DRUG TEST FOR LA­BOR

Ex­clu­sive: ALP vot­ers back wel­fare checks

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Front Page - JOHN ROLFE NA­TIONAL PO­LIT­I­CAL ED­I­TOR

LA­BOR is fac­ing its own test on its op­po­si­tion to the gov­ern­ment’s plan to drug check wel­fare re­cip­i­ents with the ma­jor­ity of ALP vot­ers back­ing the move.

A Daily Tele­graph YouGov-Gal­axy poll re­veals 63 per cent ap­proval among La­bor vot­ers for the pro­posal to screen 5000 new New­start and Youth Al­lowance re­cip­i­ents.

Those who fail the test would have 80 per cent of their wel­fare pay­ments put on a card that could not be used to buy drugs.

THE fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s plan to drug test job­seek­ers is sup­ported by the vast ma­jor­ity of La­bor vot­ers — de­spite their party op­pos­ing it — and is even backed by wel­fare re­cip­i­ents in the pro­posed NSW trial site.

The find­ings have emerged af­ter a lead­ing ad­dic­tion ex­pert com­pared the plan to Rus­sia seek­ing to screen all ci­ti­zens for HIV in the 1990s and put those who came up pos­i­tive on an is­land.

A na­tional YouGovGala­xy sur­vey for The Daily Tele­graph re­veals 70 per cent ap­proval for the pro­posal to screen 5000 new New­start and Youth Al­lowance re­cip­i­ents in Can­ter­bury-Bankstown, Lo­gan in Queens­land and Man­durah in Western Aus­tralia for heroin, co­caine, ec­stasy cannabis and ice. Those who fail the test would have 80 per cent of their wel­fare pay­ments put on a card that could not be used to buy drugs. Peo­ple who red light a sec­ond screen­ing 25 days later would re­ceive ad­dic­tion treat­ment from a new $10 mil­lion fund.

The YouGovGala­xy sur­vey showed 63 per cent of La­bor vot­ers favour the plan.

A straw poll by The Tele­graph out­side Bankstown Cen­tre­link also found strong back­ing for the pro­posal.

This support is at odds with the view of the lo­cal mayor, La­bor’s Khal As­four, who has said the trial is a “joke” and that the area is be­ing picked on.

Among 14 peo­ple cur­rently or pre­vi­ously on New­start or Youth Al­lowance, nine backed the trial with three un­de­cided and two op­posed.

Brooke Mas­mela of Pad­stow be­lieved it was a good idea. “I think it’s fair be­cause it’s tax­pay­ers’ money,” Ms Mas­mela, a full-time mother who pre­vi­ously re­ceived New­start, said. “If they are good enough to help you then you need to be le­git.”

Shadow So­cial Ser­vices Min­is­ter Linda Bur­ney, whose elec­torate cov­ers part of the pro­posed trial area, said “La­bor has and will be guided by the ex­perts and the ev­i­dence who have said with one voice that this is a blunt and in­ef­fec­tive in­stru­ment and does not work”.

Top ad­dic­tion ex­pert, the Royal Aus­tralasian Col­lege of Physi­cians’ Adrian Reynolds, told a Se­nate in­quiry ear­lier this month the gov­ern­ment’s plan sent a “shiver” down his spine.

“I once worked with the United Na­tions in Rus­sia … they were go­ing to test ev­ery­one for HIV/AIDS and those who came up pos­i­tive were go­ing to be placed on an is­land. This re­minds me of that ex­pe­ri­ence ... 20 some­thing years ago,” As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Reynolds said.

He did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment yes­ter­day.

So­cial Ser­vices Min­is­ter Anne Rus­ton said more than 3.5 mil­lion Aus­tralians un­der­went ran­dom drug tests as part of their em­ploy­ment. The trial would help to en­sure job­seek­ers were eli­gi­ble for every role of­fered.

Ms Rus­ton said the trial would col­lect ev­i­dence to see if it is pos­si­ble to help peo­ple over­come drug use “which we know is a bar­rier to work”. “The tax­payer has the right to ex­pect their money is be­ing spent re­spon­si­bly,” Ms Rus­ton said.

The gov­ern­ment’s best hope of get­ting the trial bill through parliament is con­vinc­ing Tas­ma­nian in­de­pen­dent Jac­qui Lam­bie.

Ini­tially she said she would vote in favour of the bill be­fore re­vers­ing her po­si­tion, say­ing politi­cians should be tested too. She also wants more re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ser­vices es­tab­lished first.

In cer­tain in­ner-city cir­cles, even the very con­cept of drug test­ing wel­fare re­cip­i­ents is ut­terly un­think­able. That is be­cause some in that blink­ered com­mu­nity have not moved on from a 1970s men­tal­ity that holds wel­fare to be an ab­so­lute right, re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances of those re­ceiv­ing wel­fare.

Sen­si­bly, that view has grad­u­ally fallen from favour as Aus­tralians have come to ac­cept that wel­fare is a priv­i­lege and should not be abused.

Yet still there are some who be­lieve wel­fare should be granted to just about any­body who puts out their hand.

Be­cause this group in­cludes many prom­i­nent me­dia voices, it of­ten ap­pears to be a ma­jor­ity or main­stream out­look.

But a stun­ning new YouGovGala­xy sur­vey for The Daily Tele­graph now re­veals over­whelm­ing na­tional support for a drug test­ing trial.

In a game-chang­ing re­sult, the poll found that 70 per cent of Aus­tralians ap­prove a fed­eral gov­ern­ment pro­posal to screen 5000 New­start and Youth Al­lowance re­cip­i­ents.

Un­der the gov­ern­ment’s drug test­ing plan, wel­fare re­cip­i­ents in Can­ter­bury-Bankstown, Lo­gan in Queens­land and Man­durah in Western Aus­tralia will be tested for the pres­ence of heroin, cannabis, ec­stasy, ice and co­caine. Nat­u­rally, this has out­raged the wel­fare in­dus­try.

This is un­der­stand­able. The wel­fare in­dus­try would not ex­ist if the num­ber of peo­ple on wel­fare is dras­ti­cally re­duced.

The wel­fare in­dus­try’s con­dem­na­tion should be seen for what it is: pure self-in­ter­est.

La­bor, which op­poses the drug test­ing plan, may be sur­prised to dis­cover that 63 per cent of La­bor vot­ers were in favour of it. If La­bor has any se­ri­ous de­sire to present a brand that is truly dis­tinct from the Greens, this would seem to be an ideal op­por­tu­nity.

The Daily Tele­graph’s quick sur­vey yes­ter­day of Bankstown Cen­tre­link clients also turned up what some might con­sider sur­pris­ing re­sults.

Of 14 peo­ple cur­rently or presently on New­start or Youth Al­lowance, nine sup­ported drug test­ing. Three were un­de­cided. Only two were op­posed.

Brooke Mas­mela, a pre­vi­ous New­start re­cip­i­ent, made an ex­tremely good case for the trial.

“I think it’s fair be­cause it’s tax­pay­ers’ money,” Ms Mas­mela said. “If they are good enough to help you then you need to be le­git.” Well said.

Pic­ture: Jonathan Ng

Pad­stow mum Brooke Mas­mela, with her son Elisha, sup­ports a wel­fare drug test trial.

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