The Federal Government’s plan to drug test 5000 recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance in three mystery locations has been derided by community groups across Australia.
But Minister for Social Services Christian Porter is forging ahead with the plan regardless.
“One in 13 people in places in Australia are taking ice as a drug,” Mr Porter told A Current Affair.
“The usage amongst the unemployed is 2.4-times higher than for Australians with a job.
“These drugs are known to create significant personal problems and create deep barriers to employment.”
The trial will see 5000 recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance drug tested in three yet-to-be disclosed locations.
They will be tested for ecstasy, marijuana and methamphetamines, including ice.
The Federal Government is pursuing its plan to drug test new welfare recipients despite serious backlash from social services organisations and advocacy groups
For those who return a positive test, their welfare will be quarantined and they will be placed on a cashless debit card.
“The card can be used at a range of merchants, so you can get all of the things that you need to thrive as an individual using the card directly. But what you don’t have is large reserves of cash available to you to expend on illicit drugs,” Mr Porter said.
If a welfare recipient tests positive a second time, they will be assessed by a medical professional and given a treatment plan they will be forced to undertake as a condition of continuing to receive welfare payments.
Mr Porter says the two-year trial will test new welfare applicants in trial areas that meet a certain criteria.
“We’re looking at places where there are high rates of young unemployed Australians coming into the system. We’re looking at places where we also know, based on scientific evidence and medical research, that there are high rates of drug use,” he said.
In 2013, the New Zealand government tried to implement a similar trial.
New Zealand Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell says the original New Zealand proposal was watered down after much outrage from welfare groups that it stigmatised the vulnerable and cut off those who needed help.
“This is all badly designed policy because it’s really expensive and it doesn’t work,” he said.
In New Zealand, the watered-down policy meant that potential employers conducted the drug testing and if someone failed a test, the employers are reimbursed for the cost.
“Of the 95,000 people who were referred to pre-employment drug testing, 450 of those people failed the test,” Mr Bell said.
“With all the other countries that have rolled out the Australian model, it’s cost millions of dollars with little gain and that’s for this simple reason: people on welfare aren’t all on drugs.”
Australia has the highest proportion of ecstasy users worldwide, ranks third in the world for methamphetamine use and fourth for cocaine use.
The Australian Council of Social Services strongly opposes the trial on health grounds and because they believe the government are profiling those reliant on welfare.
“Overwhelmingly for people on income support, your big challenge is: where are the jobs?” chief executive Cassandra Goldie told A Current Affair. “And you deserve to be treated with dignity when you come to Centrelink for help.”
“This shouldn’t be the playing field for experimentation, just because you think it might work. Let’s listen to the experts in this area and stop doing this kind of nasty stereotyping – that the reason you’re on unemployment payments is because you’ve got a drug and alcohol addiction.”
But Mr Porter says the program is designed to help the unemployed, not stigmatise them further.
“What we are trying to do is take positive steps for behavioural change for people inside the welfare system and where they are unable to change behaviours, we want to offer them every assistance after the undergo medical assessment to get the treatment that they need to get out of the system and get a better life,” he said.