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Government Revives Push For Welfare Drug Testing

28 February 2018 at 2:21 pm
Luke Michael
The Turnbull government has revived its push to introduce a controversial drug testing trial for welfare participants, despite continued opposition from Labor, The Greens and community groups.

Luke Michael | 28 February 2018 at 2:21 pm


Government Revives Push For Welfare Drug Testing
28 February 2018 at 2:21 pm

The Turnbull government has revived its push to introduce a controversial drug testing trial for welfare participants, despite continued opposition from Labor, The Greens and community groups.

Social Services Minister Dan Tehan introduced a bill to parliament on Wednesday, which would legislate a drug testing trial for new welfare recipients in Logan, Queensland, Canterbury-Bankstown in New South Wales and Mandurah in Western Australia.

The introduction of this stand-alone legislation comes after the government removed drug testing trials from their broader welfare reform bill in December, due to intense community backlash.

Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Tehan said these measures would address substance abuse as “one of the worst barriers to getting a job”.

“The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey shows that illicit drug use was more prevalent among the unemployed than employed people. Those who are unemployed were 3.1 times more likely to use methamphetamines and 1.5 times more likely to use cannabis,” Tehan said.

“The trial is not about taking away payments for those who test positive. This is about helping those people with a problem to get treatment, helping them to help themselves and then get a job.

“People who are part of the trial and test positive to illicit drugs would have access to treatment and rehabilitation to assist them in getting a job… [And] their treatment will be included in their mutual obligation for welfare payments.”

Tehan urged the other parties to support the bill, which he said was an opportunity to help the long-term unemployed “benefit from the 1,100 jobs we are creating a day”.

“We have put in place measures that will safeguard the vulnerable, including people who might also be the victims of domestic violence or homelessness. We are willing to try new measures and tackle drug abuse and ensure taxpayer money is aimed at getting people off welfare and into work,” he said.

“I say to those opposite: this is a trial. We encourage you to work with us. We want to help these people.

“We want to make sure that these people can benefit from the 1,100 jobs that are being created a day, that they can benefit from that jobs growth and that they can be part of the successful economy that we are now seeing.”

But despite this new push, Labor and The Greens indicated that they still opposed the measures.

Human services shadow minister Linda Burney said on Sky News on Tuesday that “Labor’s position hasn’t shifted”.

“What Labor has done is that we have listened to the experts. We’re talking about the AMA, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the people who actually work in this space and the people who understand,” Burney said.

“Why spend money on a process that we all know is not going to deliver anything. We know from before that the government has taken millions of dollars out from drug treatment funding. We’re not saying for one minute that we endorse the use of illicit drugs. We are saying very clearly that we are listening to the experts.”

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert called it a “costly waste of money and time”, while the party’s leader Richard Di Natale attacked the government for not consulting the Australian National Advisory Council on Alcohol and Drugs (ANACAD) about the measures.

“Every single independent expert consulted on the government’s ridiculous and cruel plan to drug test income support recipients has concluded that it was a bad idea that would make the problems of substance abuse and inequality worse, not better,” Di Natale said.

“And now the government has admitted that it hasn’t even bothered to consult with ANACAD, its own expert advisory body on alcohol and drugs.

“The fact that the Turnbull government is still planning to introduce this legislation without its own experts’ advice shows that they are more concerned with dog whistling to their right wing supporters about being ‘tough on crime’ than they are about addressing these serious issues.”

The Australian Council of Social Service have been long-time critics of welfare drug testing, and they reaffirmed their opposition to these measures on Wednesday.

ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie told Pro Bono News that parliament must reject this latest legislative attempt from the government.

“The parliament resoundingly rejected this policy last year. They must do so again. It is bad policy that serves to demonise people who are unemployed. The government can do better in their delivery of social safety net services,” Goldie said.

“We call on the cross-bench to stand firm and oppose this bill. They consulted widely when this bill was previously introduced. They will receive the same messages from health professionals when they consult again this time.

“The diagnosis and treatment of addictions is a health issue, not an issue for Centrelink and job agencies. The government must continue to do what they are good at doing providing a strong social safety net for all families in Australia.”

The not-for-profit Penington Institute, which works with those affected by drug abuse, also attacked the proposed drug testing trial.  

CEO John Ryan called on the government to listen to the experts and abandon the legislation.

“This bill has returned like a bad smell once again. It is disappointing but hardly surprising that the government has returned to the harmful idea of drug testing social security recipients,” Ryan said.

“These are people who rely on these social security payments for the bare necessities and this plan risks pushing them into crime or homelessness.”

“I once again call on the government to reconsider this retrograde approach to welfare, which will hurt people with substance abuse and mental health issues and risk community safety.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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