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Friday, January 21, 2022

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) launched an investigation into allegations of price gouging for COVID-19 rapid antigen tests (RATs) today following referrals from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC). The AFP warned that price gouging could attract a five year term of imprisonment and a AUD66,000 fine.

Under Australian law, price gouging occurs where an individual or business purchases a rapid antigen test kit from a retailer and then sells it for more than 20% of the purchase price. It does not apply to businesses who purchase kits from wholesalers. The AFP has power where it suspects price gouging is occurring to seize test kits and send them to the national medical stockpile.

The AFP said in a statement that it has commenced two investigations in New South Wales and Queensland, and expects more to follow. Investigations will be coordinated by Taskforce LOTUS, which was formed by the AFP in 2021 in response to threats surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The taskforce will refer allegations of price gouging to strike teams which are deployed Australia-wide.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Crime Command Nigel Ryan warned that the AFP would have zero tolerance for profiteering from rapid antigen tests.

“The AFP will use its full powers to crack down on RAT price gouging. Not only is price gouging of RATs unethical but it is illegal, and the AFP will use its significant resources to ensure it protects the public from the unlawful greed of others,” Assistant Commissioner Ryan said.

“Commonwealth and state agencies are working together on this issue, and under Taskforce LOTUS, the AFP makes no apologies for upholding the law to help keep Australians safe.”

“Those who breach the law face penalties of up to 5 years’ jail or a AUD66,000 fine. My message is clear. Do not risk jail time or a significant fine for a few extra dollars.”

On Monday, the ACCC said it had received 1800 reports from consumers since 25 December, with claims tests were sold as high as AUD500 for two on online marketplaces and AUD70 per test at convenience stores. “At the extreme end, we have received reports or seen media coverage of tests costing up to $500 for two tests through online marketplaces, and over $70 per test through convenience stores, service stations and independent supermarkets, which is clearly outrageous,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“There are several businesses that have repeatedly come to our notice thanks to the information provided by the public. We are asking those businesses to urgently explain the prices they are charging.”

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