House debates

Monday, 13 August 2018


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

4:56 pm

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

It's always a pleasure to follow the member for Macarthur. I acknowledge his long time in the medical profession prior to coming into this House, but I do disagree with the member for Macarthur on the notion that this measure is not worth trialling for the benefit of those who have a drug dependency.

I acknowledge there will be those who will not be happy about it, but, at the end of the day, it is my firm belief—I spoke on the original bill some 12 months ago—and it remains my belief that we have a responsibility to try and find ways to assist people with a drug dependency break that drug dependency. It's important to remember that as part of receiving the Newstart allowance, which is a payment made from taxpayers' funds to those who are unemployed for whatever reason, they sign an agreement. The new agreement will include a provision for drug testing. If they don't wish to be drug tested, maybe they can look for another way to provide funding for themselves.

The purpose of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018 is to introduce or to set up a trial. Surely the opportunity to set up a trial and try something new or different has merit. This bill is not about punishing those who are unemployed or who have a drug or substance abuse problem. It is about working with those people to ensure that we can provide them with the support services necessary and the assistance necessary to break that substance abuse habit, find meaningful employment and return to the workforce to ensure they can provide for their families and contribute to their community.

I've spoken to many people across my electorate who believe this policy is a good step towards not only helping people with drug related problems but ensuring their taxpayer welfare dollars are being used to support people in the right way. A welfare system is designed to provide a safety net for those who find themselves out of work or unable to participate in the workforce. It is not there to perpetuate people's drug habits or, as the member for Macarthur said, line the pockets of drug dealers.

While there have been outspoken naysayers who fear that targeting Logan as a trial site stigmatises the region, I say to them that the status quo has done nothing, and the stigmatising of the region—sadly, from many people outside the region who don't know the Logan area well—had already created difficulties. We don't want to stigmatise people on welfare; that is not the objective of this bill. We want to help those people with identified drug issues and get them the support that they need. To that end, recently the government invested $1 million in family units at a drug rehabilitation facility—at Logan House, in Chambers Flat in my electorate. So there is investment being made in services to our community to assist people that have a drug dependency issue.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2013 showed that those who were unemployed were 2.4 times more likely to use ice and other drugs than those who were employed. In 2016-17, there were some 22,000 temporary incapacity exemptions given to over 16,000 jobseekers because of a drug and/or an alcohol dependency issue. On top of that, Australia's expenditure on alcohol and other drug treatment services in 2012-13 was $1.2 billion, with about one-third of this spending coming from the Australian government. Imagine what that funding could pay for if we succeeded in reducing drug and alcohol abuse. If we ignore these statistics, bury our heads in the sand and do not address the underlying issues, nothing will change.

The three trial sites chosen are Logan, in Queensland; Mandurah, in Western Australia; and Canterbury Bankstown, in New South Wales. As I touched on earlier, along with the member for Wright and the member for Rankin, I represent Logan in this House. There have been a variety of views expressed across the Logan community about the trial, but predominantly the feedback to my office has been in support of it. Less forthcoming has been support from Logan City Council. However, interestingly, Logan City Council do drug test their employees, and we don't hear any complaints about the drug testing of employees at Logan City Council or, for that matter, the drug testing of employees in many workforces across the country.

These sites chosen for the trial, as I said before, were not chosen to stigmatise the region or those on welfare. This proposal, as I said at the outset, is for a trial that seeks to identify and support the people we need to assist in breaking the habit of drug and alcohol abuse. To do this, the areas of Logan, Mandurah and Canterbury-Bankstown were identified as trial sites. It is important that part of the proposed legislation ensures that we build counselling, health and rehabilitation services in those areas to support the people who are identified as having an issue. I would say that, in the City of Logan, we already have some outstanding counselling, health and rehabilitation facilities. I touched on Logan House briefly, but there are many others.

We are committed to bolstering those services with a dedicated treatment fund of up to $10 million to support jobseekers in those drug-testing trial areas. This fund will provide additional treatment support in the trial locations where existing state or Commonwealth services and supports are not equipped to meet the additional demands as a result of the trial. The reason this is important is that, as we get people off drugs and, hopefully, by extension, off welfare, they can re-enter the workforce. In re-entering the workforce, they build or rebuild their self-esteem, they rebuild their capacity to provide for their families and they build, possibly, the capacity for their children to play sport or get involved in community groups that they otherwise don't have. It actually provides a far greater opportunity for these people to contribute to our communities in a positive way. That is important, because all of these people have skills, talents and capabilities which, if they're able to be utilised to their fullest extent, make our community a better place for all of us to live in.

In the Logan community, sadly, there is a drug problem. But we know that if we can continue to provide those supports and provide additional opportunities through this proposed trial, we can break some of these cycles, including the cycle of intergenerational welfare dependency, which I think plays a large part. In Logan, over two years through the trial, around 2,500 people are expected to be tested. If a Newstart or youth allowance recipient does test positive, they'll receive their payments via income management. This measure is designed to restrict the recipient's access to cash and limit their ability to use their payments to fund further drug use, while not reducing the amount of payment received. A jobseeker who tests positive will also be subject to a second test within 25 working days, and may also be subject to further tests. This will help identify those that require treatment with an ongoing program. If the report from the medical professional recommends treatment, the jobseeker will be required to participate in one or more treatment activities to address their substance abuse as part of their job plan. This could include rehabilitation, counselling or case management.

I believe this plan will ensure that our welfare recipients' payments will help them pay for their rent, food, medical and basic needs, rather than lining the pockets of drug dealers. But how will we know if the trial is a success? The government will be running an evaluation of the trial at the same time as the trial is being undertaken, so that if we see problems with the trial, we can make changes if need be. I'll reiterate: in supporting jobseekers who have a substance-abuse problem, I believe we're actually upholding our mandate as a government to support those people who need it most, when they need it most. The importance of a trial is to understand, through doing something different—something that we haven't done before—whether this works and whether it genuinely helps people in this situation. At the end of the day, as an assessment of the trial, that is the most important aspect: has the trial succeeded in helping people who are on Newstart, who have a substance-abuse problem, breaking that habit of substance abuse and being able to re-enter the workforce and use their skills and talents to the best of their ability, to create a life for their families, to contribute to the community, and to re-establish and restore the self-esteem and the self-respect that we know that people with a drug dependency frequently lose as a result of that dependency?

This bill, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018, has the potential to provide an opportunity for some to live a much brighter future than they would have if they remained stuck in that mire of drug dependency and welfare. I commend this bill to the House.


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