Drug testing for Welfare recipients

Drug testing for Welfare recipients


I understand what the member for Melbourne
is saying. He is saying that, if this policy were to
remove income from people, the result might be that they would find themselves homeless
because they cannot afford rent and that they might turn to crime because they cannot afford
the basics of life. So it is my hope that the Greens would reconsider
their opposition to this bill on the basis that we will not be removing income from a
single person. No person will not be able to afford rent
because they will not have income removed from them. No person will need to turn to a life of crime, because they will have income removed because no person will have their income removed. I would hope that the member for Melbourne would spend less time interrupting and more time listening. Perhaps he and his party would find it possible,
find it in their hearts and find the compassion that is necessary to help people who are trying
to make a better life for themselves, instead of walking from the chamber and sticking their heads in the sand when people are crying out for help. Is that the Greens’ way? He asked the question: what if your son or
your daughter found themselves in the horrible position where they couldn’t get away from
the scourge of drugs, that they had become addicted to a substance that was destroying
their lives? Let me answer that question on behalf of every
member of the Liberal and National Party in this place: we would want a compassionate
government to help; not to be driven by ideology and, when confronted with facts, not to run
from the chamber, as he has done. We need the Greens, we need all members of
parliament, to support a policy that speaks of compassion and that seeks to help all Australians,
especially vulnerable Australians. Drug abuse is an issue that affects all aspects
of the life of a user. It cripples relationships and families. It damages mental and physical health, whilst
directly impacting an individual’s finances and, importantly, job prospects. Substance abuse is undoubtedly a problem that
is indiscriminate, suffered by Australians of all backgrounds. However, it cannot be denied that the prevalence
of drug abuse amongst those out of work and receiving welfare payments is a particularly
concerning issue, with studies showing that such Australians are three times more likely
to have recently used illicit drugs than those with a job. In these cases, not only is drug abuse perpetuating
the cycle of unemployment and dependency on welfare but you, the taxpayer, are also subsidising
it. While this government is certainly opposed
to taxpayers indirectly funding drug dealers and the black market economy, addressing this
is not the primary focus of this bill. In fact, it’s not the focus of this bill at
all. This bill is about saving lives, not saving
money. This government will not stand by and continue
to allow Australians with drug and alcohol addictions to suffer in silence. Welfare is supposed to be a hand-up, not a
handout, and most certainly it’s not intended to fund actions that hurt the very people
we are supposed to be helping. The trial of drug tests for welfare recipients
proposed by this government is only one step in addressing this scourge, breaking the cycle
of addiction and abuse for drug users. If a positive externality of that ensures
taxpayer funds are no longer being wasted on such detrimental drugs, no doubt the Greens
would oppose it. If we could stand here and say it’s going
to cost more, that would ensure the support of the Greens. Well, I’m here to say it will actually cost
more, because this government is willing to invest and spend to help those who need our
help. We want to make it clear that we are not punishing those suffering from substance abuse; we are helping them. By taking away their ability to purchase the
very drugs which have ruined and continue to ruin their lives, their families’ lives
and their friends’ lives, we are making a difference. That is what true compassion looks like. Opposing this bill is, quite frankly, confounding,
because by opposing it the Greens are permitting people to continue habits which are making
their lives worse. We are not going to stand by and allow vulnerable
Australians to be victimised by criminal drug dealers. We recognise the need for support and rehabilitation,
and it will continue to be available, and we will continue to encourage those who need
it to use it. What we are doing, however, is ensuring that
those who return positive results for illicit substances no longer have the means to keep
buying. Through tried and tested programs such as
income management, we can make sure that the majority of welfare payments made to such
an individual are spent on necessities rather than harmful drugs. In this way, we can not only ensure taxpayer
money is spent appropriately but also cultivate positive attitudes that encourage wiser spending
and remove all obstacles and hindrances to finding work. After all, research shows the best form of
welfare is a job. Jobseekers on Newstart and youth allowance
will not be required to pass a drug test in order to commence their welfare payments. When making a claim for a payment, jobseekers
will simply have to acknowledge that they may be subject to drug testing as part of
their ongoing payments. Those who do test positive, of course, just
as with an RBT on the roads, will be given an opportunity to request a second test. All drug tests will be conducted by qualified
third-party drug testing providers in accordance with normal drug testing standards. Pre-test interviews between the drug tester
and the jobseeker are mandatory in order to identify any factors which may interfere with the test, be they prescribed medication or any other factors. If a jobseeker receives a positive drug test,
they will continue to receive the same payments. Let us be clear: no-one loses money from this. No-one will be thrown onto the street or suddenly
lose their financial support, as those in the Greens will have you believe. That is not what this bill is about. We are not trying to punish drug users. Rather, we are helping them break the cycle
of addiction. Jobseekers whose test positive to a drug test
will be placed on the proven income management program. Income management does not alter the amount
the jobseeker receives. The jobseeker’s ability to look after themselves
and continue to search for a job does not change Only the way they receive their payments will
change. A jobseeker on income management will have
80 per cent of their payment restricted to paying their bills and purchasing essential
items. The remaining 20 per cent of the payment is
paid into their regular bank account and is accessible to pay for discretionary items. Those who are placed on income management
will still be able to make purchases at approved merchants. The only discretionary items which they will
not be able to buy are alcohol, smoking products and cash-equivalent products like gift cards,
as well as not being able to withdraw cash itself. As well as this, income management will restrict
people from spending on any form of gambling, because this is about saving lives and helping
people get their lives back on track. Income management and the cashless debit card
both have the same end goal of saving people from the scourge of drug and alcohol addiction
but go about it in different ways. Income management provides a more tailored
approach to welfare management, as opposed to the cashless debit card, which is a community-wide
program providing less individualised support for the participant. Income management is designed only for those
who truly need our help and support, those burdened with the scourge of drug and alcohol
abuse, those who will not be unaffected by this trial. This bill includes a measure to introduce
a two-year trial of illicit drug testing of 5,000 randomly selected recipients of Newstart
and youth allowance in three specifically selected local government areas across the
country. These areas are Canterbury Bankstown in New
South Wales, Logan in Queensland and Mandurah in Western Australia. These areas were chosen after a thorough selection
process by this government identified them as key problem areas for drug abuse by welfare
recipients. In doing so, we can ensure the trial is conducted
efficiently, responsibly and in the areas that need it most. These drug tests will test for ice, ecstasy
and marijuana as well as opioids. These drugs are a vicious trap which ruins
lives, limiting a person’s ability to find a job and their capacity to lead a happy and
healthy life, fulfilling their full potential. Highlighting the gravity of the issue and
its impact on the community is that, in 2017 alone, there were 4,856 occasions when a jobseeker
named drug or alcohol addiction as the reason for not being able to maintain their job. That’s nearly 5,000 people who would be productive
members of the Australian workforce if it were not for the terrible affliction of substance
abuse. Throughout the trial, there will be a comprehensive
evaluation of impacts and outcomes for jobseekers. The benefit of holding these evaluations throughout
the trial compared to after is so that any unintended consequences can be handled as
they arise. The results of these trials will advise any
future extensions as well as any potential rolling out of the drug-testing program more
broadly. I am committed to helping those in need, including
in my own electorate of Mackellar. I would welcome and encourage a drug-testing
trial to take place in the local government area of the Northern Beaches without hesitation. I say this because I know that, like me, the
people of Mackellar and the Northern Beaches truly care about everyone in their community,
in our community, especially those trying to get back on their feet. We are committed to reducing the impact of
drug and alcohol abuse on our community’s most vulnerable, not only preventing its continuation
whilst out of a job, but ideally creating and reinforcing positive habits that will
assist struggling Australians when they are working again, preventing any relapse into
drug abuse. To further support those who are struggling
with drug and alcohol addiction, the government is providing nearly $10 million to the creation
of a dedicated treatment fund. This fund will provide support where the current
Commonwealth, state and territory government support services are not sufficient. It will ensure the government is able to supply
additional support services to the areas of the trial which are not meeting the additional
demand for drug and alcohol support. This is, of course, on top of the $689 million
the government has already committed to reducing the impact of drug and alcohol abuse on communities,
families and, of course, the individual. This includes a near $300 million investment
as part of the National Ice Action Strategy aimed at improving treatment, after-care,
education, prevention, assistance and community engagement to tackle ice. Illicit drug and alcohol abuse is a problem
which affects many Australians across all different socioeconomic backgrounds, but it
is most prevalent among the unemployed. These trials and the measures in this bill
will save lives by getting people out of their addiction and back to work. Drug dealers will no longer be subsidised
with taxpayers’ money, and people who truly need treatment will get it. No-one—I repeat, no-one—whether they test
positive or negative, will have their payments reduced at any time. This bill is a magnificent initiative of a
government that cares about people, that wants to help people stop harming themselves and
give them the skills to help them live their lives to the full. We’re not passing a value judgement on those
Australians who are out of work and struggling with drug abuse. We are simply ensuring that such detrimental
activities are discouraged and that the Australian taxpayer no longer carries the burden of financing
them. I support the trials, and I would support
them being held in my own electorate of Mackellar. I commend the bill to the House.

Daniel Yohans

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