Welfare drug tests may catch one-off users
A one-off decision to smoke a joint at a party could soon push some jobless Australians onto cashless welfare cards for two years.
The possibility has come to light during a Senate inquiry into the federal government’s plan to drug test thousands of welfare recipients.
Anyone who tests positive for illicit drugs would be forced onto cashless debit cards, which quarantine 80 per cent of welfare payments for housing and food expenses. A second positive reading would see somebody referred for medical treatment, while refusing to take a test would cost somebody four weeks of payments.
The Senate committee on Tuesday travelled to Logan in Queensland – one of three proposed trial sites – to hear evidence from experts and bureaucrats. Greens senator Rachel Siewert pressed department officials about whether recreational users would be treated any differently to drug addicts. Shane Bennett, from the Department of Social Services, confirmed somebody who tested positive after smoking one joint would shunted onto “income management”.
Mr Bennett said the objective of the drug testing trials was to identify and support people for whom drug use may be a barrier to finding work.
“In cases where people are on government receipt of payment for these locations, and they are subject to a positive test, they will be subject to income management for 24 months,” he told the committee. Senator Siewert said his response was proof the drug testing trials were about punishment and not treatment. “There’s a vast difference between somebody who has a joint at a party and somebody that has a very serious addiction,” she said.
The senator questioned what could possibly be gained by keeping somebody on income management for failing one drug test. “How can you possibly assess whether income management is helping overcome a drug addiction when they obviously don’t have a drug addiction in the first place?” she said.
“What is the rationale with treating somebody that doesn’t have an addiction the same as somebody that does, or virtually the same, in terms of putting them on income management when they don’t have an addiction?” Mr Bennett said anyone moved onto cashless welfare cards would still receive their full payments. “It will just be a different way they can access it,” he said.
Senator Siewert fired back: “It’s still income management.”
The Turnbull government intends to drug test 5000 Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients across sites in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia. The controversial policy was dropped from a broader welfare bill which passed parliament earlier this year and was later reintroduced on its own.
The legislation is before the House of Representatives, with the Senate inquiry told the drug testing trials could not take place until at least October.
Originally Published by SBS News, continue reading here.