House debates

Monday, 13 August 2018

Bills

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

6:30 pm

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | Hansard source

The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018 introduces a two-year trial of drug testing for illicit drug use of 5,000 new recipients of Newstart Allowance and youth allowance in three trial sites. This trial is designed to identify and help jobseekers who have drug-abuse issues. It will help them to get treatment, to rehabilitate and to get a job. During the first year of the trial, 5,000 new jobseekers in three locations across Australia will be selected randomly and tested for the presence of illicit drugs. The trial will operate in Canterbury Bankstown, New South Wales; Logan, Queensland, and Mandurah, Western Australia.

The community has the right to expect that taxpayer funded welfare payments are not being used to fund drug addiction and that jobseekers do all they can to find a job. We don't want our welfare system subsidising drug dealers. It is important to note that people who fail a drug test will not lose one dollar of welfare money. What will happen is that 80 per cent of their welfare money will be put on income management. This involving direct debits for rent and utilities, with the remainder put on the BasicsCard, which can be spent on essentials like rent and groceries. On a second failure, they will be referred for a medical assessment and rehabilitation may be added to their job plan. The only time someone will lose their welfare payment directly is if they refuse to take a drug test. People who refuse to take part in the trial when signing on for income support will not get a welfare payment. To support jobseekers in the drug-testing trial, the government has also announced an additional $10 million treatment fund. The treatment fund will assist people to undertake the treatment recommended for them by a medical professional should existing Commonwealth or state funded services not be able to meet any additional demand as a result of the trial.

This bill demonstrates the government's commitment to the drug-testing trial, which is a unique and innovative approach to helping people with drug-abuse issues. The government believes that randomised drug testing can be an effective way of identifying welfare recipients for whom mandated treatments may be successful.

This trial is a world first; nothing like it has been attempted anywhere else. A comprehensive evaluation will be conducted in parallel with the trial. This approach will ensure that any unintended consequences can be identified promptly and addressed in real time. The evaluation will build a body of evidence on the efficacy of this unique protocol, where jobseekers with drug-abuse issues will receive income management and be supported to access treatment. This government's measure is designed to help identify jobseekers for whom drug use is an issue. The purpose of testing welfare recipients in the drug-testing trial is to find people who may need help to address a barrier to employment that they may not have acknowledged or disclosed previously.

This trial is one of a suite of measures to address drug and alcohol abuse issues in welfare recipients that the government announced in the 2017-18 budget. These measures are designed to work together and to better encourage and support these jobseekers to take reasonable steps to overcome their issues and find work. From 1 January 2018, for the first time all jobseekers are able to include drug and alcohol treatment in their job plan and have this contribute to meeting their annual activity requirement. This measure supports jobseekers with drug and alcohol abuse issues and allows them to have a job plan that is properly tailored to their needs.

The government has also passed measures to ensure that jobseekers with substance abuse issues remain actively engaged in appropriate activities, including treatment, to address their barriers to work. Jobseekers will no longer be granted an exemption from their mutual obligation requirements, including activities such as job search and preparing for work, due to drug or alcohol abuse issues. Instead, they will remain connected with their employment services provider. Seeking an exemption on these grounds will trigger a conversation with their provider about their drug or alcohol issues and enable their activities to be tailored to address their needs.

In addition to this, the government has passed measures to tighten the reasonable excuse rules and prevent jobseekers from repeatedly using drug and alcohol dependency as an excuse for not meeting their requirements without being prepared to do anything about it. Indeed, they will be encouraged to undertake treatment as part of their mutual obligation requirements.

The drug-testing trial will test an innovative method of assisting people with drug abuse issues. We know that drug use can be a major barrier to finding and keeping a job. The government believes that helping jobseekers to get the treatment that they need to overcome their drug abuse issues is a critical step in ensuring that these Australians benefit from the 1,100 new jobs that are being created.

Finally, in reviewing the bill the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has recommended some clarification to the explanatory memorandum regarding risk profiling. I now table the addendum to the explanatory memorandum that makes that clarification. I recommend the bill to the House.

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