SUBJECTS: Tampon tax; Budget and tax policy; Cyber spying leak.

ALLISON LANGDON, PRESENTER: And now to a tax that affects half the population, and it’s one that we don’t talk about that much: the tampon tax. Right now Australian women pay GST, so an additional 10 per cent, on tampons. That’s $30 million a year and it’s something the Labor government is promising to scrap if it comes to power. Joining us live with the details is Labor’s Deputy Leader, Tanya Plibersek. A very good morning to you.


LANGDON: So Tanya, why has it taken Labor so long to commit to abolishing a tax that is a necessity and not a luxury?

PLIBERSEK: Well, I think it’s a good question. The good question is: why was this tax ever levied in the first place? Because, at the time the GST was negotiated, necessities including health products, were exempted. So, things like condoms and lubricants were left GST free, but tampons and sanitary napkins had the tax levied on them. There have been different efforts across the years to get rid of this tax. The real difference now is we’ve found an alternate source of revenue for the states, so we believe that the states and territories will accept this change now because they’ve resisted in the past. There’s been a few times when we’ve seen most of the states ready to give up the GST on pads and tampons, but not all of them. Of course, all of the states and territories have to agree to actually get rid of the tax.

LANGDON: But, going to the 2016 election, you made this commitment, but you then back-flipped.

PLIBERSEK: Well, we weren’t able to do it at that time. We couldn’t get the agreement of the states and territories, and we couldn’t find the revenue on its own. We’ve identified a source of replacement tax now for the $300-odd million over 10 years that this will cost. We have said that we would levy the GST on some natural therapies that have no real evidence base. And, because we are able to replace the money, we believe that that we will be able to get the states and territories on board this time round.

LANGDON: So, when Rudd came into power in 2007, there was a budget surplus. We’ve now got national debt of $5.4 billion dollars. That’s $21,000 for every man, woman and child. Our repayments are $16 billion a year. Just last week, Treasury borrowed another billion dollars. There doesn’t seem to be any appetite from either party, major party, to actually deal with this. There’s a very good chance that Labor could be our next government. What will you do about it?

PLIBERSEK: Well, for a start, we won’t give $65 billion worth of big business tax cuts, including $13 billion to the banks alone over the next 10 years. So, that’s a $65 billion difference. And then we’ve also made some very tough decisions. We have said, for example, we’ll change negative gearing and capital gains tax on property investment. There is another more than $30 billion. We have said we’ll keep the high-income levy on people earning more than $180,000 a year, that’s another $19 billion. So, we are actually prepared to make some tough decisions to argue for budget repair. What you’ve got is a Government that wants to give $65 billion worth of big business tax cuts, cuts in health and education. Until just this week, they wanted to put extra tax on every working Australian taxpayer. And they’ve dropped that, because they couldn’t get that through the Senate. There’s a big difference between our ability and willingness to make some tough decisions and the Government’s big business tax giveaway.

LANGDON: But, I mean, when you were in government, there was none of those changes to actually move toward a surplus. We’ve just seen these constant promises.

PLIBERSEK: That’s actually not right. We made some very hard decisions in government. As a health minister, for example, the means test on private health insurance saved billions of dollars that we said we’d reinvest in the National Disability Insurance Scheme. We’ve actually got higher debt and deficit now, after five years of Liberal government. Around the world, global economies are improving, they’re coming back after the Global Financial Crisis. And Australia is just adding to its debt and deficit. As you said earlier, we’ve broken the half trillion dollar debt mark. We actually saw the Liberals and the Greens, at the beginning of this term of government, agree to get rid of the debt ceiling. That’s an extraordinary admission that this Government can’t keep debt under control. But, what’s really crazy about what’s happening with this Government is they’re cutting health spending, they’re cutting education spending, they’re cutting funding for TAFE, all of the things that people care about. They’re reducing services, they’re putting up taxes other than the business tax and they’re still increasing the debt and deficit. That trifecta: you wouldn’t expect that in a million years. 

LANGDON: Now, just getting onto another issue here, so the government is looking to spy on Australian’s emails, bank accounts and text messages in order to increase cyber security. Would Labor consider spying on its citizens?

PLIBERSEK: The first thing to say is that it’s extraordinary that this national security leak has happened. There is obviously someone in government who is very concerned about this proposal, or this top secret “for Australian eyes only” document would not have been leaked. And, the second thing to say is we’ve been happy to work with the Government to keep Australia safe, to increase our national security. But it’s up to the Prime Minister to explain why the spying powers that our domestic spy agency, ASIO, and the investigative powers of the Australian Federal Police have, are not enough. If he really believes that those powers are not enough, let’s hear why. Let’s hear what the gaps are. We don’t know any of the details of this proposal. There’s been no consultation with Labor. So, I can’t offer you a hypothetical view on our response. But, I am very concerned about the leak in the first place. And I am very concerned that, superficially, this looks like another Dutton power grab rather than any real effort to keep Australians safer.

LANGDON: Tanya Plibersek, thank you for joining us this morning.

PLIBERSEK: Thank you.