Give a go to drug tests for wel­fare re­cip­i­ents

The West Australian - - OPINION - Ben Mor­ton Ben Mor­ton is Lib­eral MP for Tangney

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.

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