While many countries have been proactive in combating the pandemic with free testing kits, the Liberal Government is determined to serve its own interests first, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.
ON JANUARY 5 2022, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that he would make Rapid Antigen Tests freely available to concession cardholders.
This change of heart followed days of sustained criticism and soaring prices, as R.A.T.s became increasingly scarce and some retailers took advantage of the shortage to price gouge.
Australia, Morrison made clear, would not be joining other Western countries such as the UK and the U.S. in providing free tests to their populations. That would, he and his ministers claimed, lead to hoarding and wastage, and people misusing them for “social reasons”.
Like me, you might have been labouring under the misapprehension that the purpose of R.A.T.s is social, in the sense of individuals taking responsibility for the larger society in which we live. We use R.A.T.s (or would, if we could get them) to ensure we aren’t infected with COVID-19 before we go out and about, mingling with family, friends and strangers.
They are the cornerstone (or would be, if we could get them) of personal responsibility, that moral virtue urged upon us by a government itself so bereft of moral virtue and responsibility, personal and collective, that one can only howl with bitter mirth when they speak these words out loud.
No doubt many people felt some small relief when we heard the Prime Minister appear to soften his hard stance and announce that those with concession cards of one kind or another would be able to access R.A.T.s free from their pharmacy. People already financially challenged would not have to go without the vital tests, however, the working poor without concession cards are, as usual, cast into outer darkness. No free tests for you.
Morrison’s neoliberal Pentecostal prosperity ideology continues to operate from the premise that if you haven’t got enough money, you’ve nobody to blame but yourself.
However, on Monday we learned that the Government is not going to supply the R.A.T.s to pharmacies. Instead, pharmacies must source their own supply, give them without charge to those eligible and then claim the costs back from the Government via a structure that is yet to be determined.
Whether or not pharmacies are willing to do this remains to be seen. They can hardly be blamed if they don’t. Anecdotally, several people have reported on social media that their pharmacists have said they cannot supply the tests to the eligible if those tests are not supplied to them by the Government.
The possibility of free tests seems less and less likely. Indeed, it seems to be just one more Morrison announcement without substance.
It would be easy if the Federal Government simply supplied pharmacies with the tests. After all, Morrison and his ministers have access to as many as they need whenever they need them for free despite their substantial salaries and presumably they are able to extend this rare privilege to their families and close associates.
However, as we have seen repeatedly throughout this pandemic, the Federal Government operates on the premise that everything must be as difficult and complicated and slow as possible, and must require minimum outlay of public money. This is not because it endeavours to be responsible with public monies entrusted to them, but because they wish to retain as much as possible for rorts, election campaigning and military hardware. In other words, everything they can use to their own advantage and not yours.
In a move eerily echoing the priorities of dictatorships rather than democracies – on the same morning as we discovered that free tests will not be available as we thought, that many places are without adequate food supplies and that extremely ill people are being treated in hospital car parks – Defence Minister Peter Dutton announced he has committed to spending $3.5 billion on tanks, as well as assorted accessories.
That any government would refuse to make free tests available to financially disadvantaged citizens is both scandalous and bitterly cruel. That any government would announce free tests and simultaneously make it almost impossible for them to be accessed is nothing short of sadistic.
No doubt over the next days, we will hear Morrison declare that he’s offered the tests and it’s up to the pharmacies to source them and claim a refund. If they aren’t prepared to do that, he’ll say, then they’re the ones depriving people of R.A.T.s.
It writes itself, doesn’t it? We’ve heard it so many times since this pandemic began. “I don’t hold the R.A.T.s, mate” is but the next manifestation.
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