Politics

The Government Wants To Try Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Again, And Far Out Can We Not??

2017 called, and it wants its terrible policy back.

Sniffer dog procedure drug testing

Well, the government is trying to resurrect its plan to trial mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients, and it’s just about as popular as last time. Which is to say, not at all.

Next week, Parliament will consider a bill that would introduce a two-year trial of the drug testing program. Under the trial, 5000 Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients in three locations — Logan in Queensland, Canterbury-Bankstown in NSW, and Mandurah in Western Australia — would be forced to undergo a drug test before receiving payments.

The test would detect heroin, cocaine, ice, ecstasy and marijuana use, and welfare recipients who test positive for any of these substances will have their payments quarantined and will be forced to use a cashless debit card for future purchases.

The government last tried to introduce a trial like this back in 2017, and it’s safe to say the idea was a disaster. The plan was widely opposed by experts, including the Australian Medical Association (AMA), the Royal Australasian College of Physicians and former Australian of the Year, Patrick McGorry, who specialises in mental health issues.

It was also opposed by the public, who pointed out that forcing people to undergo drug testing to access a safety net is demeaning, humiliating, and serves little purpose other than to perpetuate the myth of the “dole bludger” wasting taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. Even the government recognised that its own policy was unlikely to be successful, quietly dropping the plan after it became clear that it would not pass the senate.

And yet now, here we are two years later, staring down largely the same shitty policy. The government claims that things have changed since 2017 and that its new bill is more clearly aimed at supporting people with drug problems to find help. For instance, it’s decided not to try to charge welfare recipients for their own drug tests (estimated to cost around $100), which seriously was the plan back in 2017.

“This Government’s proposal is designed to stigmatise people struggling to get by on the lowest incomes in the country,” the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) Director of Policy Jacqueline Phillips said today.

“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. Not only is this proposal demeaning, there’s no evidence that it would work.”

“Clearly, the Government is trying to deflect from the overwhelming, broad support for an increase to the appallingly low rates of Newstart and Youth Allowance after 25 years without a real increase.”

She has a real point there — Scott Morrison famously refused to raise Newstart earlier this year, saying he has other priorities. Maybe it’s time those priorities shifted. Parliament will consider the new drug testing trial next week.