In a unanimous agreement, state and territory treasurers announced today that the 10% goods and services tax (GST) on sanitary items will be abolished. The change is expected to be enforced from January 1, 2019—almost two decades after campaigning to remove the tax begun.
According to the ABC, it is expected that tampons, pads, menstrual cups and period panties will now be exempt, however, an exhaustive list will be released after public consultation.
The tampon tax has caused outrage since it was legislated in 2000. At the time, ‘menstrual avengers’ notoriously threw tampons at former Prime Minister John Howard. After a period of dormancy, the campaign was revived three years ago by the USyd Wom*n’s Collective.
Then-Wom*n’s Officer, Subeta Vimalarajah, spearheaded a student-run campaign to call for the removal of the tampon tax in the next federal Tax Review.
“The Tax Review is coming up,” Vimalarajah wrote in Honi in May 2015, “and sanitary products are still being taxed by the GST on the basis they are not ‘necessary’ enough”, in comparison to nicotine, Viagra, lube, condoms and other considered ‘health essentials’.
At the time, the tampon tax contributed $25 million annually to the economy. In 2018, this figure has risen to $30 million.
Vimalarajah garnered over 100 000 signatures on a nation-wide petition to end the GST addition. She later asked former treasurer, Joe Hockey, whether he thought period hygiene products were “an essential health good for half the population” on ABC’s Q&A.
In response, Hockey blamed the Democrat’s failure to list pads and tampons on their exclusion list when first passed through the Senate. He was later reported discussing the possibility of exempting them with his treasury.
In June 2015, protestors, including a congregate of USyd students dressed as tampons, travelled to Canberra to protest in front of Parliament House. Their campaign was accompanied by rallies across state capitals, including a dance version in Sydney’s Martin Place.
“The removal of the tax is long overdue,” said 2018 Wom*n’s Officers, Jessica Syed and Madeline Ward.
“It’s necessary to remember that this isn’t the altruism of governments at play, but rather years of activism carried out by student activists who undertook meaningful and inclusive campaigns […] some of which we are proud to say were launched from within our own Wom*n’s Collective before our time.”
Media attention on the petition and public protests turned #StopTaxingMyPeriod into a national movement, and offered a glimpse of hope for change. But when the government chose to retain the tampon tax in subsequent Tax Reviews, the issue once again lost momentum. Australia has since faced bipartisan support for the tax and reform inactivity, until now. Today is a big win.