News National Coalition takes drug testing for welfare recipients back to parliament

Coalition takes drug testing for welfare recipients back to parliament

EPO testing
Federal government is once again pushing to drug test welfare recipients. Getty
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Welfare recipients have once again been threatened with possible drug testing trials, but there may be a catch.

Federal politicians could also be screened for illicit substances, if key crossbencher Jacqui Lambie gets her way.

The Morrison government has resurrected plans to test 5000 Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients for drugs in a two-year pilot scheme.

Anyone who tests positive would be shunted onto cashless welfare cards and into counselling.

Social Services minister Anne Ruston has pitched the reheated plan as an attempt to get people off drugs and into work.

“The main purpose of this bill is to identify people who have substance abuse issues, and to help them deal with those issues so that they can become job-ready,” she said on Friday.

Doctors, welfare groups and substance abuse experts have condemned the revived policy, which was shot down twice in the previous parliament.

Nonetheless, the government is trying again, hoping the new-look Senate crossbench will support the idea.

Senator Lambie – whose vote will be crucial – is open to backing the trials.

But only if federal politicians are drug tested, too.

Lead government negotiator Mathias Cormann said he was “completely relaxed” about her left-field demand.

“If that is what it takes to get this very important reform through, I personally would be entirely open to it and I’d be quite happy to advocate for that within the government,” Senator Cormann told Sky News.

Labor frontbenchers are split over whether to support the controversial policy.

Deputy opposition leader Richard Marles is open to the idea.

“We are for anything that will get people off drugs,” he told the Nine Network.

“We will look at the legislation, but we want to know this works and we are mindful of the advice of experts around this.

“We have to be careful whatever measures we put in place don’t demonise the most vulnerable.”

However, Labor’s social services spokeswoman Linda Burney is against it.

“We do not want to see the punitive measures of using people on Newstart and people on Youth Allowance as experiments in trying to treat a drug addiction,” Ms Burney said in Sydney.

“This is ineffective, has proven to be ineffective in other countries, and is expensive. Frontline services is where the money should be spent.”

The two-year trial would be rolled out in three locations – Logan in Queensland, Canterbury-Bankstown in NSW and Mandurah in WA.

The Australian Council of Social Service has described the rehashed concept as “demeaning and flawed”.

St Vincent’s Health was suspicious the government would exhume the divisive idea.

“It’s extremely disappointing but we thought this might happen,” the non-profit organisation said.

“In fact, we wrote to Labor, the Greens and the Senate crossbench earlier this week, asking them to remain firm in their opposition to this trial.

“We’ll continue to stand against it.”

A previous bill stalled twice in the Senate in 2017, before the Coalition shelved the idea.

Research has shown the unemployed are more than three times more likely to use amphetamines, and one-and-a-half times more likely to use cannabis than the employed.