| 06.09,19. 03:35 AM |
Mandatory drug tests for welfare recipients could be rolled out under Government plan
Photo: A welfare recipient who failed a drug test could be placed on income management under the plan. (Jonathan Beal: ABC)
Thousands of welfare recipients would be drug-tested for substances including ice, marijuana and cocaine under a revived plan set to go before Federal Parliament next week.
The two-year trial would see 5,000 new recipients of Newstart or Youth Allowance tested for drugs in three locations — Logan in Queensland, Canterbury-Bankstown in New South Wales and Mandurah in Western Australia.
Medical and addiction experts attacked the idea when it was first proposed in 2017 and the Government eventually shelved it after conceding it did not have enough support to get it through the Senate.
But Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said a number of changes had been made to the original bill, including adding heroin and cocaine to the list of substances to be tested along with ice, ecstasy and marijuana.
"Whilst the information that we have indicates that methamphetamine and cannabis are probably the two most highly used drugs at the moment, the additional cost of testing for these other two — cocaine and heroin — is very, very minimal so we've added that to the trial as well," she said.
Under the proposal, a welfare recipient who failed a drug test would be placed on income management with up to 80 per cent of their payments moved onto a cashless debit card.
A second positive test would result in a referral to a rehabilitation program, although Senator Ruston said the Government had backed down from an earlier plan to also charge the recipient for the cost of the test, believed to be around $100.
"One of the things that we certainly heard loud and clear when the original bill was put out for consultation is that people wanted to make sure that this wasn't a punitive measure, this was actually a measure to assist people," she said.
"So we've listened and we've decided that it makes sense for us not to seek to get that amount recovered."
Labor and the Greens opposed the original bill and both parties recently said they had not changed their minds on the policy, arguing it would not work.
Without their support, the Coalition needs the backing of at least four of the six Senate crossbenchers to pass legislation in the Upper House.
Senator Ruston confirmed discussions with crossbenchers were already underway and said she was hopeful the Government could convince them to support the plan.
"This is a measure that we think will help people get over addiction and get themselves into work," she said.
"So what we're asking is please let us have the opportunity to trial it and once we've got that information and the data collected, then let's have an assessment as to whether the trial is worth rolling out more broadly."