Federal health minister Greg Hunt says Labor’s call to make rapid antigen tests free is “dangerous and irresponsible policy” and claims it could “destroy the supply chain” while diverting tests away from hospitals and critical industries.
It comes as unions continue to push for rapid antigen tests to be free and widely available for all, and for employers to provide the tests to critical workers once supply is available.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese confirmed on Tuesday that Labor’s position was “tests should be free”.
“They should be made available to people so that the economy can function, so that people can go to work and so that they can do so safely,” he said.
However, Hunt criticised Labor for not considering the impact free tests would have on supply chains when questioned on Tuesday why Australia had not prepared for supplies to be widely available and for the tests to be free.
“If you had the daily use of 10 million a day, over 100 days, that is one billion tests; if you had it over 300 days, that’s three billion tests,” he said.
“It’s not a matter of cost, it’s a matter of supply chain and of diverting those tests from people who most need them; it’s a very dangerous and irresponsible policy.”
He said the policy would deny hospitals access to tests, as well as positive cases, close contacts and critical industries.
“Their policy, if you calculate it out, could lead from anywhere between one to three billion tests, destroy the supply chain … [it] was not considered, there are no numbers, they have not done the work and it could have a profound impact on denying healthcare where it is vitally needed,” Hunt said.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions on Monday continued to condemn the government for not making the tests free.
“The Morrison government has ignored repeated calls over the last 6 months from unions regarding the urgent need to procure RATs as an essential part of our Covid defence,” ACTU’s leaders said in a statement.
“Free RATs are needed for the whole community to limit the spread and keep people safe, not just essential workers.”
The union has called for RATs to be provided to critical workers when supply becomes available, as well as masks and upgrades to ventilation, and threatened industrial action if employers failed to act.
“The union movement determines to do everything within its power to ensure the safety of workers and the community. This may include ceasing work or banning unsafe practices,” the ACTU’s statement said.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in a video posted to social media on Tuesday said that striking would be “exactly the wrong thing, at the wrong time for the economy, and for people’s jobs”.
“Such drastic action, and intimidation, and threats, have no place in the middle of a pandemic,” Frydenberg said.