House debates

Monday, 13 August 2018


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

4:27 pm

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I understand what the member for Melbourne is saying. He is saying that, if this policy were to remove income from people, the result might be that they would find themselves homeless because they cannot afford rent and that they might turn to crime because they cannot afford the basics of life. So it is my hope that the Greens would reconsider their opposition to this bill on the basis that we will not be removing income from a single person. No person will not be able to afford rent because they will not have income removed from them. No person will need to turn to a life of crime, because they will have income removed because no person will have their income removed.

Mr Bandt interjecting

I would hope that the member for Melbourne would spend less time interrupting and more time listening. Perhaps he and his party would find it possible, find it in their hearts and find the compassion that is necessary to help people who are trying to make a better life for themselves, instead of walking from the chamber and sticking their heads in the sand when people are crying out for help. Is that the Greens' way?

He asked the question: what if your son or your daughter found themselves in the horrible position where they couldn't get away from the scourge of drugs, that they had become addicted to a substance that was destroying their lives? Let me answer that question on behalf of every member of the Liberal and National Party in this place: we would want a compassionate government to help; not to be driven by ideology and, when confronted with facts, not to run from the chamber, as he has done.

We need the Greens, we need all members of parliament, to support a policy that speaks of compassion and that seeks to help all Australians, especially vulnerable Australians. Drug abuse is an issue that affects all aspects of the life of a user. It cripples relationships and families. It damages mental and physical health, whilst directly impacting an individual's finances and, importantly, job prospects.

Substance abuse is undoubtedly a problem that is indiscriminate, suffered by Australians of all backgrounds. However, it cannot be denied that the prevalence of drug abuse amongst those out of work and receiving welfare payments is a particularly concerning issue, with studies showing that such Australians are three times more likely to have recently used illicit drugs than those with a job. In these cases, not only is drug abuse perpetuating the cycle of unemployment and dependency on welfare but you, the taxpayer, are also subsidising it.

While this government is certainly opposed to taxpayers indirectly funding drug dealers and the black market economy, addressing this is not the primary focus of this bill. In fact, it's not the focus of this bill at all. This bill is about saving lives, not saving money. This government will not stand by and continue to allow Australians with drug and alcohol addictions to suffer in silence. Welfare is supposed to be a hand-up, not a handout, and most certainly it's not intended to fund actions that hurt the very people we are supposed to be helping.

The trial of drug tests for welfare recipients proposed by this government is only one step in addressing this scourge, breaking the cycle of addiction and abuse for drug users. If a positive externality of that ensures taxpayer funds are no longer being wasted on such detrimental drugs, no doubt the Greens would oppose it. If we could stand here and say it's going to cost more, that would ensure the support of the Greens. Well, I'm here to say it will actually cost more, because this government is willing to invest and spend to help those who need our help. We want to make it clear that we are not punishing those suffering from substance abuse; we are helping them. By taking away their ability to purchase the very drugs which have ruined and continue to ruin their lives, their families' lives and their friends' lives, we are making a difference. That is what true compassion looks like.

Opposing this bill is, quite frankly, confounding, because by opposing it the Greens are permitting people to continue habits which are making their lives worse. We are not going to stand by and allow vulnerable Australians to be victimised by criminal drug dealers. We recognise the need for support and rehabilitation, and it will continue to be available, and we will continue to encourage those who need it to use it. What we are doing, however, is ensuring that those who return positive results for illicit substances no longer have the means to keep buying. Through tried and tested programs such as income management, we can make sure that the majority of welfare payments made to such an individual are spent on necessities rather than harmful drugs. In this way, we can not only ensure taxpayer money is spent appropriately but also cultivate positive attitudes that encourage wiser spending and remove all obstacles and hindrances to finding work. After all, research shows the best form of welfare is a job.

Jobseekers on Newstart and youth allowance will not be required to pass a drug test in order to commence their welfare payments. When making a claim for a payment, jobseekers will simply have to acknowledge that they may be subject to drug testing as part of their ongoing payments. Those who do test positive, of course, just as with an RBT on the roads, will be given an opportunity to request a second test. All drug tests will be conducted by qualified third-party drug testing providers in accordance with normal drug testing standards. Pre-test interviews between the drug tester and the jobseeker are mandatory in order to identify any factors which may interfere with the test, be they prescribed medication or any other factors. If a jobseeker receives a positive drug test, they will continue to receive the same payments.

Let us be clear: no-one loses money from this. No-one will be thrown onto the street or suddenly lose their financial support, as those in the Greens will have you believe. That is not what this bill is about. We are not trying to punish drug users. Rather, we are helping them break the cycle of addiction. Jobseekers whose test positive to a drug test will be placed on the proven income management program. Income management does not alter the amount the jobseeker receives. The jobseeker's ability to look after themselves and continue to search for a job does not change. Only the way they receive their payments will change. A jobseeker on income management will have 80 per cent of their payment restricted to paying their bills and purchasing essential items. The remaining 20 per cent of the payment is paid into their regular bank account and is accessible to pay for discretionary items. Those who are placed on income management will still be able to make purchases at approved merchants. The only discretionary items which they will not be able to buy are alcohol, smoking products and cash-equivalent products like gift cards, as well as not being able to withdraw cash itself. As well as this, income management will restrict people from spending on any form of gambling, because this is about saving lives and helping people get their lives back on track.

Income management and the cashless debit card both have the same end goal of saving people from the scourge of drug and alcohol addiction but go about it in different ways. Income management provides a more tailored approach to welfare management, as opposed to the cashless debit card, which is a community-wide program providing less individualised support for the participant. Income management is designed only for those who truly need our help and support, those burdened with the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse, those who will not be unaffected by this trial.

This bill includes a measure to introduce a two-year trial of illicit drug testing of 5,000 randomly selected recipients of Newstart and youth allowance in three specifically selected local government areas across the country. These areas are Canterbury Bankstown in New South Wales, Logan in Queensland and Mandurah in Western Australia. These areas were chosen after a thorough selection process by this government identified them as key problem areas for drug abuse by welfare recipients. In doing so, we can ensure the trial is conducted efficiently, responsibly and in the areas that need it most. These drug tests will test for ice, ecstasy and marijuana as well as opioids. These drugs are a vicious trap which ruins lives, limiting a person's ability to find a job and their capacity to lead a happy and healthy life, fulfilling their full potential.

Highlighting the gravity of the issue and its impact on the community is that, in 2017 alone, there were 4,856 occasions when a jobseeker named drug or alcohol addiction as the reason for not being able to maintain their job. That's nearly 5,000 people who would be productive members of the Australian workforce if it were not for the terrible affliction of substance abuse. Throughout the trial, there will be a comprehensive evaluation of impacts and outcomes for jobseekers. The benefit of holding these evaluations throughout the trial compared to after is so that any unintended consequences can be handled as they arise. The results of these trials will advise any future extensions as well as any potential rolling out of the drug-testing program more broadly.

I am committed to helping those in need, including in my own electorate of Mackellar. I would welcome and encourage a drug-testing trial to take place in the local government area of the Northern Beaches without hesitation. I say this because I know that, like me, the people of Mackellar and the Northern Beaches truly care about everyone in their community, in our community, especially those trying to get back on their feet. We are committed to reducing the impact of drug and alcohol abuse on our community's most vulnerable, not only preventing its continuation whilst out of a job, but ideally creating and reinforcing positive habits that will assist struggling Australians when they are working again, preventing any relapse into drug abuse.

To further support those who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction, the government is providing nearly $10 million to the creation of a dedicated treatment fund. This fund will provide support where the current Commonwealth, state and territory government support services are not sufficient. It will ensure the government is able to supply additional support services to the areas of the trial which are not meeting the additional demand for drug and alcohol support. This is, of course, on top of the $689 million the government has already committed to reducing the impact of drug and alcohol abuse on communities, families and, of course, the individual. This includes a near $300 million investment as part of the National Ice Action Strategy aimed at improving treatment, after-care, education, prevention, assistance and community engagement to tackle ice.

Illicit drug and alcohol abuse is a problem which affects many Australians across all different socioeconomic backgrounds, but it is most prevalent among the unemployed. These trials and the measures in this bill will save lives by getting people out of their addiction and back to work. Drug dealers will no longer be subsidised with taxpayers' money, and people who truly need treatment will get it. No-one—I repeat, no-one—whether they test positive or negative, will have their payments reduced at any time. This bill is a magnificent initiative of a government that cares about people, that wants to help people stop harming themselves and give them the skills to help them live their lives to the full. We're not passing a value judgement on those Australians who are out of work and struggling with drug abuse. We are simply ensuring that such detrimental activities are discouraged and that the Australian taxpayer no longer carries the burden of financing them. I support the trials, and I would support them being held in my own electorate of Mackellar. I commend the bill to the House.


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