Labor will back the Australian Greens' bill to repeal the controversial 10% goods and services (GST) tax on tampons and feminine hygiene products, giving it the votes it needs to pass the Senate.
“After 18 years, it’s time to finally axe this unfair tax, so I’m introducing a bill this week to get the job done,” Greens senator Janet Rice told BuzzFeed News when she introduced the bill on Wednesday May 8.
"For too long, successive governments have been happy to let this sexist tax persist," Rice said. "People who menstruate continue to be taxed unfairly every time they go to the chemist or supermarket to buy essential sanitary items.”
Rice's bill will propose amendments to the GST and change the classification of tampons, sanitary pads and liners – which are currently listed as non-essential "luxury" items – to essential health products.
Senior Labor sources confirmed to BuzzFeed News the party would support the Greens' bill. With the help of four crossbenchers – David Leyonhjelm, Derryn Hinch, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick – it gives the bill the 39 votes it needs to pass the Senate.
Rice told BuzzFeed News she's pleased that Labor has indicated it's on board to support her bill to axe the tampon tax.
"When I introduced the bill it was co-sponsored by three other crossbenchers, so it's looking good for this bill passing the Senate," Rice said. "The ball is then in Malcolm Turnbull's court and is another test of his leadership.
"We know he'll defer responsibility to the states, but the states that don’t support axing the tax all have Liberal governments. The fact is if there was federal leadership to axe this tax from the prime minister, these states would fall into line. [Minister for women] Kelly O’Dwyer’s comments [that it is not a federal issue] show just how the Turnbull government is trying to pass the buck back and avoid real action."
Labor previously didn't have a position on the Greens' bill, as voices calling to scrap the tax grew louder.
"[The Greens] obviously announced that bill after we had made our announcement and that's fine because victory has a thousand fathers," Labor senator Kimberley Kitching told BuzzFeed's OzPol Live Twitter show.
"There is no limit to what a man can achieve if he doesn't mind who gets the credit," Kitching said, quoting the 40th president of the United States, Ronald Reagan.
"The bill is obviously worth considering and worth looking at, but we are the only ones with a fully costed approach to this issue to removing the tax."
Labor leader Bill Shorten announced a change in the party's position last month. Shorten said if Labor wins the next federal election it will remove the GST from sanitary products because they're not "luxury" items and are necessary for reproductive health.
Tampons and sanitary products would move into the GST-free essential health items category alongside condoms and lubricant, and the party would apply the GST to natural therapies including herbalism and naturopathy.
The most recent modelling, published by BuzzFeed News, found that removing the tax on feminine hygiene products would cost states and territories about $40 million per year.
O'Dwyer says it doesn't matter if the Senate passes a bill to repeal the tax, as ultimately it's a decision for the states and territories.
The health minister, Greg Hunt, does have the option at any time to make a determination under Section 38.47 of the GST Act to remove the tampon tax, however the states and territories would still need to agree unanimously with the determination.
Former treasurer Joe Hockey raised removing the GST from sanitary products with the Council on Federal Financial Relations (CFFR) in 2015, but could not reach unanimous agreement from the states and territories.
Rice is still in talks with the Coalition and the crossbench to secure support for the bill. She's optimistic Tim Storer, along with Derryn Hinch and Centre Alliance senators Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick, will support the bill.
The bill will be back in the Senate on Monday June 18, when Rice plans to table petitions from groups in support.
Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm said he'd happily support scrapping the tax. His motion to get rid of the GST on tampons was voted down in March.
The libertarian senator has asked Treasury whether menstruation can be classed as a disability as Section 38.45 of the GST Act makes medical aides and devices GST-free, provided that they're widely used by people with an illness or a disability.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
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