Women will continue paying GST on sanitary products after Labor joined forces with the Turnbull government in blocking a move to axe the ‘tampon tax’.
The Greens tried to exempt women’s sanitary products from the GST through an amendment to government legislation that extended the tax to imported goods worth less than $1000.
But Labor voted with the government to vote down the move, which was lost 33-15.
Greens Senator Larissa Waters said the tax was “sexist” and “opportunistic”.
“Periods are not a luxury, and sanitary items are not luxury items. They are necessities,” she said.
States could exempt sanitary products and still end up with $300 million over three years from the additional revenue raised by taxing imported goods, according to costings commissioned by the Greens.
“Revenue loss is no longer a credible excuse for refusing to axe the sexist tampon tax,” Senator Waters said.
Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher said the opposition agreed “we need a way to fix the current arrangements around GST and sanitary products”.
“And we’ve certainly been clear about this in the past. But we don’t believe an amendment to this bill is the way to fix it,” she told the Senate.
Senator Gallagher said more consultation was needed with the states and territories before a change was made.
“Labor has previously put forward the proposal that the additional GST on digital downloads be used to more than offset the cost of exempting sanitary products,” she said.
“We think, in all fairness, considering how important the GST is for states and territories … discussions about how this should be done and when it should be done needs to happen with all of those parties.
“But it also needs to be done at the start of the process. Not at the end of it here in this chamber.
“While we won’t support this amendment, we do acknowledge the intent behind it.”
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the government had committed to raising the issue with the states and territories.
But they were divided over whether or not to scrap the tax, he said.
Senator Cormann also rejected claims that sanitary items were considered “luxury items” under the current laws.
“I’ve got to correct this proposition that GST applies to those particular goods because they were considered a luxury item,” he said. “That’s not right. GST applies to all goods and services unless they have been exempted.”
But Senator Waters said that by not listing sanitary items as health products, they were “in effect being deemed a luxury item”.
“How on earth are condoms, and lube and sunscreen called a health product, which they should be, and not sanitary items?
“I think Australian women will be incredibly disappointed in this chamber if that’s how the vote goes.”
NXT Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore said it was essentially “tax on women’s bodily functions”.
“Condoms have been made GST exempt due to their important health benefits,” she said.
“Yet pads and tampons, which are essential for the reproductive health of an estimated 6 million Australians, are slapped with a 10 per cent tax.”
State and territory governments met in 2015 to discuss the tax, but resolved not to remove it.
It has been estimated applying the GST to women’s sanitary items adds about $25 million a year to the budget bottom line.