Logan Named as Second Trial Site for Drug Testing
23 August 2017 at 2:53 pm
The Queensland region of Logan has been unveiled as the second site for controversial drug testing trials that target welfare recipients.
Minister for Social Services Christian Porter, and Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge, made the announcement in Beenleigh on Wednesday, just a day after it was revealed Canterbury-Bankstown in Sydney’s southwest would be the first location for the two-year trial.
From 1 January 2018, 5,000 new recipients of Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance across three locations are set to be tested for illicit substances including ice (methamphetamine), ecstasy (MDMA) and marijuana (THC).
People who test positive to drug tests will continue to receive their welfare payment but 80 per cent of their payment will only be accessible through the government’s Income Management tool and cannot be used to pay for alcohol, tobacco or gambling.
Porter, who also announced a dedicated treatment fund of up to $10 million to support job seekers across the three sites, said job seekers in Logan with drug abuse issues would benefit from the trial as its primary focus was to help people overcome their drug issues and achieve independence through work.
“This trial is focused entirely on helping job seekers overcome drug problems and to receive the help they need to get on a path towards securing a job and building a better future for themselves and their families,” Porter said.
“It is not about penalising or stigmatising people who have a barrier to employment which is as serious as drug abuse. We want to help people in this situation. Failure to do so simply leaves people at risk of a cycle of welfare dependency.”
However the scheme, which is subject to the passage of legislation, has attracted widespread criticism since it was first announced in the federal budget in May.
Speaking in the wake of the Tuesday’s announcement the Royal Australasian College of Physicians called on the federal government to abandon its plan.
RACP president of the chapter of addiction medicine Dr Adrian Reynolds said the RACP wanted to work with the government to create effective policy solutions for people battling drug and alcohol addiction but drug testing Australians on welfare was “not the way to do it”.
“Drug testing welfare recipients and removing their support won’t connect them with the treatment and rehabilitation services they need. This policy will fail and it will lead to poor health outcomes for this community,” Reynolds said.
RACP president Dr Catherine Yelland said the policy of drug testing welfare recipients had failed in other countries.
“As doctors we value evidence and the evidence in this area shows that drug testing trials don’t work,” Yelland said.
“The experience of countries like the USA and New Zealand tells us that drug testing has a poor record in identifying people with drug problems and modifying drug use. Why would a similar pilot program that drug tested Australians produce a different outcome?”
“All indications are that it will further marginalise people who already experience a greater burden of social, physical and financial disadvantage.”
Her comments were echoed by shadow minister for finance Jim Chalmers who said the latest announcement was “more about bagging Logan and getting a cheap headline” than about getting people off welfare and into work.
“This idea has been tried elsewhere and it didn’t work,” Chalmers said.
“We have our share of challenges but I’m worried that pushing the most vulnerable in our community to the brink will only make unemployment, homelessness and crime worse.”
Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said drug testing people trying to access income support was “designed more to appeal to the Turnbull government’s conservative base than actually address the issue of drug addiction”.
“Consistent advice from drug and alcohol experts has rejected the approach. This is just a way of saying ‘we are being tough on drugs’ but with no real substance,” Siewert said.
“This is a flawed measure that will further vilify people who need support. Drug addiction needs to be treated as a health issue across Australia, we need to move past this so called tough on drugs approach”.