Human Services Minister Alan Tudge has said the drug-testing trial for welfare recipients could be later be expanded to university students.
In an interview on Sky News, Mr Tudge said the government had started with people on unemployment benefits and would “stick to this trial initially”.
Asked if could be broadened to include university students, Mr Tudge said: “We want to broaden it down the track, once we have done an evaluation, let’s consider that then. But let’s do this first, then we may well roll it out even further.”
Mr Tudge made the comments on the same day the government announced Mandurah, Western Australia, as the third and final site for the trial.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the trials would start at the beginning of next year and will be focused entirely on helping job seekers overcome drug problems and on the path towards securing a job.
Mr Porter said the government’s drug testing trials were about getting people into work not penalising or stigmatising them.
He said Mandurah was chosen because illicit drug use in this region was considerably higher than the national and Western Australian averages.
“It is not about penalising or stigmatising people … we want to help people in this situation,” Mr Porter said.
“Failure to do so simply leaves people at risk of a cycle of welfare dependency.”
Local Liberal MP for Canning Andrew Hastie joined Mr Porter at a media conference, saying he was pleased to see Mandurah chosen as a trial site, alongside western Sydney and Logan, Queensland.
“Our community has really struggled with the impact of drugs and this initiative is a practical step to help address that,” Mr Hastie said.
But Greens Leader Richard Di Natale said this was more about kicking people off income support than off drugs.
“All this does is make a bad problem worse,” Senator Di Natale told reporters in Melbourne.
“As a drug and alcohol doctor I can tell you that many of my patients would have been driven further into drug use, into crime, some of them might even be dead if this policy was in place.”
Earlier, Human Services Minister Alan Tudge dismissed criticism suggesting people will be psychologically damaged if they are forced into testing, given that any driver could be drug tested at any time.
He said people on unemployment benefits who had a drug problem were effectively excluding themselves from many jobs where being drug-free is a requirement – such as the construction, transportation, aviation and mining industries, as well as the defence forces and emergency services.
“We want people to be drug-free so they have got the best opportunity in the world to take those jobs just as any other job,” he said.
Up to 5000 new recipients of Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance will be drug tested during the two-year trial.
Those who return a positive test will have 80 per cent of their benefit payment put onto a Basics Card which limits the amount people can withdraw as cash, with remaining funds reserved for essentials such as rent, child care, food and household needs.
After a second positive test, the person will have to see a doctor at the government’s expense and undergo any treatment proposed in order to continue receiving benefits.
Logan City Mayor Luke Smith reacted angrily when his region was selected, saying he feared the trial would stigmatise the city.
How the welfare drug testing trial works
- From next year, 5000 new recipients of the Newstart and Youth Allowance will be drug-tested as part of a two-year trial.
- Logan in Queensland, Canterbury-Bankstown in western Sydney and Mandurah south of Perth are the three locations
- Testing could either be a saliva swab, urine or follicle testing.
- Those who test positive will be placed onto “income management” for 24 months, with 80 per cent of their benefit restricted for essentials such as food or rent, restricting their access to cash.
- A second drug test is then scheduled within 25 working days of the initial positive result.
- People who test positive more than once will be referred to a doctor and receive any suggested treatment to continue receiving their benefit.
- A $10 million fund has been established to assist job seekers in the trial to access treatment.