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March 2, 2021

Welfare drug test plan to be monitored

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Experts are warning that drug testing welfare recipients will be harmful. (file pic)

A controversial plan to drug test welfare recipients will be monitored to ensure there are no “serious unintended consequences”.

The coalition will introduce laws into parliament on Wednesday to set up a trial in which people on welfare will be drug tested and offered treatment.

“The trial is not about taking away payments,” Social Services Minister Dan Tehan told parliament on Tuesday.

“This is about helping those people with a problem get treatment, help them help themselves and then get a job.”

Mr Tehan said an extra $10 million would be set aside for drug and alcohol treatment support at the three trial sites.

“We will also provide $1 million for an independent, third party to evaluate the trial while it is in operation,” he said.

“If there are serious unintended consequences, the government will act.”

The Turnbull government had originally hoped to drug test 5000 Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients across three trial sites in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia from January.

But the government acknowledged in December it did not have the numbers in the Senate to pass it, and the trial was stripped out of a welfare reform bill.

Under the plan, anyone who tests positive will be shunted onto cashless welfare cards, while those who fail more than once will be referred to medical professionals for treatment.

Doctors and community groups were deeply critical of the drug tests, arguing they would prove an expensive, paternalistic and potentially damaging waste of time.

But Mr Tehan said the bill included measures to help victims of domestic violence or and the homeless.

“I say to those opposite that this is a trial. We encourage you to work with us,” he said.

Labor said there was no change to its opposition to the proposed laws, while Greens senator Rachel Siewert said the “overwhelming evidence” from experts showed it would not work.

“It has already been rejected by the Senate, and for good reason,” Senator Siewert said in a statement.

Penington Institute chief executive John Ryan called for the bill to be scrapped.

“These are people who rely on these social security payments for the bare necessities and this plan risks pushing them into crime or homelessness,” he said.

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