Renewed push to drug test ‘vulnerable’ welfare recipients criticised

Matt Woodley

6/09/2019 4:10:41 PM

The plan could see around 5000 recipients of Newstart or Youth Allowance undergo mandatory drug testing as part of a two-year trial.

Social Services Minister Anne Ruston
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the testing will help welfare recipients with drug issues get ‘job ready’. Image: AAP

According to the proposed bill, welfare recipients who test positive would be placed on ‘income management’ for up to two years, which would see 80% of their welfare payment deposited into a cashless debit card.
Should the person test positive for a second time, they would be referred to a medical professional for an assessment of their circumstances in order to identify treatment options – including rehabilitation – supported by the creation of a $10 million Treatment Fund.
The Federal Government has said the trial, which would be established in Logan (QLD), Canterbury-Bankstown (NSW) and Mandurah (WA), is different to a similar proposal floated in 2017, insofar as it is primarily designed to identify and assist people with drug issues.
‘People on welfare who take drugs are denying themselves the best opportunity to take advantage of the jobs we are creating,’ Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said.
‘The Morrison Government is trialling reforms [to] the welfare system to ensure that we can identify and encourage people with substance abuse issues to get treatment, rehabilitate and make them job ready.’
However, GP and addiction medicine specialist Dr Paul Grinzi told newsGP the new bill may still worsen outcomes in the longer term.
‘The Minister fails to understand that living with an addiction brings about issues of blame, stigma and shame,’ he said.
‘Drug testing these vulnerable members of our community is only going to perpetuating these issues, not “assist” in any sort of long-term recovery.
‘Policies to decrease the stigma and blame around addiction would be a better approach than this proposed drug testing policy.’
Other groups, including the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL), Anglicare Australia, and the Australian Council of Social Service (ACSS) have also condemned the move.
Part of the Government’s justification for the move is to identify people struggling with drug addiction; however, AIVL Chief Executive Melanie Walker believes this is a futile pursuit given there is already inadequate access to drug treatment services for those in need.
‘There is substantial unmet demand within the AOD [alcohol and other drug] treatment sector across Australia, with an estimated 200,000–500,000 Australians each year unable to access treatment,’ she said.
‘Despite additional investment into drug support services in these [proposed] areas, AIVL is concerned that this will not be enough to adequately enhance system capacity and will displace those who voluntarily seek support for their drug use.
‘In addition to being abusive and counter-productive, this trial is proposed without evidence of widespread drug use amongst people receiving income support or any indication that punitive compliance practices work.’
Labor and the Greens are also opposed, which would mean the Government would require at least four of the six crossbench senators to pass the legislation through the Upper House.
Senator Jacquie Lambie has previously indicated she will only support drug testing of welfare recipients if MPs also submit to random drug testing – a move to which Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Finance Minister Matthias Cormann have both said they are open.
The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found unemployed people were more than three times as likely to use methamphetamines and 1.5 times more likely to use cannabis than those with jobs.
It is expected the legislation will be introduced in the Lower House next week.

addiction drug use medicine welfare

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