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Scott Morrison backflips on COVID tests decision

·Personal Finance Editor
·4-min read
A gloved hand using a rapid antigen test and Scott Morrison looking concerned.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will take a proposal to national cabinet today to consider subsidising rapid antigen tests for some Aussies. (Source: Getty)

Days after the Prime Minister said the Government would not provide free rapid antigen tests, Scott Morrison has seemingly backflipped on the idea.

Morrison is expected to take a plan to the national cabinet today to provide a subsidy for people on low incomes.

The plan will see welfare recipients and pensioners get cash payments for up to five rapid tests, or even more if states also put money on the table.

They would need to meet eligibility requirements to qualify for the subsidy.

Morrison could also announce the government will provide millions of free RAT kits to be handed out at state and territory testing centres.

The national cabinet is meeting today for the first time in 2022 to discuss community concerns around access to the kits, which have been difficult to source and have escalated in price.

Infectious diseases expert Professor Robert Booy said the proposed measures would go some way to alleviating pressure on testing clinics, but they should be made free for everyone.

"We can't have a system that doesn't work, we need to be able to test people by PCR if they have got symptoms or if they are a very close contact," he told the Nine Network on Wednesday.

"We need to do something and rapid antigen tests are the solution."

COVID-19 cases are soaring across the country, with NSW recording over 35,000 cases today, less than a week after changes to testing and isolation arrangements and rules were announced.

The ACTU on Wednesday branded Morrison's mooted proposal "an attempt to distract from his ongoing failure to make rapid antigen tests free and accessible for all Australians".

"Mr Morrison is planning to divide the nation by giving a small number of Australians limited access to the health care they need, while everyone else is left to fend for themselves," ACTU acting secretary Liam O'Brien said.

"This does nothing to help small businesses and those that work for them keep their workplaces safe and open."

Plan slammed by Labor

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has slammed the Prime Minister’s plan to provide payments for people to purchase tests themselves, saying it would be more appropriate to provide the tests free.

“People are crying out for action. Small business is crying out for action. There is an economic cost to this health failure,” Albanese said at a news conference.

“The economic consequences of this Government’s failure to put in place a proper system is there for all to see ... And it’s clear that the cost of tests is dwarfed by the cost of inaction.”

Albanese said the Morrison Government should purchase the RAT kits at the national level and work with the states and territories to make them available.

“It is very clear that the simplest way to do this is to make those tests free and make them available,” he said.

Test price gouging

This comes after the CEO of Sydney rapid antigen test and personal protective equipment distributor All Cast PPE called on the Government to crack down on price gouging, claiming retailers were holding back on supplies to artificially inflate prices.

“There is cartel-like behaviour, and this pushes prices up and increases demand. People get desperate and they’re playing on the emotions of people,” Scott Huntsman told Yahoo Finance.

All Cast PPE provides wholesale supplies to large companies including Officeworks and Woolworths, while also retailing online.

The rapid tests available online are currently on back order as All Cast meets its larger wholesale orders.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims warned the authority would "name and shame" retailers doing the wrong thing.

“We are seeking information from suppliers about their costs and the current pricing of rapid antigen tests,” Sims said.

“We are also asking them about their current stock levels, and the amounts on order, and about their expectations about when additional tests may become readily available to consumers.

“We are also contacting major retailers and pharmacies, seeking similar information and reminding them that they need to be able to substantiate any claims they make to consumers about the reason for higher prices.

- With AAP

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