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Community-led program will supply free RATs as federal program ends

1 August 2022 at 4:18 pm
Danielle Kutchel
The community has stepped up where the federal government has stepped back, but states are also going it alone. 

Danielle Kutchel | 1 August 2022 at 4:18 pm


Community-led program will supply free RATs as federal program ends
1 August 2022 at 4:18 pm

The community has stepped up where the federal government has stepped back, but states are also going it alone. 

As the federal government’s free rapid antigen test (RAT) program for concession card holders comes to an end, a community project has stepped up to fill the gap.

Ratbag, a mutual aid project, launched to provide free RATs to concession and low income health care card holders.

The launch of the project comes after federal health minister Mark Butler confirmed that the free RAT program would not be extended beyond the end of July.

Ratbag project coordinator Project coordinator Paul McMillan identified the gap that this lack of federal support would create. 

“Without a RAT, many welfare recipients will be forced to choose between leaving home while contagious or losing their poverty payment. Others will choose between food and testing,” McMillan said.

He said Ratbag had heard of concession card holders being turned away from pharmacies the day before the government’s scheme was due to end, leaving without the RATs they were entitled to.

“That people were prevented from accessing the government’s scheme a day before it was supposed to end is extremely unhelpful.”

Ratbag aims to facilitate free RATs by raising funds to purchase COVID tests and directly distribute them to people who were previously able to access the government program – some of our most vulnerable, who often don’t have the means to purchase the tests, McMillan added.

“Skyrocketing costs of living are impacting the poorest most of all. At a time when COVID cases are peaking and new strains are emerging, we can’t ask people who are already skipping meals, medication and other essentials to bear even more costs.”

Last month, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) urged the government to continue its program and warned that scrapping the program would put vulnerable people at risk.

“We must keep in mind that [the cost of a RAT] is a considerable expense for many people, and that some of us have jobs that involve regularly coming into close contact with many different people during the day. When you factor in that someone may have to take multiple tests over numerous days you can see how it quickly becomes unaffordable. With COVID-19 case numbers climbing across Australia and limited PCR testing available, it is critical to ensure as many people as possible can access RATs when they need to,” RACGP president, Adjunct Professor Karen Price said.

“If people can’t access RATs, our entire health system will come under even more immense pressure. In order to access pathways of clinical care for COVID-19 in the community, including recently expanded antiviral treatments, it is necessary to have a positive test. Determining whether an individual is COVID-19-positive also helps to stop the spread of the disease in workplaces and in the broader community.”

Community leaps into action

Shortly after Ratbag was shared on Twitter on Sunday evening, $2500 had been raised for tests and offers were received to supply tests in bulk.

McMillan thanked the community for “stepping up” to fill the gap left by the end of the government’s scheme.

Concession card holders will be able to access free RATs by completing the form available on the ratbag website. Supporters can also contribute through the site. 

People who do not have a concession card because they are unable to access a welfare payment will be able to submit a request.

Ratbag will obtain rapid antigen tests from retail pharmacies but is seeking discounted or wholesale sources. Anyone with information or contacts that may be able to help can get in contact via

Victoria continues RAT program

Meanwhile, the Victorian government has extended its supply of free RATs to people with disability until the end of September.

People with disability in Victoria can continue to access 20 free RATs per visit from state-run testing sites and from disability liaison officers.

Eligible people include NDIS participants, disability support pensioners and people with a disability who receive a Transport Accident Commission benefit, and carers can also access the tests on behalf of eligible people with disability.

“Early detection of COVID-19 helps protect people from serious illness by ensuring earlier diagnosis and treatment – and this is especially so for the most vulnerable in our community who experience its effects more harshly,” said Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers Colin Brooks.

Similarly, the Tasmanian, New South Wales and South Australian state governments now supply free RATs to concession card holders.

Danielle Kutchel  |  @ProBonoNews

Danielle is a journalist specialising in disability and CALD issues, and social justice reporting. Reach her on or on Twitter @D_Kutchel.

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