Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has described allegations that the Commonwealth was requisitioning rapid antigen tests (RATs) as “categorically untrue,” saying the government “would never do that” and that the tests are being prioritised for vulnerable Australians.
The prime minister’s comments come after suppliers Werko, Star Hygiene, and HiCraft accused the federal government of diverting RAT supplies upon their arrival in Australia, intercepting orders meant for retailers.
So far no supplier has been able to provide evidence to backup their claims, with one supplier even retracting an earlier allegation after being investigated.
Speaking at the National Cabinet press conference on Thursday, Morrison said the federal government, through the Department of Health, is reporting the “false claims” to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). He stressed that “at no time has the Department sought to place itself ahead of other commercial and retail entities.”
“We deal with the suppliers directly as do the state and territory governments and they enter into commercial arrangements with them as do the wholesalers and others who were sourcing supplies in the private market,” he said.
“So while we are aware there are supply constraints within the market, it is expected supply will normalise over coming weeks.”
The prime minister added that the RAT tests ordered by the government will be given to the healthcare and aged care workforce, those who are symptomatic or close contacts, as well as vulnerable individuals particularly those in Indigenous communities.
His opinion was echoed by Health Minister Greg Hunt, who said some companies had “over-promised” RAT supplies to the federal and state governments, as well as to community or private purchasers.
Meanwhile, RAT supplies are expected to remain volatile until February, with the ACCC noting it has received over 1,800 reports of price gouging by retailers.
Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler called for transparency around RAT supplies.
“There’s enormous confusion around at the moment about what is happening with supplies of rapid tests,” he said.
“As a result, we end up in a situation in Australia that resembles the Hunger Games—this sort of clash between state governments, between the private sector and the Commonwealth government—and Australians end up paying the price for that.”
South Australia Premier Steven Marshall on Wednesday announced he had also asked the national consumer watchdog, the ACCC, to investigate whether RATs had been directed to the NSW and Victorian governments.
“If these allegations prove correct, it’s quite possible that they are illegal, anti-competitive and, of course, they’re a massive kick in the guts for South Australia,” Marshall said. “If they (the tests) have been taken by another state, that’s outrageous.”