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Premier wants Medicare to foot the bill for Qld's $150 border tests

Politics

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has waded into a war of words with the Federal Government over $150 COVID-19 tests, saying the State will not back down.

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She said that Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt could readily ease the cost burden on would-be travellers by making the tests Medicare-rebated.

Palaszczuk, speaking at the opening on a new school on the Gold Coast on Tuesday, was standing firm on the need for anyone coming into the State from virus hotspots to pay $150 each for a PCR test.

She said it was disappointing that her Federal counterparts were now playing politics, calling for the matter to be discussed at the next National Cabinet meeting.

“I will let Greg Hunt look after his job and I will do my job. Now is not the time to fight, now is the time to actually work together … I would like to see this issue resolved at National Cabinet,” Palaszczuk said.

“Let’s work together and work out a solution,” she said, echoing her previous statements that her job is keeping Queenslanders safe.

“Greg Hunt can quite easily make it a Medicare rebate, he could do that with a stroke of the pen.”

Palaszczuk said day trips to Sydney would not be happening until more Queenslanders are vaccinated.

“Going to Sydney for a day or two would be out of the question until we get to 90 per cent double dose,” Palaszczuk said.

She said that if the virus gets across the border into Queensland it would be a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” adding that it would “spread like wildfire” through the unvaccinated population of the Gold Coast.

The Premier said the need for the $150 PCR test was a temporary measure until the State reached 90 per cent double vaccinated, at which point the PCR test would be scrapped.

On Tuesday, the State had 73.44 per cent double jabbed.

Doubling down on her Government’s controversial stand, Palaszczuk claimed she didn’t want to see the people of her State “get COVID for Christmas”.

“The Federal Government might, but I don’t.”

The comments come after Hunt penned a strongly-worded letter to State health Minister Yvette D’ath.

Hunt said he was concerned that Queensland is not considering accepting rapid antigen tests (RAT) for interstate visitors, nor providing free PCR tests for Queensland residents returning home.

“RAT offers significant advantages in cost, speed and convenience, and I encourage you to further consider what role it could play in Queensland’s border arrangements,” he wrote.

The rapid antigen tests cost about $30. Queensland says they are not as effective as the PCR tests and that other States are also using the more expensive option.

It comes as tourism bodies expressed concern the expensive tests would turn people away from holidaying in Queensland.

Queensland will scrap quarantine for fully vaccinated domestic travellers from declared hotspots once it hits the 80 per cent vaccination target, however they will also need to show proof on arrival of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of travel.

Hunt says hotspots are declared by the Commonwealth, not the states, and declarations are automatically repealed on jurisdictions that reach 80 per cent vaccination coverage.

“This declaration is a Queensland-only definition of a hot spot and has not been declared by the Australian government’s Chief Medical Officer,” Hunt wrote in the letter.

“Under the National Plan, agreed to by all first ministers, the Commonwealth’s hotspot declaration automatically ceases within a particular state or territory two weeks after the 80 per cent fully vaccinated rate has been reached within that jurisdiction.”

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet says the cost of up to $150 per test for asymptomatic travellers is onerous and national cabinet needs to come to an agreement to subsidise the test.

“That would be the common sense approach,” he told Sydney radio 2GB on Tuesday.

“We can’t have domestic travel working that way. People just won’t travel.”

The national plan does not compel states to automatically lift restrictions on fully vaccinated domestic travellers, it only says they “may” do so.

The health minister said the federal government has jointly funded $270 million for PCR testing within state and territory clinics since the pandemic began.

He suggested the Commonwealth was ready to fund testing within Queensland to ensure there would be no costs imposed on people needing a test, including for interstate travel.

“Given there has been no change to these arrangements, it is unclear to me why Queensland would now be suggesting that a different approach should be taken,” Hunt said.

“It is difficult to see any reason for this other than Queensland seeking to remove its responsibility to ensure the provision of testing, including bearing 50 per cent of costs, as agreed under the partnership.”

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