Drug Testing Of Welfare Recipients In Australia

What’s the problem?

Welfare Drug Testing is the Federal Government's response to checking if people who are on the dole are paying for drugs with the money that they receive from the government, contributing to the current epidemic we have in Australia. The parliament were aiming to make these tests compulsory under proposed legislation, trialling them in three different Australian towns, these being Logan, in Queensland, Canterbury-Bankstown, in New South Wales and Mandurah, in Western Australia, however, due to lack of support in the Senate, the bill has been postponed. This issue is important as their is a stigma against people on the dole who are believed to be using the Government’s money for drugs, purely because they recieve Welfare. Drug testing these people would work to give both the Government and civilians surety that their money is being put to a good cause, but at what cost?

What are the Government Policies on this issue?

The Welfare Reform Bill, although postponed, will still likely continue and be re-presented to the senate without the drug testing aspect of it, although, once the idea has gained more support in the Senate, it will be re-proposed, thus, does not have many policies surrounding it at the moment. If this Bill was to pass through the Senate, the policies that were proposed are explained below:

As of the first of January this year, any civilians who are unemployed and are interested in requesting Youth Allowance and Newstart Allowance will have to consent to be submitted to receive a test before the government approves their payments. In addition to this, participants can also be randomly chosen to test for use of illegal drugs, such as ice and marijuana.

The big catch is that if you decline to be tested, your welfare payments will then be nullified as soon as possible. However, the Silver Lining in this situation comes when you do test positive for using illicit substances. The Government will still continues to hand out payments to the accused while they are being trialled in court. If anyone finds themselves in this position, the person will be given a card called the BasicsCard. Eighty percent of their payments will be transferred to this card, whilst the other twenty percent will be given to the accused in cash.

The BasicsCard can only be used in certain shops, ensuring that the person in question reserves this money for the essentials, like food, bills and rent. The reason why the Government is taking these steps is to stop people who have no jobs using their Welfare Payments to purchase substances which are illegal.

Twenty-five days after the initial test result, the accused will then be required to be tested again for drug use. This would take place at a medical centre, under the guidance of professional medical practitioners who can provide the patient with advice. Much like with the first test, if you decline to be assessed your welfare payments will be annulled.

Most of the push-back surrounding this idea comes from the observation that Drug Testing Welfare Recipients is that it is discriminatory behaviour that is based off of the stereotype that people on the dole are more likely to use the Government’s money to purchase and abuse illicit substances, and thus, could potentially be in violation of a person’s basic Human Rights.

Contrasting views on this issue

Whilst the Government feels that Welfare Drug Testing is a great solution to check whether their money is being used responsibly by people on the dole, not everybody agrees with this point of view. One sector of people who particularly opposed the legalisation of the Bill are medical groups such as the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs, the Australian Medical Association and RACP (the Royal Australasian College of Physicians).

When the bill was still in the Senate, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians submitted into an enquiry on the bill, citing that by drug testing welfare recipients, the lengthy line of people waiting for rehabilitation would only be further postponed.

The catch is, whilst this idea has been trialled in both Canada and Britain, there is not a shred of evidence that drug testing welfare recipients helps with treatment. Also, of all the people trialled in these foreign countries, many tests returned negative results, meaning that the Government would actually be wasting resources by continuing with this bill. RACP stated that 'Not only will this policy be a waste of resource, money and opportunity, we are concerned that the measures would in fact cause considerable harm to a highly vulnerable population.'

Dr Michael Gannon, who is in a position of presidency at the Australian Medical was happy with the Government’s change of heart. He believes, that rather than spending money on drug testing welfare recipients, the government should make rehabilitation more accessible for those who are in need of it. In an interview with ABC about this issue he was given the opportunity to talk about drug testing people on the dole. The following important quotes were recorded: 'There is no evidence at all that people on welfare are anymore likely to have those kind of problems than people in the workforce'.

'If there are extra dollars to support people trying desperately to overcome the scourge of drug addiction, of alcohol abuse, to get them to be productive members of the community back into the workforce, then we would support that. But this was the single measure in this year's budget that stood out as being mean and unfair and not evidence based, and we're glad that the Government's walked away from it.'

Has Australia fulfilled it’s commitment to this issue?

Australia has not fulfilled its commitments to this issue. The Welfare Reform Bill is due to go ahead without the controversial Welfare Drug testing sector. Due to this idea being pushed back, no conventions or agreements have been signed, as of yet. The reason why this part of the bill was removed is so that the Government can make sure a broader demographic of people can be rehabilitated, with a focus on Welfare Recipients who are working-age. Due to lack of support in the senate, the bill was suspended, however Social Services Minister Christian Porter insists that the government will “not give up on trying new things to break cycles of welfare dependency and contour our success in moving people from welfare to work”.

16 December 2021
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