Anthony Albanese has backflipped on his promise to give all Australians free rapid antigen tests, saying “times had changed”.
The Opposition leader on Saturday told journalists in Launceston that Labor’s stance on free RATs was no longer on offer to the Australian public, despite an earlier pledge to hand them out to everyone.
While speaking alongside his Labor Bass candidate Ross Hart, Mr Albanese criticised the Morrison Government’s slow vaccine rollout, limited supplies of RATs and sluggish response to the Omicron wave, claiming it brought the economy to a standstill.
He said under a Labor Government, RATs would no longer be available to all Australians for free — on a day where the country recorded more than 29,000 new infections and 36 deaths.
A total of 9243 of these were in WA.
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“Well the times, of course, have changed. The times have changed and what we would do is consider the health advice at the time,” Mr Albanese said.
“At the time there was an urgent need to get RATs out to people who were struggling and one of the things that happened at that time as well, as the government said, go to your local pharmacy, and you can get a free RAT test if you’re a concession card holder.
“But when people went to their local pharmacies, they were told ‘no they’re not the free ones; you’ve got to pay (as) the free ones aren’t available’.
“The government was too slow. The government was too slow to order vaccines, and it was too slow to organise rapid antigen tests.”
It comes after Mr Albanese in January — at the height of the Omicron wave — said Labor would provide free RATs to all Australians if elected this year, saying people would get access to a “limited” number through Medicare.
“This is not a radical proposition,” Mr Albanese said at the time.
“They should be available through the Medicare schedule, you would have a limit, as there is, the government has put a limit on concession card holders.
“That’s the way that you can control supply, it’s not rocket science here, that’s the benefit of having Australia’s Medicare system.”
Earlier in January, the Federal Government announced eligible concession card holders, including pensioners and low-income earners, would be able to pick up 10 free RATs over a three-month period at participating pharmacies.
That policy has been extended until July 31.