‘Outrageous’: retailers referred to AFP for price gouging rapid antigen tests | Health

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Retailers charging “beyond outrageous” prices for rapid antigen tests are being referred to the federal police for investigation, as supply issues continue to hamper Australia’s testing regime.

The chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, Rod Sims, said on Monday the consumer watchdog had received many reports of price gouging, which is now illegal under new laws that prevent profit margins of more than 20% on tests.

With reports of retailers charging more than $30 for a single hard-to-find rapid testing kit, Sims said the regulator was preparing to take action on the “beyond outrageous” price markups.

“Clearly we are facing a supply issue. More supply is needed, we keep being assured that more supply is coming both from government agencies and the private sector,” Sims said.

“But, when you have rapid antigen tests that are designed for use by trained professionals and they are being sold … without proper instruction, that is extremely concerning because people may take comfort from a test that they didn’t know how to perform properly, and I think that is an even worse outcome,” he said.

“We have also had reports that look as if people have bought the goods … and then on-sold them at more than 20% markup and that is illegal under the government’s recent announcement, and we are referring anything that looks of that nature to the Australian federal police,” Sims said.

He said the government was also looking at reports of some retailers breaking up wholesale packs of kits to sell individually, which is prohibited by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and some suggesting the federal government was requisitioning commercial supplies.

“We have an eye to naming and shaming, but we are also looking at whether the conduct could amount to unconscionable conduct and we’re looking at what is being said to see whether consumers are being misled, as well as referring matters to the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the federal police in appropriate circumstances, so a lot going on,” Sims said.

The health minister, Greg Hunt, has denied claims that have appeared on social media suggesting the commonwealth was requisitioning rapid antigen tests from pharmacists.

He told ABC’s Radio National on Monday that the claims were “false”.

“We have written to those that made them. We’ve seen them withdrawn, and that was, frankly, it was a plain lie,” he said.

Sims said the regulator had received a letter from Hunt over the weekend on the matter giving assurance that the practice was not happening. Pharmacists’ claiming it was “would amount to misleading conduct”, Sims said.

The regulator said while court action would take some time, the penalties available to the ACCC could “be extremely high”.

“If we found large stores and chains engaging in this sort of behaviour, we won’t hesitate to take action and the penalties will be very large.”

Sims said reports about price gouging had focused on tobacconists and petrol stations, but some pharmacies had also been reported to the regulator.

While Hunt has defended the government’s procurement of the rapid antigen tests, the Victorian deputy premier, James Merlino, said on Monday the state would have preferred a stronger national approach.

Victoria has ordered 44m tests, with 3m of these having already arrived. The government is prioritising these tests for the state’s priority workforce, at-risk Victorians and community organisations.

“We’re trying to get as many as we possibly can and as quickly as we can. It would have been better if there had been a national approach [to procuring RATs]. That did not happen,” he said.

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