House debates

Monday, 13 August 2018


Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018; Second Reading

3:25 pm

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Oxley, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

In continuation regarding this bill today I was commenting about remarks made by the Director of the Department of Addiction Medicine at St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne in direct relation to impact of this bill. I place on the record again what Associate Professor Yvonne Bonomo said in her remarks regarding this bill. I hope those opposite are listening carefully, because she said:

Pushing people to the brink won't make it better.

We know that the government has not even announced the cost of this, nor do they know the detail of what types of tests will be conducted. I again ask for the evidence. Where is it? Where is the detail? When considering new trials such as these we can often look to other countries who have implemented similar programs to gauge their success, but on this occasion what we find is not success but rather a track record of this system simply not working. That's what the experts at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have to say about this:

In 2013, the New Zealand government instituted a drug testing program … among welfare recipients. In 2015, only 22 (0.27 per cent) of 8,001 beneficiaries tested returned a positive result for illicit drug use or refused to be tested. This detection rate was much lower than the proportion of the population estimated to be using illicit drugs in New Zealand … Similar results were found in the United States … In Utah, 838 of the state's 9,552 welfare applicants were screened with 29 returning a positive result.

That's just 0.3 per cent. These were costly initiatives that simply drove people into poverty and crime.

This bill has also been the subject of a Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry, which recently handed down its report. This included a statement from Clinical Associate Professor Adrian Reynolds, an expert in addiction medicine, who said that the drug-testing trial is:

… unlikely to bring about any sustained changes in patients' drug use behaviours and may even be counterproductive.

Again, I hope those opposite are listening. Drug and alcohol addiction experts have said this measure may be counterproductive. Associate Professor Adrian Reynolds went further and told the committee:

… this drug testing trial is clinically inappropriate and not designed in a way that will address the issues of substance dependence.

Expert after expert has shared similar views. The report also included the following statement about the cost:

Labor Senators on the Committee are concerned that the Government has not revealed details about the cost of the proposed drug testing trial and have serious concerns based on international experiences and the stated cost of testing in Australia, that the drug testing trial will be very expensive to administer and represent poor value for taxpayers.

The experts are not coming forward to back the claim of those opposite, who like to cloak themselves in responsibility and responsible behaviour. In fact not one expert has come forward for this. The report went on:

The Committee heard evidence that the funds for treatment to be provided for the Government were insufficient to meet the current need, let alone the increased demand that is expected to be generated by the drug testing trial.

Through the committee we also learned that my own home state of Queensland is:

… about $75 million short of what would be considered an adequate treatment system to meet the needs of those people who voluntarily want to enter the system.


… this figure does not take in to account an amount to enable services to meet increased demand.

The evidence is simply overwhelmingly against this piece of legislation, but perhaps none more so than the tragic story told to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee by Mr Matthew Noffs, from the Ted Noffs Foundation, about an 18-year-old girl. He says:

She was raped by her father repeatedly since the age of four. She was then forced to become a sex worker at 14. By 16, she was using ice to get by. She is continuing to use ice at 18 and she is on the dole.

This is the only thing that is keeping her alive. The drug is the one thing that is keeping her alive. She had broken countless laws by the time she was a teenager. She doesn't care about being arrested for this … She will find any which way that she can.

It is stories like this that show the government's misunderstanding of the issue. The Network of Alcohol and Other Drug Agencies—


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