The Morrison Liberal Government has introduced into parliament a bill to establish drug testing for people who receive welfare payments.
The move has drawn a sharp rebuke from drug reform advocates and health experts.
UnitingCare Australia National Director Claewen Little said “This trial will stigmatise those who rely on Newstart and Youth Allowance while doing nothing to address the underlying causes and effects of addiction.”
“If the Government is genuinely committed to preventing the harms associated with drug and alcohol use, it would be increasing investment in cost-effective prevention, treatment and harm reduction measures – such as those outlined in the National Drug Strategy.
“This bill, like the Cashless Debit Card, is a distraction. The government needs to be focusing their efforts on the woefully inadequate Newstart allowance.”
The Prime Minister previously defended the policy on Monday.
He emphasised that the proposal is a trial and argued that it will help get people treated.
“We are trying to help people get off drugs and get into work and trial innovative new ways of doing that,” he told the ABC.
“This is a
trial. We are trying to work out if this can work. I am really puzzled by the
level of opposition to the government trying to tackle a problem of drug
addiction for people who are not in work and helping them get over it with referral
to proper services and funding those services in those trial areas.”
The proposed trial areas are all in Labor-held electorates.
Trials would take place in Logan (Queensland), Canterbury-Bankstown (New South Wales) and Mandurah (Western Australia). People who sign up to receive payments would be selected at random and tested.
Failing a test would see 80 percent of their payments quarantined for two years using a cashless debit card. If a person fails a second test in 25 working days, they would be referred to a medical professional for treatment.
Ross Bell is the executive director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation. He argued that a similar policy saw the government “playing into these stereotypes” that those on welfare are “all losers … sitting around smoking joints”.
“The New Zealand experience shows that that stereotype is one that is not held [up] by the truth,” Bell said.
The legislation may stall in the Senate, where crossbench Senator Jacqui Lambie is one of the key votes that the government would need to secure. Senator Lambie previously indicated that she would not support drug testing unless it was carried out on politicians as well.
Liberal Senator Eric Abetz has said he would be happy to comply.
“If it takes me to have a drug test, to get Jacqui Lambie over the line I am more than willing to submit,” he said.
The policy was first proposed by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2017.
For more information about the Uniting Church and Uniting’s Fair Treatment Campaign please visit the website.
Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor