Tony Abbott has a tampon problem on his hands

A truck and giant dancing tampons protesting against tax on sanitary products on the front lawn of Parliament House in ...

A truck and giant dancing tampons protesting against tax on sanitary products on the front lawn of Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Go on, Prime Minister. You can say it. I promise, it won't hurt a bit.

Not like period pain, or childbirth, or sitting up after a caesarean.

The word is TAMPON.

Giant dancing tampons protesting against tax on sanitary products on the front lawn of Parliament House in Canberra on ...

Giant dancing tampons protesting against tax on sanitary products on the front lawn of Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Perhaps you could work hard to break it down (God knows the sewerage system does).

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'Tamp' means "to ram or pack down into something firmly" and 'on' means "physically in contact with, and supported by, a surface".

Really, it sounds a bit like Tampa, so it should be quite easy for you.

But it's not.

Neither was it for John Howard.

Why do male politicians, with wives and daughters, turn into shy schoolboys when talking about menstruation?

There's a whiff of 19th century bloomers about the whole affair.

"Well, of course, you're supposed to make babies and stay at home and clean the house and whatnot, but PLEASE don't tell us about your plumbing!"

This was written across Joe Hockey's face, as he awkwardly answered a question about the tampon tax on Q&A. 

The Treasurer promised student Subeta Vimalarajah – whose CommunityRun petition has garnered around 100,000 signatures – to cost the axing of the tax, and take it to the states in July. 

A day later, Tony Abbott pulled out of any commitment: "I understand there's long been a push to take the GST off goods, which are one way or another regarded as health products. It's certainly not something that this Government has a plan to do. There's a long history to this matter." 

"Goods". "Products". "Matter".

It's easy to make fun of conservative politicians for their discomfort.

But the history of this debate is littered with politicians – male and female, of all political persuasions – misunderstanding, belittling and, frankly, forgetting more than 10 million menstruating Australians.

(Sure, the GST is a small portion of this. But even Coles acknowledges it's a burden, cutting the cost of female hygiene products by 10 per cent.)

Back in 2000, when the GST was first applied, then Health Minister Michael Wooldridge was forced to apologise after likening tampons to shaving cream. 

Guess what, Michael: women shave too. Besides, it's not technically a sanitary issue, aside from a handful of hipsters in Newtown.

Democrats leader Meg Lees said she hadn't realised they were tax exempt before the GST: "Well, I'm afraid it just went past. It was one of those issues that wasn't, I guess, on the front issue."

This goes some way to explaining the demise of the Democrats.

One of the few politicians who 'got it' was Opposition Health Spokesperson Jenny Macklin: "This is a $20 million tax, for the first time, on all Australian women who need to use either tampons or pads every month."

Still, Labor refused to remove the tax under both Rudd and Gillard.

Yet it's quite simple.

The federal government can enact legislation to change Item 18 of Schedule 3 in the GST Act then seek approval from the states.

(This was done in 2014 to refund overpaid GST to taxpayers; in 2013, to remove some taxes under the NDIS; in 2012, to change the rules for credit unions; and in 2011, to exempt certain boats.)

In this case, Labor and the Greens support the removal of the tax, and five of the eight states and territories agree.

It seems Tony Abbott is making a rookie mistake.

He's feeding into the narrative of a bullyboy who thinks women should be at home doing the ironing, are physiologically unsuited to leadership, and have abortions as a convenience. 

Sure, there are more important issues for women, like domestic violence, poverty in retirement, genital mutilation, sexual harassment and the pay gap.

But gender inequality is a spectrum disorder.

Viewing women's reproductive systems as something disgusting, which deserves to be hidden, is demeaning.

Today, to reinforce the message that periods aren't a picnic, people in tampon suits will high-five federal politicians, while a truck displays a billboard of the PM hiding behind a tampon.

(There was also a huge photo of a bloodied pad, but this was considered too confronting.)

Women are bloody angry about this: GetUp's Facebook post about the campaign has reached more than a million, while some 11,000 submissions have been made to the Better Tax Review. 

With submissions closing on June 1, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to scrap the tax.

It might even lead to a wider discussion about women being disadvantaged by the tax system.

"The reason this has not been addressed already, and why sanitary products were originally not exempt, is either because politicians are too awkward to confront the reality of periods or they just want us to literally pay for them. Either way, it's sexist," Subeta writes in Sydney University's paper, Honi Soit.

So-called 'essential items', such as condoms, lubricants and sunscreen, are exempt from the GST.

If anyone thinks tampons and pads are not essential, they should go back to the days of blood-stained rags hanging on the line.

Somehow, I don't think that would be a good look at Kirribilli House.