Rochelle Courtenay

I helped tear down the tampon tax, I know that the fight is not over

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This week, the tampon tax fell, and the politicians claimed the victory. But those who truly won it, know that there is so much more that needs to be done. 

 

 

As I walked along the beach the morning after the federal government announced that they were axing the archaic tax on sanitary items, I was still pinching myself. I woke up at 4am, feeling like a kid on Boxing Day, still full of disbelief that the day before was real, that the toys under the tree were actually mine. It still feels surreal.

Australians have been fighting to get rid of this tax for 18 years, and the number of hours and the extent of the effort that went into achieving this outcome remains immeasurable. The final roar of celebration that went up Wednesday
morning was really from all of those people – not just those won the war today, but also those who came before us.

Natasha Stott Despoja was one of the fiercest opponents to the tax from the very beginning, and she tweeted yesterday to express her disappointment that it took so long to get to this point: “Great news. A long time coming. Years of work by many. I feel sad that our earlier efforts failed but some of us tried for many, many years…sometimes change takes too long.”

I think our politicians need to hang their heads in shame. It took far too long for common sense to prevail. While our news broadcasts are this week flooded with politicians taking credit for the result, I think it’s vital that we remember what came before this announcement.

Back in 2000, we saw then health minister for the Liberal Party, Michael Wooldridge, brush aside the already loud objections to the tax, telling the ABC: “As a bloke, I’d like shaving cream exempt but I’m not expecting it to be,” and adding, “condoms
prevent illness. I wasn’t aware that menstruation was an illness.”

The sheer level of ignorance of that statement is dumbfounding, but that’s exactly what we have faced for the last eighteen years.

 

 

On a personal level, it was the words of Malcolm Turnbull that solidified my own commitment to this cause.

Back in January, our former prime minister told me that he had heard no noise about the issue. Turnbull’s dismissive attitude was, in some ways, actually a gift; he fuelled my fire and pushed me to take action. Seeing first-hand how uninterested the people in charge were, I realised we had to start finding new ways to make them sit up and listen. At Share the Dignity, we put the call out for people to help us. We created the #axethetaxperiod hashtag, and women from all over the country jumped on board for this massive final push towards equality. I spoke to more politicians than I ever wanted to talk to in my life. And my god, we sure made them listen. The 100,000 on our Federal petition was too many for them to keep ignoring.

I’m humbled to have played a part in its removal and pleased that I can now refocus my energies back to what I do best: ensuring that women across Australia are never subjected to the indignity of not having access to sanitary items. Women who have fled domestic violence. Women who are experiencing homelessness. Women from drought-stricken farming communities. All of these women have had their plight worsened by the charging of GST on menstrual supplies.

Removing the GST from pads and tampons was never about money; although I know all too well that the extra 10% could make all the difference between someone being able to buy a packet of pads or being forced to use wadded up toilet paper. The removal of the GST on our sanitary items was simply righting a wrong.

This tax is a drop in the ocean of the work that still needs to be done. In order to guarantee that no woman in Australia faces the indignity of managing their period with toilet paper or rags, and while we celebrate this win, I urge everyone to remember that the real fight is not over.

So, while I walk along the beachfront dreaming of popping party poppers filled with tax-free tampons on New Year’s Eve, I also know that the fight is not over, and will not be until period poverty in this country is eliminated, because dignity is a right that everyone deserves.

 

Rochelle Courtenay

Rochelle Courtenay is the founder of the not-for-profit Share the Dignity, providing homeless and at-risk women Australia-wide with sanitary items to alleviate period poverty. More than 4000 volunteers and some of Australia’s biggest corporates support the charity, which has collected in excess of 1.2 million packets of sanitary items since forming in 2015. Affectionately known as “Pad lady” Rochelle designed a world-first Dignity Vending Machine, known as the Pinkbox to dispense a free period pack of sanitary items. Pinkboxes are being installed in at need areas nation-wide. Share the Dignity now also runs a Christmas appeal called #Itsinthebag where women are asked to donate a pre-loved or new handbag filled with sanitary items, some of other life’s essentials plus any other gift they may wish to donate. To add to her list of accomplishments Rochelle and her team of national supporters successfully campaigned the Federal Government to abolish the GST on sanitary items.

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