Finance Federal Budget Budget 2017: Job seekers face random drug tests to hold onto welfare payments

Budget 2017: Job seekers face random drug tests to hold onto welfare payments

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Being obliged to work in return for welfare discriminates against Aborigines, the Garma Festival has been told. Photo: AAP
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Thousands of Australians will soon be forced to undertake random drug tests to hold onto their welfare payments.

Beginning next year, 5000 Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients across three locations will be included in the two-year trial of drug testing.

Job seekers will be selected at random and tested for drugs including ecstasy, ice and marijuana.

Anyone who tests positive to a test will be placed on welfare quarantining, while those who fail more than once will be referred to medical professions for assessment and treatment.

The cost of this measure – which has raised the ire of welfare advocates – is deemed commercial-in-confidence and has not been published.

“This budget has totally demonised and framed young people and welfare recipients as criminals, drug users and a lesser group of people that deserve to go without,” says Jill Molloy, welfare officer with the National Union of Students.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale was equally outraged, describing the two-year trial as an “incredible violation of individual liberties”.

“This is a very, very dangerous precedent,” he said.

The Turnbull government says the trial is part of a suite of reforms to stop welfare payments being used to fuel drug and alcohol addictions.

Cashless welfare cards will also be expanded across two new locations, with the income management program extended for another two years to June 2019, after two test runs showed positive results for problem gambling and alcohol consumption.

Welfare will be denied to people with disabilities caused solely by their own substance abuse.

Other welfare measures include tougher verification requirements for single parents seeking welfare and a crackdown on those attempting to rake in multiple payments.

There will also be stricter residency rules for new migrants trying to access Australian pensions.

Older job seekers will also face harsher mutual obligation requirements under new welfare reforms:

  • Job seekers aged 30-49 (about 270,000) will have to undertake activity requirements of 50 hours a fortnight, up from 30 hours
  • Job seekers aged 55-59 years (about 40,000) will no longer be able to meet 30 hours of activity solely through volunteering, with exceptions in areas of high unemployment
  • Job seekers 60 to age pension age (about 45,000) will need to undertake 10 hours of activity per fortnight (up from zero).

A new, single JobSeeker payment will be introduced in March 2020, replacing or consolidating seven existing payments including the Newstart Allowance.

Less than one per cent will be affected by changes to their payment rates, the government says.

— with AAP

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