Tampon tax isn’t the only ‘sexist’ part of the GST, with breastfeeding aids and pumps not on the exempt list


Updated

August 11, 2018 09:44:39

The “tampon tax” is in its death throes, but advocates and mothers say there is still more work to be done to take the “sexism” out of the goods and services tax.

Breastfeeding aids like breast pumps, nipple shields and supplemental nursing systems are a key support for mums with feeding troubles or sick or premature babies. They also allow mothers to keep breastfeeding after returning to work, which reduces the baby’s and mother’s risk of chronic disease and infection.

But unlike other medical aids, they haven’t made it onto the GST-free list, where you find health items like condoms, contact lenses, dentures, lube, sunscreens, nicotine patches and even batteries for hearing aids.

Infant formula is GST exempt as a “basic food”, a category which is predominantly fresh produce.

“Taxing breastfeeding while fresh food is not subject to GST doesn’t make sense,” says certified lactation consultant Naomi Drew.

“How much fresher and healthier than breastmilk can you get?”

Tampons are just the start

Treasurer Scott Morrison announced last Saturday that the Government would push to have the GST removed from tampons and other sanitary products, with all states indicating they would support the proposal.

“I think it’s an anomaly that has been built into the system for a long time and the states have decided to hold onto the money instead of getting rid of it,” he told News Corp.

He described is as a “source of frustration for women”.

But chief executive of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association Alison Verhoeven argues that the GST on breastfeeding aids is another double standard for women.

“It is unacceptable that lactation aids are subject to GST while infant formula is not,” she says.

“We should be doing everything we can to encourage and support breastfeeding, which is important for a healthy start in life.

In 2008, the Australian Government ruled out calls to scrap GST on breastfeeding aids, saying:

“A specific concession would need to be created in the GST law. This would add to the complexity of the law, thereby increasing compliance and administrative costs.

“The GST operates most efficiently when applied to as broad a range of goods and services as possible.”

But breastfeeding advocates say potential “administrative costs” would be dwarfed by the public health cost of Australia’s low breastfeeding rates, with only one in 10 babies meeting national breastfeeding guidelines.

“Continence pads are GST exempt — why not breast pads?” asks Ms Drew.

GST adds to the cost for mums

For low-income and younger mums, who show the lowest breastfeeding rates, breastfeeding aids can be prohibitively expensive.

Why breastfeed if possible?

  • For babies: lower risk of necrotising enterocolitis, diarrhorea, respiratory illness, middle ear infection, type 1 diabetes and childhood leukaemia.
  • For mothers: faster recovery from childbirth, lower risk breast and ovarian cancer, reduced maternal depression.
  • Not all mothers can breastfeed and in this instance formula is indicated.

Source: Australian Government Department of Health

Pumps typically cost between $200-800, before GST of 10 per cent is added.

A lack of feeding support and information means women often buy the wrong pump for their needs and may end up buying several, lactation consultant and midwifery lecturer Jennifer Hocking says.

Sydney mum Alex Holloway had to buy a pump when her baby would not latch after eight weeks of intravenous and tube-feeding due to a birth defect.

“There was lots of equipment to buy and stuff needed replacing along the way — it became really expensive,” she says.

“We were living off one apprentice wage and paying Sydney rent.”

Ashleigh, a Sydney mum who asked that her surname not be used, needed a pump for feeding difficulties that caused her son’s “failure to thrive” and landed them both in the ICU.

“I was on the parental leave payment which was only 18 weeks of Centrelink. We needed an electric pump but couldn’t afford it as my partner and I had all these other health complications occur,” she says.

“I still spent around $500 on supplies including medication and topical ointments. If I could’ve invested in the electric pump, I probably would still be breastfeeding my now 15-month-old.”

Mums with babies in ICU must find their own pump when they go home for the night so their milk supply doesn’t diminish.

Lactation consultant Naomi Hull says breastmilk is a crucial medicine that significantly reduces their risk of necrotising enterocolitis, which has a high mortality rate.

“Why then do mums have to fund the cost of their own breast pump to provide this medicine? Babies that don’t receive breastmilk have an increased length of stay, so this doesn’t make sense on a health front or financially.”

Low weight and preterm babies are more common for Indigenous and socially disadvantaged mothers.

Working mothers show lower rates of breastfeeding, especially when they are full-time employed with babies under six months.

Ms Hocking says there are more prohibitive factors than the cost of pumps for working mums, such as a lack of breaks and private spaces for pumping or feeding, but the cost is an added deterrent when formula is widely available as an alternative.

An alternative source of revenue

Dr Julie Smith, a public health academic from ANU, questions why infant and toddler formula are GST-free if the Government wants to tax the broadest range of products it can.

She made a pre-budget submission recommending Treasury remove the GST from breastfeeding aids to apply it to toddler formula and other “growing up milks”, which could recoup tens of millions of dollars per year.

By contrast, the ATO collects around less than $2 million a year from mothers on breastfeeding aids and equipment.

Dr Smith suggests the extra revenue could be spent on lactation support for new mothers or paid maternity leave, which is a key policy to lift breastfeeding rates.

Is change likely?

There is little grassroots campaigning around the “breastfeeding tax” like there was with the “tampon tax” and breastfeeding advocates say they’re too busy campaigning for improved lactation support for women.

The issue hasn’t been on the public radar since the GST was first proposed, when activists campaigned under the slogan, “It’s about to get more expensive to be a woman”.

But with each review of the Government’s breastfeeding strategy, the GST status of breastfeeding aids and formula is raised.

This year, Dr Smith raised GST during stakeholder consultation for the new Australian National Breastfeeding Strategy.

The draft strategy, however, does not mention GST review.

As the ATO website states, “only Parliament can add new medical aids and appliances” to the GST exemption list.

The Department of Treasury, Department of Health, Treasurer Scott Morrison, Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann declined requests for comment.

Topics:

breastfeeding,

community-and-society,

family-and-children,

babies—newborns,

babies,

breast-feeding,

reproduction-and-contraception,

australia

First posted

August 11, 2018 05:04:57



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