House debates

Monday, 13 August 2018


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

3:34 pm

Photo of Ben MortonBen Morton (Tangney, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018. This bill establishes a two-year trial of drug testing for 5,000 new recipients of Newstart allowance and youth allowance other for illicit substances like ice and ecstasy. The trial is compassionate. It is about making lives better. It is about getting people with drug issues and drug addiction the services and treatment they need to beat their addiction.

Substance abuse impacts on so many people, not just the drug users themselves. Their families and their friends all experience the heartbreak, the anger, the financial strain and the safety issues that come with someone with a serious drug addiction. One of the worst barriers to a productive life and to getting a job is drug addiction itself. Doing nothing isn't an option. Doing nothing isn't helping Australians to address their drug addiction and to get off welfare and into work. Newstart and youth allowance are designed to help people while they look for work, but, if you are bombed out of your brain on drugs or booze, you can't search for work. Even if you get the interview, you're not going to get the job. That's the sad reality.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's National Drug Strategy Household Survey shows that drug use is higher for unemployed people than those with a job. Quite frankly, you shouldn't need a survey to tell you that. If you are unemployed, you are three times more likely to use ice. People with substance abuse issues deserve government support and intervention to help them get clean, into work and back to a productive life, not just for them but also for their family. The community also has the right to expect that taxpayer-funded welfare is being used by jobseekers to do everything they can to find a job—not used to fund harmful drug addictions. Compassionate drug testing will identify the people who need help, and the treatment fund will make sure that those people have what they need to get clean and to get job-ready.

The drug testing trial will operate in three locations: Canterbury Bankstown in New South Wales; Logan in Queensland; and Mandurah in my home state of Western Australia. These three communities were carefully chosen, using evidence and data from a number of sources which showed that they were the communities most in need of intervention. This included data from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's National Drug Strategy Household Survey, state and territory crime statistics on drug use and possession, state and territory hospital data and data from the Department of Human Services.

The National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program gives us concrete data informing drug policy. Wastewater testing estimated the consumption of illicit substances. More than 8.3 tonnes of methamphetamine, three tonnes of cocaine, 1.2 tonnes of MDMA and more than 700 kilograms of heroin were consumed between August 2016 and August 2017. Regionally, methamphetamine and MDMA consumption exceeded capital city consumption. These numbers are alarming. The three trial locations already have strong support services in place, but this government recognises the scale of the issue and has announced, as part of this trial of those 5,000 welfare recipients, a dedicated treatment fund of $10 million for additional treatment services for those affected jobseekers.

This support is a really important part of the drug-testing trial. Isn't it amazing how those opposite just do not mention the fact that it isn't just the welfare recipients who will be tested? The support services will also be tested to ensure that they are adequate for those people identified with a drug abuse problem to help them get into a productive life of work. There will be $1 million for case management services for people who test positive more than once under the trial. There will be $3 million to boost drug treatment capacity in the three trial communities, and $6 million for additional accredited treatment support to supplement the state and Commonwealth services that are already in place. This is in addition to the almost $685 million this government has already committed over four years to reduce the impact of drug and alcohol abuse on individuals, families and communities. This includes an investment of almost $300 million as part of the National Ice Action Strategy to improve prevention, treatment care and education to tackle ice.

Expert advice from the drug-testing provider and the drug and alcohol treatment sector will also be assessed when developing procedures and safeguards to get the trial right. This considerable investment in the health and wellbeing of our community recognises that, by supporting jobseekers to address their substantial substance abuse issues, it is the most essential step in their becoming productive again, getting a job and getting back into life. Jobseekers themselves, their families, the community and the economy will all benefit.

I want to pay tribute to my good friend the member for Canning. The Mandurah trial location is in his community, and he is committed to tackling drugs and ice in his community. Methamphetamine consumption in regional WA is the highest in Australia. The number of welfare recipients in Western Australia who try to claim drug or alcohol use as an excuse for not meeting their mutual obligations increased by 475 per cent over five years, with 1,075 applications submitted in 2017 alone. The member for Canning's community in Mandurah will benefit greatly from this drug-testing trial, and the Canning community, like mine in Tangney, tell me that they want real action on drugs.

Before parliament right now is a program that could make a big difference for all of our communities. Some of our colleagues opposite have chosen to speak about the drug-testing trial in isolation, without any mention at all of the other programs and services being delivered as part of this trial. The treatment and support services with this trial are very significant. But let's remember: this is a trial. The drug tests and the support services are being trialled together. If more needs to be done, or if more resources need to be allocated, then this trial will show that. That will be a benefit of this trial.

There will be consequences for people who deliberately miss an appointment without a reasonable excuse, or refuse a drug test in order to avoid a possible positive result. Jobseekers who test positive to a drug test will have their payments placed on income management. This restricts their access to cash and limits the jobseeker's ability to use their payments to fund further harmful drug use. There is no reduction in the amount of support they get from the Commonwealth, but there is a change in the way that support from the Commonwealth provided by the taxpayer is applied to them. Jobseekers who test positive will also be subject to a second drug test within 25 working days, and may be subject to further tests. This will identify people who have an ongoing problem and who require that help, that intervention and that treatment. Jobseekers who test positive to more than one drug test will be referred to a medical professional experienced in drug and alcohol treatment, who will assess their individual circumstances, and identify appropriate treatment and support options. If the medical professional recommends treatment, the jobseeker will be required to participate in that treatment. This is an important intervention. Without this, the trial may not happen. This is an intervention that could actually change the course of somebody's life, and the treatment services can form part of their job plan. As I said earlier, there's no point going to job interviews if you have a drug addiction problem. You may as well be supported by this government, get support, and get the treatment services that you need.

This trial is not about penalising people or demeaning jobseekers with drug-abuse issues. The trial is about making sure that jobseekers get the support and treatment they need to find a job and to make their life better. I know about the intersection of welfare and drugs from my own family experience. I spoke about that in my maiden speech, and I've spoken about that in other debates on this particular topic. I reflect back on the intersection of drugs and welfare in my own family, and I wonder whether or not, if this drug-testing trial had been in place 20 years ago, some of the outcomes in my own family would be very different today. Do I know they would be different? No, I don't. Do I know they could be different? Yes, I do. And because there is a chance that this intervention can improve the lives of drug users and move them off drug addiction, we need to take that chance, we need to try this trial, and we need to learn from it.

Often welfare was 'cash for compensation', simply set and forget. I don't believe at all that our welfare system should be set and forget. I don't believe that our welfare system should be compensation for the circumstances in which someone has found themselves in life. Our welfare system must always be an investment in somebody. That investment has been funded by the Australian taxpayer through the Australian government, and when you're making an investment, you want to make sure that investment is going absolutely to the outcomes you desire—and the outcome we desire isn't a life of drug abuse and addiction; it's a life of productivity and engagement with family and our economy. And you can only do that through engagement through work.

I'm absolutely of the view that this intervention and support will make a big difference to so many lives. The best form of welfare is always a job. More than one million jobs have been created since the coalition government was elected in 2013. The government has reduced welfare dependency for working-age Australians to the lowest level in 25 years. In the three years to June 2017, the number of working-age Australians on income support fell by 140,000, to 2.4 million people. This represents a reduction of around $23 billion in future lifetime costs to the welfare system. This is something that we're very proud of on this side of the House. This is something the government is committed to. This is something that is actually making lives better. I'm in parliament to empower people to take control of their lives, and for the government, where it needs, to co-invest in their future. So, if you're a young person on welfare, you can be an aspirational hardworking Australian. You can apply your effort, get a job and get ahead. And if drugs are an issue, we should be there as a government to have that intervention, to give that individual the intervention they may not ask for but may need in order to get the support that they need to change and turn their life around.

The best thing we can do is to help someone off drugs, off welfare and into work. And we cannot be blinded by ideology like those opposite. We should give the drug-testing trial a chance. I ask and I plead with the opposition and the crossbench to support this important trial. We must support these jobseekers. It's about helping people, and a failure to identify and assist people who have drug-dependency issues will leave them rot in a cycle of lifelong welfare. So we've got to get out into our communities with an open mind. We need to see what people think and get the facts. We need to support this trial and get the learnings from it.

The community, in my view, is very supportive of these measures. Millions of Australians are used to accepting drug testing for jobs in mining, construction, transport and many of our large companies. Why should it be any different for someone on welfare? We know that there's a problem in our communities, we know that that problem is exacerbated for those who are on welfare and we know that drug use and welfare do intersect. We know that the lazy application of cash as welfare isn't working. It isn't helping people that need that help.

I'll always look for the best ways to support people on welfare, particularly where welfare dependency exists alongside the harm of drug and alcohol abuse. This drug-testing trial delivered by this legislation is about helping people get the treatment for their drug issues, to get them off welfare and into a job. It's about making a better life for them and their families, and this parliament should support this trial.


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