Almost $600 million Rapid Antigen Test procurement should be probed

A State Government procurement, that cost taxpayers almost $600 million, should be investigated by the State’s Auditor General following evidence provided to budget estimates hearings this week.

In response to questions from the Shadow Regional Health Minister Martin Aldridge the McGowan Labor Government revealed no methodology had been used in the rushed procurement of more than 110 million Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT).

“The $578.9 million investment bypassed normal tendering processes using the emergency provisions of the Procurement Act 2020 to fast track the acquisition,” Mr Aldridge said.

“The McGowan Labor Government dropped the ball on establishing supply chains and supplier relationships after prohibiting the use of RATs for the best part of the last two years.

“With some industry exceptions it was unlawful to utilise a RAT in Western Australia until emergency directions were amended in January 2022.

“WA has been late to the party and paid a high price for the significant number of tests that it has procured.

“To put it in some context, the expenditure was equivalent to half the cost of the Perth Children’s Hospital with very little scrutiny or oversight in the process.”

Despite the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approving all tests used in Australia, doubt remains over the efficacy of some.

“Members of Parliament have assisted government in the distribution of free RATs, in part to assist in mitigating demand on our public hospitals and testing services,” Mr Aldridge said.

“I have, however, heard consistent feedback from constituents and this week have had my own first-hand experience that has cast doubt on the efficacy of saliva-based testing kits in particular.

“It is incumbent on government to immediately review the tests in light of the feedback it is receiving as it is relying on these tests, which it is distributing for people to receive a primary diagnosis and therefore the
requirement to isolate.”

Mr Aldridge wrote to the State’s Auditor General to request that she probe this significant financial transaction to ensure probity and transparency.

“Unlike other jurisdictions, Western Australia has had no public inquiry, independent review, or assessment of our response to COVID-19,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for the Auditor General to review the performance of the testing program but also the appropriateness of the financial transaction which bypassed all conventional processes of government

Mr Aldridge said he has suspended the distribution of any saliva-based testing kits from his office until he can be assured of their efficacy in detecting COVID-19.