How do you define an “everyday item” for taxation purposes?
It’s a thorny question with multiple answers that has plagued our at least politicians since the GST was introduced in 2000, and decisions had to be made as to what was what when it came to being slugged that extra 10 per cent.
Countless calls have been made since 2000 for tweaks to the tax, most with little effect.
The push for a spruce-up is in the news again, this time with Labor promising to remove what has been dubbed the “tampon tax” – the GST on products women buy to deal with their periods.
The issue is that sanitary pads, tampons and other products are classified as “luxury items” and subject to the tax; while condoms, lubricants and Viagra are not.
As Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has pointed out, incontinence pads and even nicotine patches are exempt from the GST, yet somehow tampons and sanity pads are still hit with the 10 per cent mark-up.
It’s hard not to agree with campaigners when they describe the issue as sexist, especially when Viagra has been exempted as a health item, but sanity pads have not.
Periods are an everyday reality for millions of Australian women, yet buying products to deal with them have been made to sound like an indulgence, in the same way as bubble baths and manicures.
In the past when this issue has been raised, the $10 million estimated drop in GST revenue has always been used by the states to put an end to any federal government bid for changes.
This time around, Labor has said it will offset the revenue loss by putting the GST on 12 natural therapies, such as herbalism and naturopathy.
Labor could well be picking a fight with another section of the community, but this whole debate really does highlight some flaws in the way the GST is applied.
It’s been nearly two decades since the tax was introduced, so it's probably well and truly time to sit down and take a good look at how it works.
That tampons are considered a luxury is obviously stupid and reeks of sexism, but it would be silly to assume there are not a myriad of improvements that could be applied to a wide range of products.
Instead of getting squeamish over a discussion about tampons, both federal and state governments should be embracing the chance to overhaul the tax.