Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has blamed Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the federal government for the supply shortage of rapid antigen tests (RAT).
It comes after the federal government placed an order for over $60 million RATs to five tenders, each under the condition of “extreme urgency or events unforeseen.”
“How is it we have got to this point? The rapid antigen tests were approved last September. The national plan made it clear that once we opened up, there would be an increased number of infections,” Albanese told the ABC.
He said that groups like the Australian Medical Association (AMA) had predicted the increased number of infections, and the government’s tender had disrupted the normal commercial trade of RATs.
“This is the third year of the pandemic,” Albanese said. “[Morrison] doesn’t have to be Nostradamus here. He just needs to have listened to the health experts and acted.”
However, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the government would bring in supply but wasn’t sure if they would be funding “free” tests.
“I don’t even like saying free because nothing is free. All that happens is you just pay for it on your tax later on. If you want something to be free, you’re fooling yourself because the money doesn’t just fall out of the air. We just take it off your wages and your salaries and tax your businesses to pay for them,” he told Nine network.
Joyce later added that people such as pensioners and those in aged care would have access to RATs for free.
Health associations and unions have been calling on the government to provide free RATs for all Australians, with priority given to frontline workers.
“Equity matters—as it does for every aspect of public health. The people most at risk from the pandemic are often least able to afford RATs, if they can find any,” Public Health Association of Australia CEO Terry Slevin said on Jan. 5. “Everyone has the right to access RATs, not just those who can afford it, nor the insatiable desires of retailers who have the unusually close ear of government.”
The Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sally McManus accused Morrison of ignoring growing calls to make RATs free.
“The first priority of any government should be to keep their citizens safe. We need the tools to achieve this, which are free and accessible rapid antigen tests,” she said.