Wednesday, 15 August 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator McKenzie. Yesterday the Senate agreed, without any opposition, to my motion to remove the GST from breastfeeding aides. Can the minister confirm the longstanding health and medical consensus that breastmilk is the optimum source of nourishment for infants in the first six months of life?
Thank you, Senator Leyonhjelm. Yes, I can confirm that breastfeeding provides short-term and long-term health benefits to both the child and the mother and contributes to reduced chronic disease. The World Health Organization advises that breastfeeding stimulates bonding with mothers and assists psychosocial development. It's also key to improved nutrition and physical growth, reduced susceptibility to common childhood illnesses and better resistance to cope with them.
The Australian Health Ministers' Advisory Council and the Department of Health are developing an enduring Australian national breastfeeding strategy which will aim to create an enabling environment to protect, promote, support and value breastfeeding across Australia. The strategy is being developed in conjunction with states and territories, key stakeholders and experts in the field. The final strategy will be handed to AHMAC at the end of this year.
More broadly, the coalition government has made significant investments to support infant and maternal health, including investing $39.5 million to list on the PBS from 1 July this year whooping cough vaccinations for pregnant women. This will ensure that mothers and babies are vaccinated against whooping cough during pregnancy and from birth, before the baby can be vaccinated at six weeks of age. We've also committed $17.5 million for women's health research and a Maternal Health and First 2000 Days initiative through the Medical Research Future Fund to develop novel tools to improve infant and maternal health into the future. We're delivering $3 million to support the development of easy-to-understand resources and education materials about healthy pregnancies. We will invest $600,000 for improving education for women with gestational diabetes about the risk that they and their children have of developing type 2 diabetes and encouraging follow-up testing to avoid, prevent and detect the condition.
Thank you, Senator Leyonhjelm, but I don't actually accept the premise of your question. Goods and services across the economy that have a wide range of health and maternal benefits for both infant and mother attract the GST, from which the states and territories can fund positive policies and initiatives that target infant and maternal health. As the senator will be aware, matters relating to changing the GST would require the unanimous support of all states and territories. Likewise, the operation and any future changes to the GST are a matter for the Treasury portfolio colleagues in cabinet. In that respect, I would refer them to Senator Cormann.
Will the minister ensure that, in coordination with her ministerial colleagues, the issue of removing the GST from breastfeeding aids is on the agenda for the next meeting of the relevant COAG ministerial council?
As I advised in my previous answer, that's not in my purview as the Minister for Sport, Minister for Regional Communications and Minister or Rural Health. Under the Intergovernmental Agreement on Federal Financial Relations and Commonwealth legislation, a change to the rate or the base of the GST would need to be supported by all states and territories in addition to the passage of relevant legislation by both houses of the Commonwealth parliament. As advised by the Treasurer, sections 38 to 47 of A New Tax System (Goods and Services Tax) Act 1999, relate to other GST-free health goods. Any changes to that would need states and territories to unanimously agree. State and territory treasurers are welcome to propose items for the agenda of the meeting for the COAG Council of Federal Financial Relations. I would encourage you, Senator Leyonhjelm, seeing as you feel so strongly about this matter, to make representations to individual states on your position.