Australia to drug test newly jobless in welfare crackdown

The plan to drug test the newly unemployed is about helping people have the best chance possible of getting a job, according to Social Services Minister Christian Porter.
The plan to drug test the newly unemployed is about helping people have the best chance possible of getting a job, according to Social Services Minister Christian Porter. PHOTO: REUTERS

Up to 5,000 unemployed people will have to take test to qualify for handouts as part of trial

SYDNEY • Australia will drug test the newly unemployed as part of a crackdown on people who blow their benefits on drugs, with data from sewage to identify which hot spots to target, officials said yesterday.

Up to 5,000 jobless people will have to take the test to qualify for allowances as part of a trial to address welfare-fuelled substance abuse.

Benefit recipients who do not pass will have their handouts stored on a cashless debit card, which they can use to pay only for essentials such as food and housing. Those who fail more than once will be referred to medical professionals for assessment and treatment.

"We're going to trial this with just 5,000 people and, if it doesn't work, we'll stop it and, if it does work and it's helping people well, we'll keep doing it; we'd be silly not to," said Treasurer Scott Morrison.

Australia's unemployment rate currently stands at 5.9 per cent, with 753,000 people out of work.

The government hopes the plan, along with docking welfare payments for people who skip job interviews or fail to attend meetings, could save taxpayers more than A$600 million (S$623 million) over the next four years.

Sewage data will be used to pinpoint three sites for the trial based on the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Programme, which has identified "astonishingly high" rates of methamphetamine use across Australia.

DEMEANING

This is further demonising of people on social security, people on the lowest incomes in the country.

AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL OF SOCIAL SERVICE CHIEF EXECUTIVE CASSANDRA GOLDIE, on how drug-testing the newly unemployed may be harsh and wrong.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter said it was about helping people to have the best chance possible of getting a job.

"The 5,000-person drug testing trial is squarely aimed at identifying and assisting people, and driving behavioural change," he said.

"What we think we can achieve through this is to ensure people, at that absolutely critical point in their life when they're searching for a job, engage in behaviours that assist them in that process and don't destroy that process."

Those who test positive "will be placed on welfare quarantining to help them to stabilise their finances and reduce the cash available to spend on drugs," Mr Porter said in a statement, as quoted by Huffington Post.

Some welfare lobby groups have argued the approach was wrong.

"This is further demonising of people on social security, people on the lowest incomes in the country," Australian Council of Social Service chief executive Cassandra Goldie told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"Another harsh welfare crackdown; compliance, it's already really tough."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2017, with the headline 'Australia to drug test newly jobless in welfare crackdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe