying between 10 and 20 per cent of the population. Most of this group cannot afford to see a doctor, the usual source of family planning advice, so that poverty and ignorance are often found together.

In 1971 a preliminary study was carried out to determine the factors influencing the use of family planning by women from a lower social group in Melbourne. By far the most common reason for employing birth control was financial - 2 out of every 3 women in this group gave this reason. I think this should indicate that the group which needs - cheaper contraceptives are precisely those people who are at present discriminated against. Last August in Sydney Lord Caradon, a member of 2 United Nations committees dealing with population, addressed the first Regional Medical and Scientific Congress of the International Planned Parenthood Association. Describing population growth as one of the world's dominant problems, he said it was tied up with such problems as economic development, the environment, urbanisation - to use that terrible word mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition - and unemployment, and that to solve these problems it was necessary to solve the population problem. Unfortunately the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) has reduced this debate to a discussion of zero population growth in this country. It should be seen as an overall policy and attitude, because it is not just the problem of the underdeveloped countries; it is our problem too. Although the Leader of the Opposition cannot understand this argument I shall explain it.

The people in the developed countries consume 20 to 50 times as much per head of the world's resources as do those people in the underdeveloped countries. In this event, surely we have an obligation not only in the domestic sense but also in the international sense towards population growth. When the importance of birth control is considered in the wider context of the world's problems, having a tax on contraceptives is like putting a luxury tax on antibiotics or on health. The previous Government has been guilty of enforcing a tax on health items. Let me explain. The oral contraceptive, a form of low dose hormone treatment, has a double function. As well as being an effective contraceptive it is used for period disorders - drysmenorrhoea, amenorrhoea and the like. It would be difficult to know exactly how many women have been penalised for following a doctor's prescription in paying this sales tax because it is classified only as a contraceptive. A study of working women in Sydney in 1969 gives a clue. Of the 43 per cent of married women in the sample, 13.5 per cent were taking the pill for gynaeological reasons, and of the single women 60 per cent were taking the pill for medical reasons. These women were obviously discriminated against by the previous Government. In other words, at that time there was operating a luxury tax on health.

Some persons oppose greater availability of contraceptives because they fear that Australia's population growth will be lowered. For them, recent figures provide reassuring data. Despite an ever-increasing number of women taking oral contraceptives, now exceeding 30 per cent of women in the reproductive age group, the birth rate has actually risen from 19 per thousand in 1966 to 20 per thousand in 1968 and has continued to increase until just recently. The main reason for removing the sales tax is not its effect on population but the right of the individual woman to choose what her own personal contribution to that population will be, and not have her choice thwarted by any Government.

In Australia birth control is not so much a question of community affluence, as it is in underdeveloped countries, but is consequent upon a pressing need to space children in a society that demands higher education standards and other non-material benefits. Women should have a right to plan a family and space their children. Any tax on or increase in the price of contraceptives works against that choice and that right. Parents should have the right to decide how many children they want and when they want them, and they should be freely given the means to make that decision. Many people do not have that freedom. They do not know that they have a choice. To many people this may seem fantastic, but this ignorance must be tackled. Not only must people be aware of contraceptives, they also need to know how to use them and they need to be able to afford them. Unless this matter is seen in the whole context it is seen in isolation and a role cannot be forged for the Federal Government in family planning.

I return now to the topic of discrimination. To retain the sales tax on contraceptives is an unjustified discrimination and penalty against Australian women wishing to practice responsible methods of family planning. Further, it discriminates more against the poorer people - the very people who, because of our iniquitous economic system, need to be protected most from large unwanted families. It discriminates against those people who employ different contraceptive methods. The previous Government was never able to tax those who used natural methods, such as the rhythm method, but were able to tax those who used more reliable methods. In other words the more efficient the method the more tax.

Mr McVeigh - Nonsense.

Mr LAMB - I shall quote from Hansard an example of the former Government's inconsistency so that the honourable member will not think it is nonsense. On page 667 of Hansard of 7th March 1972 a Government spokesman said:

Another factor to he considered is that oral contraception is only one of a number of methods of contraception. Any action to exempt oral contraceptives from sales tax would create a precedent for the removal of the tax from other forms of contraception, such as diaphragms and intra-uterine devices. In terms of the current provisions of the National Health Act, pharmaceutical benefits are confined to drugs and medicinal preparations, and thus diaphragms and intra-uterine devices, which are quite widely used, could not be included in the list of pharmaceutical benefits. If all forms of contraceptives were to be exempted from sales tax the cost to the Commonwealth in revenue foregone may well be as great as the saving to the Commonwealth under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme resulting from the exemption of oral contraceptives from tax.

The nonsense seems to lie on the Opposition side of the House in the inconsistency of its argument.

Objections to this Bill will no doubt be raised by those who anticipate that this legislation will open the floodgates of licentious behaviour and undermine the moral and social fibres of this country. Even the President of the United States of America has said that in his opinion widespread distribution of contraceptives would 'do nothing to preserve and strengthen close family relations'. The same argument has been called on by the Leader of the Opposition. But this is begging the question and is irrelevant to this Bill. The Bill is designed to make contraceptives cheaper and to remove the discrimination against free choice exercised by women. The part played by modern, effective contraceptives in the so-called sexual revolution cannot be easily separated from many other influences that bear on changes in attitudes and behaviour of following generations. The contraceptive can both stabilise marriage, if the Leader of the Opposition is so concerned for the family unit, by removing fear of unwanted pregnancies or it could encourage infidelity for the same reason. We cannot prove which way it will go because it depends on the individual.

A breakdown of inhibitions against premarital intercourse is also cited as a consequence of better contraceptive methods. But this view is over simplistic. The social mores are bound up in the wider context of culture. On the other hand proponents of cheaper contraceptives argue that so long as girls cannot be prevented from having sexual relations - I hope the Opposition is not intending to introduce legislation to that effect - they might as well be protected against pregnancy and its consequences.

It is certain that young people need protection against unwanted pregnancies. One report on this subject in the United States stated that teenagers bear two-fifths of all illegitimate babies. The divorce rate is approximately 4 times as high for those who marry in their teens as it is for couples who marry later. The same report found:

There was no evidence that teenage extra-marital sexual activity increases in proportion to the availability of prescribed contraception.

With a society which is more conservative in culture than the United States, Australia could expect similar findings. Removing sales tax as this Bill provides goes only part of the way to making contraceptives more readily available. We must realise that removing sales tax from contraceptives is only portion of the whole question of family planning; it is the part that can be played by this Government in providing such a service. Removing that sales tax, luxury tax or entertainment tax, as I have sometimes heard it called, from contraceptives is only one approach that the Labor Party, this Government, is committed to introducing in its overall program to support family planning as the right for all.

We are committed to setting up family planning clinics which could provide facilities in the 3 areas in which we need to improve our family planning services, namely, advice, education and free supplies of contraceptives for those who need them. We have placed oral contraceptives, when prescribed by a registered medical practitioner, on the pharmaceutical benefits list. This has reduced the cost of one month's supply of the pill from about $2.10 to $1. From 1st April this amount will be further reduced to Si for 2 months supply. It is estimated that a further 824,000 Australian women would use oral contraceptives if they were available completely free.

Undoubtedly prevention is better than cure and education is the best contraceptive of all. This means that the study of reproduction should be an essential part of a child's schooling and should begin at an early age - not just secondary school, not even primary school, but a natural and gradually developing awareness and understanding right from pre-school days. I believe that with modern contraceptive methods available there would be fewer abortions and much less of the unhappiness and ill-health which results from unplanned pregnancies.

In a report in 1972 the United Nations said that abortion 'is the single most widely used method of birth control in the world'. But in none of the countries where, abortion is legal is abortion advocated as a desirable method of contraception. Abortion is a horrific experience for most of those involved and is used only as a measure of last resort. It is our responsibility to lessen the need to resort to abortion by making contraceptives cheaper and more readily available. This Bill helps to do just that.

The former Liberal-Country Party Government consistently refused to take a realistic view of family planning techniques and their availability. It refused to make any move to allow contraceptive advertising or to remove the sales tax on them. The removal of restriction on advertising of contraceptives is a policy of my Government. Contraceptive advertising is illegal in all States except South Australia. Yet the Prime Minister announced within a fortnight of the last Federal elections that the ordinance prohibiting the advertising of contraceptives without authority in the Australian Capital Territory would be amended and that soon a similar amendment would be put before the Northern Territory Legislative Council. The legitimate advertising of contraceptives is a natural and proper extension to removing sales tax on contraceptives if they are to be made more available to the public.

To add to the nonsense and counter-productive effect of prohibiting advertising of contraceptives, most States are prevented by law from even advertising the activities and services of government supported family planning clinics. Although the Postmaster-General's Department has relaxed its vigilance on the detection of contraceptive advertisements and literature under the Commonwealth Post and Telegraph Act, it has a blanket ban in its guide to standards for radio and television which prevents contraceptive advertisements on these media. The main media used for this sort of advertising in Italy is television.

My time has almost expired, In conclusion, the main reason for removing the. sales tax from contraceptives is because the tax discriminates against women and their choice to bear a child. Advertising of contraceptives and family planning clinics are, in general, outside the sphere of this House: They are predominantly State matters. It is in the Territories that the Commonwealth oan sponsor a whole range of family planning initiatives, but Australia-wide we can make a significant contribution to family planning by removing the sales tax on contraceptives. In the current debate, on abortion law reform the subject of family planning and the role of family planning in this is often overlooked.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order!The honourable member's time has expired. (Quorum formed.)

Suggest corrections