SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia will remove a controversial sales tax on women's sanitary products, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Wednesday, a move widely seen as an effort by the centre-right government to win favour with female voters before an election due by May.
Products such as condoms and sunscreen are exempt from the 10 percent goods and services tax that has been added to all other items sold in Australia for almost 20 years, including female sanitary products.
Frydenberg said the tax would be removed from Jan. 1, 2019, after the approval of Australian state and territory lawmakers was secured.
"We're really delighted that everyone's come on board to scrap what is an unfair tax," Kelly O'Dwyer, minister for women, told reporters in Melbourne.
"Millions of Australian women will benefit as a result."
Canada dumped a similar tax in 2015 after a petition was signed by more than 70,000 people, while Britain will scrap its equivalent tax on tampons from 2022.
"The government has a problem with female voters, particularly centrists who have been turned off by some of its rhetoric," said Peter Chen, professor of political science at the University of Sydney.
"In the era of #MeToo, it is a move that was a inevitable," he said.
The politically unpopular tax will cease in Australia four months before the next election is due. Opinion polls indicate the government is on course for a heavy defeat, with voters angry about the ousting of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull in a party-room coup in August.
New Prime Minister Scott Morrison emerged as a compromise candidate after a challenge to Turnbull was launched by the right wing of the Liberal party, the senior partner in the Liberal-National coalition.
A recent opinion poll showed the government was trailing the main opposition Labor party by 54 percent to 46 percent on a two-party preferred basis under Australia's preferential voting system, where votes from minor parties are redistributed.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Paul Tait)