The time is now, period. The inadequacy of Bill Shorten and ‘scrap the tax’

Labor recently announced they'd scrap the tampon tax if elected into Government. JUNKEE contributor Nicole Dunn didn't like what she saw, or rather, what she didn't.

Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten surrounded by tampons.
It's just a tampon,fellas. By Nicole Dunn. / Creative Commons.

Questions surrounding the gendered economics of government policy have once again been reignited as the Opposition announced in April they would ‘scrap the tampon tax’ if elected into office during the next Federal Election. Just like in 2015 when Joe Hockey agreed to lobby the states and territories to remove the tampon tax after being publicly questioned on the matter, the #tampontax debate has found itself swiftly removed from political discourse after a brief stint back in the spotlight.

A coloured image from the Labor Party that reads : 'Breaking News: A Shorten Labor Government will remove the GST from women's sanitary products.'
The Labor Party announce their intention to scrap GST on menstrual hygiene items. The Labor Party via Bill Shorten/ Twitter.

As the weeks have gone on, and the political banter has died down, so too has any mention of the Australian women, of whom there are 12 million, would experience some financial respite if the change to the taxation system is implemented. Just as quickly as activists and women around the country lauded the announcement, the federal budget was announced and the ‘significant funding’ Treasurer Scott Morrison claimed would help ease the economic disparity between men and women was non-existent. The Labor government quietly agreed to support Greens Senator Janet Rice’s bill that could remove the tax this year, but publicly remained silent.

Whilst I realise this may sound like I’m complaining about a very necessary change, it’s because I am. This Australian political past time of ‘all talk, no action’ is, excuse the pun, bleeding Australian women dry. Here are three reasons you should be mad about Labor deciding to repeal the tampon tax:

The End is in Plain Sight – And It’s Still Being Ignored

On May 8, Greens Senator Janet Rice introduced into parliament that would remove the GST on sanitary pads and tampons well before next years federal election, when Labor are proposing they would ‘scrap the tax.’ Rice is confident that with the support of Labor ‘the bill has a high chance of passing the Senate. After ignoring an opportunity to remove the tax last time they were in Government, Rice says its time for ‘action, not more talk.’

The Liberal Government has previously attempted to refocus the vitriol about their inaction, claiming the matter was ‘one for the states and territories.’ When we spoke, Rice dug deeper into her indictment of the current Government when asked saying:

‘Currently, the only states that do not agree to axing the tax have Liberal governments – New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia. If the government showed leadership and brought these states into line, we could scrap this tax in a few weeks.’

Senator Jane Rice stands and speaks in Australia parliament.
Green Senator Janet Rice introduced a bill into parliament to abolish GST on sanitary items this year. AAP Image.

But that’s exactly what the Opposition has done with their recent declaration. Talking about repealing a senseless, discriminatory tax that perpetuates an economic disparity between genders is the bare minimum. Using it as a rhetorical tool to try and win votes in the Federal Election is downright offensive and dangerous. Everyday in Australia, women have their periods and must buy product in go about their daily lives with relative ease and comfort.

For women who are homeless, low-income earners or are in some rural, remote communities – they not only do not possess the financial ability to manage their menstrual cycles, they also do not have the knowledge about how to do so. By waving the prospect of a 10% price decrease on these items in the face of women, but withholding the result to obtain votes and public support, Shorten and his cabinet are rubbing their privilege in the faces of Australians who are powerless to enact change.

Aussie Men Have Still Got it Easy

If that wasn’t enough to at least get you thinking about how disserviced women were by the recent political rhetoric, I’m not done yet. Instead of jumping on board with this ‘oh yeah, we respect women’ nonsense the Opposition have been trying to push, the Turnbull Government produced a Federal Budget on the EXACT SAME DAY Rice introduced her bill into Parliament that failed to deliver on a big promise of ‘significant funding’ and refused to acknowledge that the taxation system enforces gendered economic inequality.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus smoking as VP Selina Meyer.
The easiest way to explain the gender equality gap. HBO/ via ohmytheon.tumblr.

Fictional Vice President and my personal hero Selina Meyer would argue that it’s because of the ‘axis of dick’ that Australian men are favourably treated by some government policies and though its not exactly politically correct, it certainly is an adequately way to describe the ongoing effects of the gender pay gap. With Viagra and condoms among the non-essential items that do not have a GST charge attached to them, male-friendly health items aren’t afforded the stigmatisation that female-friendly health items are. Hell, even the classification of liners, sanitary pads and tampons as ‘non-essential health items’ is an offensive characterisation of menstruation and the needs of the female body. Gender-equal policies aren’t afforded due consideration by some politicians who refuse to acknowledge the harm they cause, and the politicisation of women’s bodies by systems of inequality thrives on this kind of attitude.

We’re Still Not Talking About the Goddamn Women

What struck me most about Labor’s announcement was how angry it was. Though they’ve never formally supported the tax, Labor failed to repeal it when they last held office. So instead of pleading Malcolm Turnbull to consider the needs and dignity of those Australians who go without hygienic menstrual products due to financial or circumstantial difficulties, deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek chose to take a dig at former Primer Minister John Howard and the lack of female leaders in his cabinet. While this is a fair criticism of the values that let such a tax be imposed, it’s not longer necessary. The tax exists, it continues to stigmatise those who menstruate and their natural bodily functions whilst perpetuating health inequality through legislation.

I’ve read a lot about the prospect of Malcolm Turnbull crumbling to partisan pressure and announcing plans to repeal the tax this year, but that’s not the point. The Liberal Government shouldn’t have to feel forced to repeal the tax, they should want to. Both Labor and the Greens have claimed that the States would only loose a miniscule 0.05% of the total GST revenue they currently receive. By using that as a rationalisation for the States to agree to remove the GST, I’m guilty of doing exactly what Senator Janet Rice condemns her opponents for doing, shifting the focus ‘away from people who menstruate and onto the economic implications’ of removing the tax.

I understand that an issue such as this sits firmly at the intersection of gender, economics and policy, and there are so many variables to consider with any legislative decision.But I’m tired of such a small percentage of revenue being prioritised over the wellbeing over Australian women.

If there were ever a time for our politicians to make a conscious, symbolic choice that isn’t driven by money or power, but by basic empathy, it is now. For those politicians, on behalf of all those who menstruate and are tired of paying the extra 10% every month on the sheer basics, I’ve got one thing to say to you:

Fictional VP Selina Meyer encapsulates my thoughts quite nicely. HBO/ via ohmytheon.tumblr

If you would like to help Australian women who struggle to purchase feminine hygiene products every month, you can donate your time, resources or give a financial donation here at Share the Dignity. If you’d like to contribute to this vital national discussion, comment below, or chat to me on twitter @msnicoledunn.

Nicole Dunn
About Nicole Dunn 4 Articles
Nicole is a Masters of Media Practice student beginning her hopefully fruitful career in the industry. When she isn't in class, you can find her watching VEEP, a mid-2000's Royal Rumble, The Social Network or some ice dance. Twitter: @msnicoledunn Email: ndun7677@uni.sydney.edu.au

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