Monday, 13 August 2018
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018; Second Reading
The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018 is sensible, practical and popular legislation. It's a popular idea in Mandurah, the city in my electorate that will be one of the three trial sites and fits with the broader action that this government has taken to tackle drug abuse in our region. There is no reason—no good reason—why this parliament should not pass it.
What is the drug testing trial? The drug test trial will apply to new recipients of Centrelink's Newstart and youth allowance payments. Both of these payments are for people either preparing for work through study and training or trying to get a job. Under the trial, a person receiving Newstart or youth allowance may be randomly asked to take a confidential drug test. If they pass, nothing happens. If they test positive, their payments are in income management for 24 months. Income management is used by Centrelink to limit the amount of money from a recipient's payment that can be withdrawn in cash. In the case of the drug test trial, 80 per cent of that benefit would be put on income management. It would still be accessible for the essentials like rent, child care, school uniforms and the like but unable to be spent as cash on illicit drugs.
It's important to understand that no money is taken away from the person who takes the test. They will still receive their payment; it's just not all provided in cash. Twenty-five days after their first test, a recipient who tests positive is required to take a second test. If the results are negative then they proceed through the rest of their 24 months on income management with no further action. If they test positive then they're referred to a medical professional who assesses them to develop a personalised treatment plan. That treatment plan could include rehab or counselling, and Centrelink will work with them to ensure that they get the help that they need.
This is immensely practical legislation. If a person is on Centrelink and looking for work but at the same time struggling with substance abuse, they are clearly going to have a difficult time finding and then holding a job. Drug addiction is a huge barrier to long-term employment. Many jobs today require regular drug tests. I was tested in my previous career, alongside many others, in the ADF. Drug testing is common in the mining industry, one of the biggest employers in WA. Even the City of Mandurah, who has opposed this trial, drug tests its employees. So if a jobseeker can't pass a drug test then they're going to find it very difficult to get a job and hold that job, and helping people to get a job is the entire point of Newstart and youth allowance. So rather than letting these people be forgotten in the system, potentially for years with no change, the drug-testing trial identifies people early and gets them help that they need so they can become drug-free and job ready. This is about a new start for people, helping them on the road to recovery.
How will the drug-testing trial impact Mandurah? As the representative for one of the trial sites, I've obviously had a lot of feedback from the local community about the plan. The feedback I've received is overwhelmingly positive. People intuitively see the sense in this plan. Many have already randomly tested themselves at work and can't see the controversy. Others are actually surprised that this doesn't happen already. The fact is that the people of Mandurah know that drug use is an issue in our community. They've been telling me that they want action on it since I was elected in 2015, and that's what I've been doing.
I've heard some in this place argue that what's really needed is better local drug support services and more job opportunities to tackle unemployment. These people say that the government should focus on these issues rather than the drug-testing trial. These are lazy arguments and cheap politics. These people haven't bothered to look at what the government is already doing on the ground in Mandurah. The fact is we are already acting to provide better drug and health services and to tackle unemployment. Since 2015 I've campaigned against drug abuse in Mandurah and the Peel region. Working with local government, community groups and healthcare providers, we focused on services that achieve prevention and early intervention, and we have had success.
In 2016, the federal government delivered $2 million for the construction of the Peel Youth Medical Service health hub, thanks to the combined advocacy of a lot of other community groups. The state government also committed funding in 2017, and that has ensured that our plan would become a reality. The health hub is currently being built in Mandurah. Once completed, it will provide a one-stop shop for young people in the Peel region struggling with physical and mental health issues. Inside the health hub will be the Peel region's first ever headspace, approved and funded by this government. This project is endorsed by the local council, Mandurah locals and healthcare professionals.
The federal government has also funded the Mandurah local drug action team, as part of the National Ice Action Strategy. The Mandurah drug action team is working with its Communities That Care partners to educate local parents and students about the dangers of alcohol abuse. So, contrary to the claims of the opposition, the government is expanding providing health in Mandurah and taking positive action to tackle substance abuse in the Peel region.
We've done a lot to boost local employment as well. Last year Mandurah was identified as one of five key regional areas that would have access to the federal government's $10.3 million Stronger Transitions package. Under this program, workers facing retrenchment are given assistance transitioning into their next job. The Stronger Transitions program provides funding for training and supporting, relocation options and access to small business opportunities. The point is to prevent retrenched workers falling through the cracks.
But that's not all. The government has also spent record amounts on infrastructure investment in our region. $581 million will be spent by this government to extend the Tonkin Highway south into the heart of the Peel region. This is going to create thousands of new jobs and foster the expansion and development of local industry. There will be more jobs in the Peel region thanks to the Tonkin Highway extension funded by the coalition. We're also funding the creation of a new train station in Lakelands which will improve access to jobs further north in Perth, particularly for young people.
It should also be said that in Mandurah the unemployment rate has fallen from 11.6 per cent to 6.5 per cent in 2017 thanks, in no small part, to this government's pro-small-business policies. So it's just lazy to suggest that the government should focus on drug services and unemployment rather than the drug-testing trial. We can do more than one thing at once, and indeed we have the record to prove it. In fact, the drug-testing trial will actually deliver additional funding for local drug and rehab services. The program also includes $10 million to boost drug-treatment capacity and treatment support in the three trial sites, of which Mandurah is one. This is to make sure that the people who test positive under the trial have access to adequate support.
One of the more common objections that people have made about the drug-testing trial is to suggest that politicians should be drug tested too and that we should be setting the standard. After all, if it's good enough for Centrelink, why not members of parliament and senators as well? I understand the sentiment. Recently, I met with Brian Lloyd of Drug-Safe Workplaces Western Australia. Drug-Safe Workplaces collaborates with workplace leaders, staff and unions to implement drug and alcohol testing that is safe and comfortable for all parties involved. Brian believes that drug testing should not be punitive and that it should be pre-emptive. By identifying early when someone has encountered substance abuse, we can act and help them before things get out of hand. After speaking with Brian, and in light of some of the feedback I've received from the community, it seemed appropriate to lead by example. So on 3 September, I've organised for Brian to do a drug test of my office. My team and I will undergo the same test proposed by this legislation.
For Mandurah, the drug-testing trial is part of a multipronged approach to local drug abuse. We're improving health services, expanding job opportunities and, with this program, identifying and coming alongside the people who need help. The drug-testing trial helps Centrelink, Newstart and Youth Allowance programs effectively achieve what they're designed to do. It provides further funding for drug treatment services, and, crucially, it helps keep taxpayers' money out of the hands of drug dealers.
Finally, let's remember that this program is a trial. The government is trying something new in a further attempt to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Shouldn't we just give it a go? The drug-testing trial is a sensible, practical and popular policy. The people of Mandurah support the plan and want this parliament to pass it as soon as possible. Labor will have to answer to the Mandurah community if they continue to block the peoples' will.