Welfare advocates reject renewed push for drug testing trial
9 September 2019 at 11:27 am
Community groups have slammed the Morrison government’s revised push to drug test welfare recipients, warning there was no evidence the “demeaning” proposal would help people with substance abuse issues.
Under legislation set to be introduced next week, a drug testing trial for 5,000 new recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance would take place in Logan, Queensland, Canterbury-Bankstown in New South Wales and Mandurah in Western Australia.
Jobseekers testing positive for illicit substances will have 80 per cent of their payments quarantined onto a cashless welfare card, while a second positive test would see recipients referred to a rehabilitation program.
“This trial will assess the use of drug testing as a means of identifying job seekers with substance abuse issues that may be preventing them from finding a job, and support them to address these barriers,” Ruston said.
“Taxpayers expect the government to ensure their money is being spent responsibly and that welfare recipients are using it to put food on the table, send the kids to school and pay the bills rather than on drugs.”
But welfare advocates have come out in strong opposition to the $10 million proposal.
Leanne Ho, executive officer of the National Social Security Rights Network (NSSRN), told Pro Bono News she strongly opposed the drug testing trial.
She said it was an expensive measure that would have little positive impact on the communities living within the trial sites.
“It is poorly targeted and will predominantly affect new social security claimants who do not use drugs. It is a punitive measure that will push some people with no substance use issues onto a restrictive income management scheme,” Ho said.
“Experts agree that drug testing welfare recipients is not an effective method to address substance abuse issues and may in fact exacerbate them.”
The Australian Council of Social Service believes the government is trying to deflect from the “overwhelming, broad support” for an increase to Newstart and Youth Allowance.
Director of policy Jacqueline Phillips said the proposal was designed to stigmatise people struggling to get by on low incomes.
“Let’s be clear about what the government is asking people to do – it’s particularly demeaning to have to provide a urine sample just because you’re unfortunate enough to have lost your job, even when you may be in your fifties and have never touched drugs your life,” Phillips said said.
“Not only is this proposal demeaning, there’s no evidence that it would work.”
Anglicare Australia’s executive director Kasy Chambers said its previous research showed there were nearly six jobseekers for every vacancy within the trial communities.
“That’s the real problem – people are competing for jobs that just aren’t there. Forcing people to take drug tests before they can get help won’t achieve anything,” Chambers said.
She added that this approach had failed when taken in other countries.
“The countries that have trialled random drug testing have found that it’s costly and doesn’t achieve anything. In the US, it has cost up to US$1,600 per person,” she said.
“This plan has been rejected in Britain, rejected in Canada. It’s now up to the crossbench to reject these changes here.”
While One Nation is expected to support the proposal, Labor, the Greens and the Centre Alliance have all indicated their opposition to the measure in the past.
Labor’s social services spokesperson Linda Burney said Labor remained opposed to the trials.
“Randomised drug testing could see a 55-year-old being expected to urinate into a cup somewhere to prove that they are not a drug addict. That is inappropriate,” Burney said.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert said this approach would only serve to entrench disadvantage and poverty rather than addressing underlying barriers to work.
“This is a morally bankrupt government,” Siewert said.
“Trials aren’t needed, the evidence shows this approach won’t work. The Greens will call this out for what it is, an ideological approach that once again demonises those accessing our social safety net.”