Give a go to drug tests for welfare recipients
It’s likely that your position on the drug testing of Newstart welfare recipients will depend on how you see the purpose of welfare in our society.
Is working-age welfare compensation for the situation someone finds themselves in, or is it an investment in their future? Is working-age welfare a socialist redistribution of wealth from taxpayers to non-taxpayers, or is it a safety net designed to help people when they need it?
For me, working-age welfare is an investment in the future; it’s about making lives better. I am a compassionate conservative and I am proud that Australia has a safety net to support those in need but, sadly, our welfare system fails many.
The concept of mutual obligation underpins our welfare system. We require Newstart recipients to look for work or attend training. But if you’re as high as a kite or bombed out of your brain on drugs then there’s no point attending interviews for jobs you’ll never be able to get. This cycle of failure is dangerous and real.
As part of the Government’s reforms, Newstart recipients will be able to include treatment for drug and alcohol problems as part of their job preparation plan. Why? Because being drug free is an essential step towards employment and a productive life.
This is why drug testing can help; it can be the intervention that people need to make a positive change in their lives. It’s about making sure that people with drug problems get the help they need to beat their addiction. It should only ever be seen as one part of the solution.
The trial, across three locations will test 5000 new recipients of Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance for illicit substances. Mandurah has been selected as a trial site. Total illicit drug use in the Mandurah region is considerably higher at 23.6 per cent, compared with the WA average of 16.6 per cent and 14.7 per cent nationally.
As part of the trial, the Government will provide a dedicated treatment fund of up to $10 million. This will assist in targeting support to those who test positive to a drug test more than once. This is in addition to almost $685 million over four years to reduce the impact of drug and alcohol misuse.
People who test positive to drugs will be placed on income management for 24 months; there will be no loss of total income, just help to manage their money. If a person tests positive to more than one drug test, they’ll be referred to a medical professional and may be required to get treatment to overcome their drug abuse issues.
Drug use is hugely damaging to individuals, families and whole communities.
I spent part of my maiden speech in the Federal Parliament in October last year speaking about tackling Australia’s drug issues. I told Parliament how I had seen first-hand how drugs burn even the closest bonds, and of seeing the intersection of welfare and drugs in our community.
“During my high school years, my parents took full-time care of my nieces, who were then aged around five and six. My nieces were living in a drug-fuelled, abusive environment with their mother,” I said in that speech.
“My nieces’ mother and her friends would laugh at my parents as if they were mugs. Their attitude was, ‘why would you work for money when the government gives it out for free’?”
I told Parliament that my nieces’ mother and her friends were not representative of the vast majority of people on welfare. My parents were no mugs. They were decent, hardworking Australians. They expected their taxes to be invested in making Australia even better, not simply redistributed to those who will not apply their own effort to improve their lives.
I don’t believe for a second that the life (if you can call it that) being lived by my nieces’ mother today is one that she would choose. Back in her day, there was no drug testing, there was no intervention to provide the help that she needed, it was simply set and forget. Perhaps the intervention and support we are hoping to test would have made a big difference to my nieces’ mother and my family.
A failure to identify and assist people with drug dependency leaves them to rot in the cycle of lifelong welfare dependency. Labor and the Greens should reconsider their opposition to this trial. Working-age welfare is not a socialist redistribution of wealth; it’s about making lives better. For goodness sake, this is a trial. It might work; it might fail, but let’s give it a go.