Community steps into government breach as free RAT program ends for concession card holders

Today a community-led mutual aid project has launched to supply concession and low income health care card holders with free rapid antigen tests.

Project coordinator Paul McMillan saw a need for the community to respond when health minister Mark Butler confirmed the demise of the federal government free RATs program, contrary to advice from health authorities. The program was scheduled to end on 31 July but ratbag has received reports of welfare recipients struggling to access the scheme due to system outages on Sunday.

The end of the program is particularly risky for people who have to do activities to get their Centrelink payment, such as those on the JobSeeker payment. While living on just $46 a day, those on unemployment payments are forced to leave home to attend activities. A positive COVID test is required to avoid payment suspension when isolating and PCR tests have become increasingly hard to get.

The mutual aid project, known as ratbag, aims to facilitate free RATs by raising funds to purchase COVID tests and directly distribute to people who were previously able to access the government program. Shortly after the project was shared on Twitter on Sunday evening $2500 had been raised and offers were received to supply tests in bulk.

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

Quotes attributable to ratbag coordinator Paul McMillan:

“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.

“Not only is it a terrible blow to have this scheme end when there is clearly such great need, but to add insult to injury concession card holders who turned up to pharmacies yesterday were turned away.

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

“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.

“Already we have seen so much generosity. The government continues to let these people down, but the community is stepping up.”

Thanks to Nicky Minus for our beautiful logo art. This project was established with assistance from the Antipoverty Centre.