The Federal Government will today introduce its Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017 to Parliament. The new drug testing welfare policy was deemed ineffective in both the United Kingdom and New Zealand but was nonetheless central to this year's Federal Budget.
A joint media release from employment minister Michaelia Cash, human services minister Alan Tudge, and social services minister Christian Porter describes how "the Bill delivers on the commitment we made in this year's Budget—to create a welfare system that is easier to navigate and focussed on helping people move from welfare into work. [It] includes a number of measures that will, for the first time, address substance abuse amongst welfare recipients with the specific aim of helping them deal with their drug abuse issues and ultimately secure work."
The policy includes a two-year drug testing trial in three locations for 5,000 new recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance. We now know a little bit more about how it will work, with the ministers stressing "the drug testing trial... is not designed to stigmatise or penalise people. In fact our aim is the complete opposite; we want to identify those people with drug issues and help them so that they can ultimately enjoy the whole range of benefits that come from earning a living through work."
As outlined by Tudge and Cash, those on Newstart or Youth Allowance who live in the trial locations and return "an initial positive drug test" will continue to receive the same amount in welfare payments. However, these payments "will be quarantined to help them manage their payments to meet essential living costs and to limit their ability to fund drug abuse." This means their benefits will be placed onto a Cashless Debit Card, which has so far been trialled in the Ceduna and the East Kimberley.
If a welfare recipient tests positive a second time, "they will be referred to a medical professional to assess their circumstances and identify appropriate treatment options which will then form part of their mutual obligations." There is still no detail as to whether the government will subsidise the costs of treatment, or dedicate more resources to the public rehabilitation facilities, which already face long waiting lists.
Jurisdictions in Canada, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand have all attempted similar drug-testing welfare schemes in the past, to little success. And in 2013, a report funded by the Australia Government found drug testing welfare recipients was not only ineffective in curbing drug addictions or helping people find work, but also highly unethical.
Numerous experts from organisations including the Youth Support and Advocacy Service, Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association, and Harm Reduction Australia told VICE back in May that they thought the Federal Government's proposal wouldn't work.
Writing for VICE earlier this month, recovering methamphetamine addict Brandon Cook described how getting off ice is hard—but doing it broke is just about impossible.
In further bad news for Australians battling substance addiction, the Federal Government is also considering cutting disability pensions for drug addicts and alcoholics.
Their proposal to link drug testing with welfare has met with criticism from Labor and the Greens, so it's uncertain at this stage what the policy's fate will be.
More as this story develops.
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