Monday, 13 August 2018
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018; Second Reading
In continuation regarding this bill today I was commenting about remarks made by the Director of the Department of Addiction Medicine at St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne in direct relation to impact of this bill. I place on the record again what Associate Professor Yvonne Bonomo said in her remarks regarding this bill. I hope those opposite are listening carefully, because she said:
Pushing people to the brink won't make it better.
We know that the government has not even announced the cost of this, nor do they know the detail of what types of tests will be conducted. I again ask for the evidence. Where is it? Where is the detail? When considering new trials such as these we can often look to other countries who have implemented similar programs to gauge their success, but on this occasion what we find is not success but rather a track record of this system simply not working. That's what the experts at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians have to say about this:
In 2013, the New Zealand government instituted a drug testing program … among welfare recipients. In 2015, only 22 (0.27 per cent) of 8,001 beneficiaries tested returned a positive result for illicit drug use or refused to be tested. This detection rate was much lower than the proportion of the population estimated to be using illicit drugs in New Zealand … Similar results were found in the United States … In Utah, 838 of the state's 9,552 welfare applicants were screened with 29 returning a positive result.
That's just 0.3 per cent. These were costly initiatives that simply drove people into poverty and crime.
This bill has also been the subject of a Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry, which recently handed down its report. This included a statement from Clinical Associate Professor Adrian Reynolds, an expert in addiction medicine, who said that the drug-testing trial is:
… unlikely to bring about any sustained changes in patients' drug use behaviours and may even be counterproductive.
Again, I hope those opposite are listening. Drug and alcohol addiction experts have said this measure may be counterproductive. Associate Professor Adrian Reynolds went further and told the committee:
… this drug testing trial is clinically inappropriate and not designed in a way that will address the issues of substance dependence.
Expert after expert has shared similar views. The report also included the following statement about the cost:
Labor Senators on the Committee are concerned that the Government has not revealed details about the cost of the proposed drug testing trial and have serious concerns based on international experiences and the stated cost of testing in Australia, that the drug testing trial will be very expensive to administer and represent poor value for taxpayers.
The experts are not coming forward to back the claim of those opposite, who like to cloak themselves in responsibility and responsible behaviour. In fact not one expert has come forward for this. The report went on:
The Committee heard evidence that the funds for treatment to be provided for the Government were insufficient to meet the current need, let alone the increased demand that is expected to be generated by the drug testing trial.
Through the committee we also learned that my own home state of Queensland is:
… about $75 million short of what would be considered an adequate treatment system to meet the needs of those people who voluntarily want to enter the system.
… this figure does not take in to account an amount to enable services to meet increased demand.
The evidence is simply overwhelmingly against this piece of legislation, but perhaps none more so than the tragic story told to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee by Mr Matthew Noffs, from the Ted Noffs Foundation, about an 18-year-old girl. He says:
She was raped by her father repeatedly since the age of four. She was then forced to become a sex worker at 14. By 16, she was using ice to get by. She is continuing to use ice at 18 and she is on the dole.
This is the only thing that is keeping her alive. The drug is the one thing that is keeping her alive. She had broken countless laws by the time she was a teenager. She doesn't care about being arrested for this … She will find any which way that she can.
It is stories like this that show the government's misunderstanding of the issue. The Network of Alcohol and Other Drug Agencies—
I will take the objection from the member for Bowman, who is from the LNP in Queensland. They savagely cut health funding from front-line doctors and nursing. When the LNP were in state government, they closed centres in my own electorate, like the Barrett Adolescent Centre. Are you going to apologise for that? No, he is saying he is not apologising for that. I say: read the report. The member for Bowman should read the report about the impact of what the Newman administration did about the closing of those centres. Read the report. Take the advice from experts. Stop coming in here and pretending you know the world when you don't. Time and time again—
Mr Laming interjecting—
This is the member still defending these savage cuts, the millions of dollars worth of cuts under the Newman administration. We see the disrespect shown to the medical fraternity—doctors, nurses—by people like the member for Bowman. They never apologised for those savage cuts to front-line services.
Mr Laming interjecting—
I'm talking about Queensland—keep up. You wonder the LNP were comprehensively rejected in the Longman by-election. They were wiped out because of their savage cuts to front-line services. They then come in here and want to lecture anyone about health funding. Take a lesson from what's happened in Queensland, about the disgraceful performance by the LNP.
We know that residents who are selected for testing will be notified of a requirement to attend an appointment with the Department of Human Services. At this appointment, they will be notified of a requirement to provide a sample of saliva, urine or hair for the purpose of a drug test. Testing will be undertaken by a contracted third-party provider. Recipients who fail to attend this appointment will have their payments suspended. Should a jobseeker refuse—
Mr Laming interjecting—
He doesn't like the truth. He doesn't like the fact that I'm pointing out that his party has cut vital health funds in Queensland, in his own state. He knows it is this time again; it is the walk of shame while he scurries out of this chamber, because he knows what I'm saying is correct. We know that the government can't provide the costs. We know it. The government either doesn't know it themselves or won't say. These people are already doing it tough. The people who the government are victimising as a result of this legislation are only going to be pushed further into poverty by this government, who appears to be hell-bent on sending them there. This government's ignorance of the experts is simply astounding. We've heard reports that the trial could put Centrelink staff at risk of aggression and violence as they attempt to enforce surprise drug testing on participants.
The RACP and AChAM are concerned that these measures are not based on evidence of what works—either at a policy or a clinical level.
In our view, they will not only fail to achieve the Bill's stated aim of assisting people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction to access treatment and secure employment, but will harm an already vulnerable group of people and increase their social and financial disadvantage.
To the government sitting in the chamber today, I urge them to reconsider their ill-fated stance taken on this important issue and the harm that it will inflict on vulnerable Australians, families and communities. We know that there is not a single piece of evidence that suggests this policy will do anything but cause harm. I'm proud to say that Labor and myself will not be supporting this bill.
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.
At the core of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018 are the three drug-testing trials which are planned for Canterbury Bankstown in New South Wales, Mandurah in Western Australia and my own community of Logan City in Queensland. This bill is not a genuine or meaningful attempt to help out some of the most vulnerable people in our community. It's all about denigrating, demeaning, diminishing vulnerable people and pushing them to the brink. It's all about chasing a cheap tabloid headline at the expense of community cohesion. And it's all about a government so blinded by ideology that they won't listen to expert after expert after expert in the health field, the law and order field and beyond who say that this won't work and that it will be counterproductive.
This is a dangerous approach to people on social security payments because it will further marginalise them and it will push them to the brink, and that will have all kinds of consequences not just for the person immediately affected but for communities right around the country. This is a bit personal for me, because I do represent, proudly, the community that I was born in, grew up in, live in and love; I am raising my family there now. I tell you, we are a little bit sick as a community of being singled out by this out-of-touch Prime Minister and the LNP time and time again for this kind of denigration.
We are sick and tired of the fake concern shown by those opposite, including in the most recent contribution—this pretence that they care about vulnerable people. It makes us sick, Deputy Speaker. We are sick and tired of the lectures from Point Piper about what it's like to be on a low or a fixed income and battling with drug addiction. We are sick and tired of being the first port of call every time—and it's quite frequent—those opposite need a distraction from the latest scandals, whether it be half a billion dollars going to the Prime Minister's mates or by-election failures and other humiliations. We are sick and tired of being the first port of call when the government needs a distraction.
I will be voting against this legislation, as will every one of my colleagues, because we understand that what's being proposed here won't work, because we've listened to the experts and the experts have said that this will actually lead to worse health outcomes, it will lead to more crime, it will lead to more marginalisation and it will lead to more poverty. I think it speaks ill of those opposite—it says everything about those opposite—that, in the face of overwhelming expert opinion, they are so blinded by their extreme ideology and so keen to chase that cheap headline that they want to persevere with this ridiculous bill anyway.
This is not the first time that these drug-testing proposals have been before the House. They were attached to the broader social services legislation, and they failed then because those on the crossbench, thankfully, listened to the experts, as we did. So they have failed before. This bill is a little bit different in that it actually names the three sites—the three sites I mentioned at the outset. The trials were supposed to commence on 1 July this year, and that deadline has obviously been missed. The costs of the trial haven't been published, but the government has announced the money for drug testing. But it isn't clear how the treatment fund will be allocated and if it will be in sufficient time before the trials are scheduled to commence. So we will oppose this bill.
Thankfully, a whole range of groups right around Australia have come out and pointed out the flaws in the approach proposed by those opposite. Let me just do you a very quick roll call. These are just some of the health experts, medical professionals and community organisations that have opposed the measures that are being proposed here: the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, St Vincent's Health, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Harm Reduction Australia, Penington Institute, the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, the Australian Council of Social Service, UnitingCare Australia, Homelessness Australia and the St Vincent de Paul Society. All of these groups are united in their opposition to the government's proposals for these drug trials.
Let's consider for a moment that the other piece of paper I'm holding contains all of the groups who have come out in support of this legislation: absolutely none. Across the board, no community organisation, no expert group, no peak body in health or law and order has come out in support of what is being proposed here. This is the complete list of the organisations which have come out in support of what the government is proposing! That just shows you the folly of what's being imposed on communities like mine.
International experience shows when you push people to the brink, like removing their welfare payments, things just get worse …
There will be more crime, more family violence, more distress within society.
The Australian Medical Association said:
… the AMA considers these measures to be mean and stigmatising.
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre said there was 'no evidence' that any of these measures will directly achieve outcomes associated with reductions in alcohol or other drug use or harms, and indeed have 'the potential to create greater levels of harm, including increased stigma, marginalisation and poverty'. These experts know, as we on this side of the chamber know, that this has been trialled and has failed elsewhere, including in 2013 in New Zealand. In 2015 in New Zealand, only 22 of 8,001 participants returned a positive result. This was a detection rate much lower than the proportion of the general New Zealand population estimated to be using illicit drugs. Similar results came back in trials in the US states of Missouri and Utah.
There are other very real concerns that testing could encourage people to use less-traceable drugs. There are a whole range of other issues around long waiting lists, meaning that people testing positive might not be able to get the help they need. There are all kinds of issues around Centrelink staff possibly being put at risk of aggression and violence as they attempt to enforce drug testing of participants, and that's before we even get to the fact that those opposite haven't been able to organise anything in the social services space without getting it horribly wrong, whether it's robo-debt or right across the board in IT—things like the Census, or Medicare information being sold on the dark web. Even if this was a good idea, those opposite wouldn't have the capacity to implement it properly. So, what they're proposing to do is to commit a whole bunch of money to something that won't work, hasn't worked overseas, won't work here, would be counterproductive and is not supported by any of the experts—which is a pretty remarkable situation that they've found themselves in.
In addition to the national peak organisations, in my community of Logan City, to the south of Brisbane, there has been a fierce local reaction to what's being proposed here. And I commend the local council; I commend Acting Mayor Cherie Dalley and all her colleagues for the way they've gone about this, and all the community groups. They weren't even given the courtesy of being notified that they'd been singled out for these trials. They found out about it when they read about it in the newspaper, which is a pretty appalling way to treat a community in which you'd like to implement your drug trial. If you think about some of the most respected people in our community, they have come out fiercely in opposition to what's being proposed. For example, Cath Bartolo, the CEO of YFS—a terrific group in my electorate that helps disadvantaged and vulnerable people—has described the measure as 'punitive and not backed by evidence'. Here is Cath on the front page of our local paper last year. The story says:
A Logan-based social services group has slammed last week's federal government decision to test welfare recipients in Logan for drugs.
Cath Bartolo also came to a Senate committee hearing in Logan about the proposed legislation. There she said:
For young people, I'm really worried if they lose income and are not linked to positive things about trying to get employment they'll turn to crime or other means, like prostitution.
These fears are shared pretty broadly in our community. Julie Fursey, from LECNA, the Logan East Community Neighbourhood Association, said:
We see this as a discriminatory policy. It's going to discriminate against the most vulnerable people in the community. It's going to really hurt Logan City. We'll be looking at increased crime, increased domestic violence and robberies.
Geoffrey Davey, of the Queensland Injectors Health Network, said to the committee:
It may actually have the effect of increasing socialisation, stigma, discrimination and marginalisation of what is already a very vulnerable population.
Rebecca Lang, of the Queensland Network of Alcohol and Other Drug Agencies, said:
There will be a proportion of people who will move into activities that maybe previously they wouldn't have thought about doing, like sex work or crime, usually property crime, to get things that they can pawn or sell to buy drugs or swap with their dealer to get drugs. The reality is that people who are experiencing drug dependence live fairly grim lives.
The list goes on and on. People have come out against this. The acting mayor of Logan City, Cherie Dalley, said:
In the light of concerns raised by the medical community, the lack of consultation and the lack of evidence about the effectiveness of similar measures internationally, Council believes there is further work to be done in order to be able to proceed.
Logan City also has very serious concerns about how we as a community have been selected for this drug trial. The member for Tangney in his contribution talked about the testing of the local sewage to determine which communities were picked. He may not appreciate—and I mean this respectfully—that the testing done to pick my community in Logan City was actually done on the Brisbane sewerage plants to which many communities, many councils, feed into. So there have been errors in that part of the selecting of the site. The relevant council officer, Nick McGuire, Acting Director of Community Services, said:
It became apparent that the data was really about the convenience of choosing a location like Logan rather than the data actually putting together a strong business case for Logan being one of the locations.
He also said:
The data doesn't really stack up from a Logan-specific purpose: it points to some wastewater treatment reports that are really targeting towards Brisbane and it points to the Logan district police service district, which is really not the entirety of Logan either.
So there are a whole range of flaws with how we've arrived at this absurd proposition not just as it relates to my community but as it relates to all three of the communities.
I want to commend Senators Lisa Singh, Murray Watt and Louise Pratt, because they have done an excellent job highlighting the problems with these trials in their dissenting report to the Senate committee report. They pointed to a lot of the issues that I've talked about in some detail so far.
Finally, the government is unable to tell the Australian people how much these trials will cost taxpayers, which is a pretty reckless approach when you consider we've got record debt in this country. It's pretty amazing that they won't fess up about what they're spending on the ideologically-driven proposals that we're debating today. The reason they can't tell us how much it costs is that they don't know what tests will be used. They don't know a whole range of things. There is a whole range of unanswered questions, including the cost of these tests. We're not going to give the government a blank cheque to demonise jobseekers in my community.
For all those reasons, Labor opposes this bill and the drug testing that it seeks to implement. We have listened to the experts, we have consulted with the communities and we genuinely care about helping people who need help. We don't want to see more of the punishing of those people, more of the demeaning and demonising of them that we've seen from those opposite. We're up for a genuine discussion about how we help people battling addiction, how we help ensure they receive the treatment they need and how we stop kicking people in the guts when they're down, which is at the core of what the government is proposing in this legislation which should not be supported.
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.
What do you do if you're a government who's in trouble in the polls? What do you do if you're on the way out, you've been caught out looking after your big corporate mates at the expense of everyone else and you're pressing ahead saying, 'Let's give tens of billions of dollars worth of tax cuts to the big banks at the same time as they're being hauled before the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry and potentially facing criminal actions'? What do you do if you're a government who's sitting watching pollution go up at a time when we have a record heatwave in the Northern Hemisphere and everyone's telling us we need to make sure that we don't leave a planet and an Australia for our kids that are worse than the ones that we inherited? What do you do if you're a government under whose watch youth unemployment and underemployment have reached crisis levels so that we're at the point now where just on one in three young people in this country either hasn't got a job or hasn't got enough hours of work? What do you do if you're this Liberal government? You find someone else to go and beat up on—preferably someone who isn't going to be in a position to defend themselves. If you're this Liberal government, you don't go after the crooks in the corporations, you don't go after the big banks and you don't go after the big polluters—you go after the people who are doing it tough and who are trying to find a job and can't get one. And you blame those people, if you're the Liberals, for not finding jobs that just aren't there.
In this bill, they've decided that the way they can hopefully get a bit of an uptick in the polls—and perhaps get some votes back from right-wing parties that they're leaking votes to—is by treating everyone who's on welfare as a potential criminal. If you are on welfare, if you are looking for a job—you might have lost a job, through no fault of your own, or you might be one of those one in three young people who can't find a job or can't find enough hours of work because, since the GFC, youth un- and underemployment in this country has got worse, not better—well, what's the answer? We're going to treat you as a potential criminal and give the right for government to force you to have compulsory drug tests. You are a person who's suspected to have broken the law through having done nothing more than being in receipt of welfare, and we are going to take away your rights—that's what the government is saying to people in this country who are doing it tough—we're going to call you a potential criminal and we're going to take your rights away.
You don't lift people out of poverty by taking away their rights. You don't solve youth unemployment and underemployment in this country by blaming the victims for not finding jobs that aren't there because this government has other priorities. If you take those steps that the government is proposing in this bill, you actually make the problem worse. The government might as well rename this bill the increasing-crime bill, because that is what is going to happen. Once you say to people that if you have taken drugs and you don't follow some other steps that the government's now imposing on you then we're going to take away your money, then you force people further into poverty. If you say to people, 'We are going to take away your money,' that does nothing to diminish addiction. What it does is push people further and further away from the government system, including potential government systems of support, and it will increase crime.
I don't know how much time this government has spent dealing with people on the front line of drug addiction services, but what these services will tell you—and there are quite a few very good ones in my electorate—is that when someone is truly an addict they will start doing things that you wouldn't expect of that person when they were not subject to addiction. Addiction is like a disease. It forces you to do things just to maintain the addiction. So if you say to someone, 'You're going to have to do X, Y and Z, because we've subjected you to a drug test, you've come back with a positive result and you haven't complied with these other steps, and we're now going to cut your payments'—if someone is in that situation, where they are that in thrall to a drug, then there is every chance that they're not going to respond to it in a rational manner, as a rational, calculating, economic individual might do. They're going to make decisions driven by the addiction. As a result, this government is going to say to them, 'Well, no money for you.'
What do you think someone who is in the grip of an addiction, who now no longer has any money because the government is taking it away from them, is going to do? They are going to turn to crime to get themselves the money for the next fix. That is what the agencies in my electorate are telling me. That is what the health professionals are saying. But this government does not listen, because this is all about the politics for this government. This is all about trying to get the attention away from the fact that they're doing nothing to create meaningful employment for young people in this country. They're doing everything to give money to the big banks and the big corporations, and they're on the nose because of it. So, what do you do? Well, you try to blame someone else in order to shift the conversation. That is what this government is doing.
We have been very worried for some time about the income management proposals that lie at the heart of this bill—which says that because you're someone who's doing it tough, because you're someone who's vulnerable, we're going to take your money and tell you how best to spend it in ways that we wouldn't ever dream of doing for anyone else; we're going to treat you as a second-class citizen and take away your money. We have said from the beginning that when those proposals were first introduced—and they've been trialled and pushed down the throats of Indigenous Australians in this country—look out, because not only is it a bad idea for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders but it's a bad idea for everyone. Once the government says, 'We are now in a position to be able to dictate to you how you spend your money, and if you don't do it the way we like or you don't comply with the conditions that we put on you, we're going to take away your income—and force you to have a card, with the stigma of having to go to the shops with a card to particular shops, where they can dictate their own prices. Because you've now got one of these government-marked cards—or worse; you might have no income at all—and, once the government starts going down this road, it is going to expand to the broader population. We have said that from the beginning, and now we are seeing it in practice. Someone who has done nothing more than fall prey to addiction, who deserves our help to get out of that, and who deserves to have their situation treated as a health issue, will now not only be treated as a potential criminal but potentially find themselves in an even worse situation than they were in to start with—thanks to this government.
There are many things the government could do if it was serious about addressing the root causes of drug addiction. It could stop cutting funding to agencies. It could start with serious programs to tackle our youth unemployment and underemployment crisis in this country—and I'll come back to that, because that is absolutely crucial. Since the GFC, it has become harder for young people to find work, and the work that they find is very often part-time and, as a result—as I said before—one in three young people either hasn't got a job or hasn't got enough work. This is a national crisis. That is what we should be focusing on. What government programs can we put in place to create employment?
Why can't the government spend some of the $50 billion that it wants to spend on corporate tax cuts on building new houses for the homeless instead? That could employ some of the young people in apprenticeships, so that they could learn a trade and we could solve a social problem, all at once. That's a better way of spending the money than giving it to the big banks for a tax cut. Why don't we use some of the money that's about to go to the big banks for a tax cut to build new renewable energy in this country, like government authorities used to do in the states? And again, we'll create some apprenticeships on those, so that young people can get new jobs as apprentice electricians and get apprentice trade work. Why don't we do something about the fact that the mining boom decimated manufacturing in this country, and give some tax breaks to industry so that they can put it into building new manufacturing capacity and tie it to job creation? So instead of a big handout, we say: 'You only get support from the government if you're going to give people new jobs.'
What we've done in this country since the GFC, including under this government's watch, is scrap all of the entry-level jobs that people who finished year 10 or year 12 used to walk into. We've made it more expensive to go off and get a trade or get a degree and, as a result, we now have hundreds of thousands of young people who—at the moment—have never known a steady, full-time, permanent job, and who may never know one in the future. What should we do with them? Let's get them engaged. Let's get government back to some of the things that government is meant to be about. But instead, all this government does is run around with a big stick and say: 'It's that person's fault if they can't find a job.' And if, because they can't find a job, they've found themselves with more time on their hands than they otherwise might have and they've fallen into addiction: 'Well, we're going to punish them for it by cutting them off even further from the system.'
The thing is, probably everyone in this place—probably most people in the country—know someone in their family or in their street or in their workplace who's had a son or a daughter who has fallen prey to addiction. What you want in that situation is to know that everyone has that person's welfare at heart, first and foremost. You want to know that that person is not being treated as a political football and you want to know that the services are there to help those people get healthy again.
I think if it were anyone in this chamber's son or daughter who was addicted, was struggling to deal with it and needed assistance, if they knew that what the government was going to do was say to that person, 'You no longer have any money to live on. That's the sum total of our contribution to you. We are taking away your income', we would be horrified. If, as a result of this government, a person with drug addiction now can't pay the rent then they're going to become homeless. If, as a result of this government, a person with a drug addiction doesn't have any money at all to meet the bare necessities of life, let alone meet their next fix, then they're going to turn to crime and it will be on this government's shoulders.
For the basest political reasons, this government has taken the sons and daughters of Australia who have fallen on hard times and is making their lot even worse, all because they're struggling in the polls and don't have a positive agenda to sell. We will stand up to it. We've stood up to income management from the beginning. We'll continue to stand up to it now. We've stood up against demonising people who have issues with drugs, and we will continue to stand up to it.
Just like the previous time that the government tried to get this through and got knocked back by the Senate, I hope that this gets rejected by the parliament again, because there is a reason you can find next to no-one lining up with the government to support this. A whole string of people, who work in this field and who look after people who are doing it tough, are lining up to say, 'This is a very bad idea' and they are ringing the warning bells very loudly.
I hope that when it comes back to the Senate it gets rejected soundly again, because this is a bad idea that will hurt people. I hope beyond hope that someone I know and care about is never in the situation where, because of this government, they can't deal with the demons that they're facing and, in fact, this government turns around and makes their problem worse. I ask everyone to think if it were your own son or daughter, who was facing these issues, would you really want them to be forced to live with no money at all just because the government wanted to make a political point?
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.
Governments should not be wilful. They shouldn't be arbitrary, they shouldn't be cruel and they shouldn't be petty. Rarely should a government mandate procedures that are physically invasive or otherwise intrude disproportionately on the person or the rights of the individual. Nevertheless, we have before us today, not for the first time, a proposal that in ways large and small offends those principles. I do not want a drug-testing trial in my electorate to demonise those already most disadvantaged. Despite our many differences, I'd hope that the Turnbull government might be better than this legislation, but it's not.
The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018 establishes a two-year drug-testing trial for 5,000 new recipients of Newstart and youth allowance. 'Participants' in the trial will be selected at random and those refusing to be tested will have their welfare payments cancelled immediately. This is the sort of measure that often has government members opposite salivating or expressing lots of righteous indignation which even they know isn't going to make much practical difference. The leisurely pace for passage through the parliament would seem proof of that. It's also an issue that, in my world, defies simplistic explanations. The scourge of drug addiction is not just a simple problem; it's a complex issue with many causes. It is primarily a medical problem. Newstart and youth allowance recipients who test positive to a first drug test will be placed on so-called income support measures for two years and will also be subjected to another test within 25 days. Being placed on income support, in effect, means that only 20 per cent of a recipient's welfare payments are paid in cash and the rest is only available via the government's BasicsCard. Those who fail the second test or test positive again during the two-year income management period will be referred for possible medical treatment, and that treatment, if recommended, will form part of the recipient's job plan. In my electorate, those resources certainly are not available. There's sometimes a wait for rehabilitation that measures years rather than months.
The government says that the trial will address what it says is the link between drug abuse and unemployment, so that taxpayer-funded welfare payments are not being used to fund drug addiction and so that jobseekers do all they can to find a job. This is another demonstration that the government does not understand drug addiction as a medical problem. For good measure the government has lobbed in some decidedly very iffy claims that the bill is in line with community expectations. Just ask people who are involved in drug rehabilitation what they think about the bill, and they will tell you that this is not the right way to go.
The minister concluded his second reading speech by challenging the opposition and the crossbenchers to be brave enough to change their minds and support the trial—another demonstration of the lack of understanding of drug addiction itself. With the greatest respect, Minister, you should stop being tendentious and stick to the facts. No-one in this place wants to stand in the way of effective and affordable measures that will tackle drug abuse—least of all those of us who have spent a lifetime dealing with real-life medical issues and emergencies sometimes exacerbated by the abuse of illegal and legal drugs. No-one wants to see welfare payments used to fund drug addiction or fatten the pockets of drug dealers, but this is a very simplistic treatment for a very complex issue. It should go without saying that no-one has a closed mind to new or imaginative solutions that have a decent prospect of making a difference, yet none of the experts tell us that this will make a difference.
What Labor and the many critics of this bill, both in the medical profession and in the community, want is for drug-related problems to be treated as a health issue and not as yet another way of disciplining the undeserving poor, which those on the government benches seem to think is the way to go, nor as a political bromide to placate its own populist rump. The proposed mandatory drug trial was first hinted at in the Treasurer's 2018 budget speech. It had been bobbling around on the edges of loony-right politics for many years before that. I can remember proposals from the hard Right some years ago about what we should be doing to people with drug addiction. It has fallen in and out of view on the right wing as similar trials were pushed overseas only to be found both costly and of very little value except when narrowly applied within the criminal justice system. Even in such controlled environments the outcomes were often limited or ambiguous. Such has been this government's faltering commitment to its own proposal that the Treasurer has now presented in the 2018 budget, and the drug-testing trial is little further advanced than it was 12 months ago.
Drug-testing formed part of the government's Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017 but was dropped from that bill in December 2017 on the government's own motion. This bill was presented to the House in February this year by the Minister for Social Services, and its contents were immediately referred to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, which reported back on 7 May. Unlike the mandatory drug-testing trial proposed in the earlier welfare reform bill, this measure at least manages to identify the three local government areas where the trial will be conducted. It also stipulates that a person who fails a drug test would not be subject to the income management strictures of the bill if, in the opinion of the Secretary of the Department of Social Services, that would pose a serious risk to the person's mental, physical or emotional wellbeing. Who makes that judgement? Suffice it to say that all three local governments who were selected to host the trials have been critical of the Commonwealth's proposal in many varying degrees, and all have pointed to a total lack of prior consultation by the minister. While the newly minted legislative requirement that the Secretary of the Department of Social Services not place those at special risk on income management may open up some decisions to judicial review, that provision nonetheless leaves those who lose their allowance with the burden of demonstrating they are a special case, further demonising, stressing and punishing them for a medical problem.
The government has failed to address the two substantive concerns raised by the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee regarding the proposed measures—that matters which ought to have been dealt with by the bill would be left to delegated legislation, and that contractors and not accountable government officials would determine who could be placed on income management arrangements under the scheme. Sadly it is not just the criticisms of the Senate Scrutiny of Bills Committee that the government has largely chosen to ignore. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights has voiced criticisms too, though largely to no avail. Government senators on the Community Affairs Committee note that the present bill interferes with and limits the rights to privacy, bodily integrity, social security, equality and nondiscrimination. I think the government members should really think about this. The government's own senators even go on to note:
… the Australian Human Rights Commission endorsed the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights' analysis.
To their credit, the government senators on the Senate committee recommended that the government 'establish and publish the evaluation strategy of the drug testing trial prior to the commencement of the trial' and that the government also 'publish the outcomes of the drug testing trial after it has been completed'.
In August this year, the former minister, the current Attorney-General, claimed that there was lots of evidence that suggests that behavioural change can grow around drug-testing regimes. When challenged to provide that evidence, his office referred to six reports and studies. Four of those related to mandatory drug treatment of offenders inside criminal justice systems. Those results are not directly relevant to the proposed trial. The other two reports actually counselled against the drug testing of welfare recipients. So even the previous minister has got it all wrong when it comes to this bill.
Drug testing trials in Canada, the United States and New Zealand have all come up empty. This is not backed by evidence, yet again the government wants to punish the most vulnerable. Expert submissions to the Senate inquiry into welfare reform were scathing of drug testing, pointing out that there was no local or overseas evidence to suggest that mandatory testing will induce unemployed drug users to find treatment or to find work. We know that the only systems that work are those that are voluntary and that enable people to submit themselves to drug rehabilitation of their own volition. Once again, the government have not only failed to listen to the experts but failed to understand the science. They have failed to see drug addiction as a medical problem. They continue to use really discriminatory ways of dealing with what are societal and health problems.
One might be tempted to ask whether the proposed Australian trial is simply unique, because no other country has been silly enough to contemplate such an approach. Helpful community organisations have not come out in favour of the government's proposal, and organisations such as my own Royal Australasian College of Physicians have come out against the trial. Other organisations like ACOSS, the Uniting Church, St Vincent's Health, Anglicare and the National Drug Research Institute oppose it, yet again this government has failed to listen to the experts and to understand the science. Professor Adrian Reynolds, the President of the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, summed up the position rather nicely, noting:
… the Chapter of Addiction Medicine are quite honestly at a loss to see why a drug testing trial is considered a necessary or effective way to address these issues.
Concerns extend to whether the trial process will add to existing queues for remedial drug treatment and therapy across the country, meaning that those who are voluntarily seeking help will be turned away or have to wait longer for help. The situation is already critical. There are long waits for rehabilitation, even for those who want to voluntarily undergo rehabilitation. Professor Alison Ritter, the Director of the Drug Policy Modelling Program at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, told the first Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry that Australia currently treats about 200,000 people for substance abuse each year but an additional 200,000 to 500,000 people each year would like to receive treatment which is unavailable to them.
Despite repeated questioning at estimates hearings in 2017 and March 2018, the government remained unable or unwilling to identify even a ballpark figure for the cost of the trial; say which illicit drugs will be covered by the trial and why alcohol and legally prescribed opiates will not be part of the trial; specify benchmarks for determining what would make the trial enough of a success to warrant an extension; and provide a rational explanation as to why particular trial sites were preferred to others. Given this sorry history, it is entirely unremarkable that the evidence to the recently completed Community Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry only reinforced the criticisms detailed previously. For me, one witness observation from the latest Community Affairs Legislation Committee report sums up the Orwellian world being proposed by this government rather neatly:
… the treatment sector has been chronically underfunded for a number of years now … I would be very surprised if you didn't find that a number of the folks who test positive and who are indicated for treatment hadn't, in fact, tried to access the treatment system voluntarily in the past and were turned away, or discouraged by long wait lists or a lack of access.
What is remarkable is that the government senators could somehow have managed to support the passage of this bill notwithstanding the criticisms contained or alluded to in their own report. The government senators confirmed that the only evidence that such trials may work comes from inside the highly controlled environment of the criminal justice system, noted the singular lack of success of overseas trials, confirmed that an evaluation strategy has not been developed and acknowledged but failed to address fully the human rights and procedural concerns raised by the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. They even recorded the grave concerns over the lack of human and other resources to conduct the trial.
Not only would a full rollout of this scheme be prohibitively expensive; there just aren't enough qualified people to administer the test or provide the necessary treatment services for anything more than a trial. At the start I mentioned five principles that you don't expect a government in a free society to do. A government must not be arbitrary, wilful, cruel or petty, and it should rarely sanction government action that interferes with the physical and bodily integrity of the individual, yet this is exactly what this government is proposing. It is shameful, as are some of the other measures this government is proposing for our most disadvantaged citizens. I really feel government members should rethink this bill, rethink what they're doing and, for once, listen to the experts and the science.
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.
I rise today to oppose the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018. This bill reintroduces a 2017-18 budget measure to establish a two-year trial of drug testing for 5,000 recipients of Newstart and youth allowance and now identifies the three trial locations: Canterbury Bankstown in New South Wales, Logan in Queensland and Mandurah in Western Australia. The government previously introduced this measure as part of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017. Labor opposed many of the measures in the welfare reform bill, including the drug testing trial. The drug testing trial measure was subsequently withdrawn from the welfare reform bill due to lack of support in the Senate, but this government seems determined to proceed with this measure, which the Australian Medical Association has described as 'mean and stigmatising'.
I spoke against this cruel and mean-spirited measure last year, and I speak against it again now. I speak from my firsthand experience of working with people with substance dependency over the last 20 years. Since my second year as a pharmacy student in the mid-nineties, I have worked with people living with addiction and dependency. Addiction and dependency is a health issue. Dependency doesn't discriminate between those who are working and those who are looking for work. The government's attempt to conflate drug misuse with unemployment is not just wrong; it's harmful. While I was training as a pharmacist, I worked in a community pharmacy—one of the first in New South Wales to provide an opioid treatment program. This program, underpinned by the principles of harm minimisation, has led to many people being able to rebuild their lives and their relationships and to gain employment, and it has been provided by community pharmacies since the late 1970s. I met teachers, chefs and executives all turning their lives around, with the support of GPs, pharmacists and addiction specialists.
More recently, I worked as a mental health pharmacist, providing clinical support to an OTP clinic and a withdrawal management clinic in Wyong Hospital. This in-patient unit provides withdrawal management from an evidence based, clinically-proven harm minimisation approach. It works. The problem is that there are just 15 beds at Wyong Hospital for the entire Central Coast. This unit is also part of the state-wide referral process receiving clients from all across New South Wales, particularly from areas where there are no local services. If the government is genuine in its claim to help those burdened by dependence, a good first step would be to properly fund units like this one and not attack welfare recipients. The current services are stretched and there are long waiting lists. Clients wait anxiously by their phone for a text message so that they can enter the unit as soon as there is a bed. If there is to be any likelihood of success, the government must work with the states to ensure that there are sufficient places for people entering treatment and that the necessary mental health and social services are available.
The government are still unable to provide any evidence to support the establishment of their drug testing trial, and they have still not revealed the cost. Clinicians in the drug and alcohol treatment sector have raised significant concerns about these measures, not only their impact on jobseekers but that they won't be effective in identifying those with a dependency or referring them to appropriate treatment. A former colleague, a drug and alcohol clinician whom I spoke to, described this proposal as 'technically flawed and socially irresponsible'. She fears it will punish people by taking away their only means of financial support and is concerned it will send them underground—in her words—'forcing vulnerable people into further disadvantage, homelessness and potentially crime'. As she sees it, this is the government using drug testing as a punitive measure. She is also concerned about technical aspects of the proposal. She asked: 'We know the drug testing will be contracted out to a third party, but will they have the right expertise? Will they be skilled drug and alcohol clinicians who can thoroughly assess the extent of substance use? Will people who are quite legitimately enrolled in opioid treatment programs be caught up in this trial?'
This legislation is yet another attempt by the government to demonise jobseekers and is likely to be at significant cost to the budget. Experts warn that these changes will not help people overcome dependency. This is not how dependency works. Instead, they will be pushed into crisis, poverty, homelessness and potentially crime. The government wants to trial drug testing of 5,000 recipients of Newstart and youth allowance in the Canterbury Bankstown, Logan and Mandurah regions. We are told that testing will be undertaken by a contracted private provider. The government have not announced the cost of this, nor do they know the detail of what types of tests will be conducted. Where is the evidence and where are the details? The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre commented:
There is no evidence that any of these measures will directly achieve outcomes associated with reductions in alcohol or other drug use or harm, and indeed have the potential to create greater levels of harm, including increased stigma, marginalisation and poverty.
Let's look now to overseas examples. Drug testing of income support recipients has been trialled in several countries, and there is no evidence that it has been effective. In 2013, the New Zealand government instituted a drug-testing program amongst welfare recipients. In 2015, only 22 of 8,001 recipients tested returned a positive result for illicit drug use. This detection rate was much lower than the proportion of the general New Zealand population estimated to be using illicit drugs. Similar results were found in the United States. In Missouri's 2014 testing program, of the state's 38,970 welfare applicants, 446 were tested with 48 testing positive. In Utah, 838 of the state's 9,552 applicants were screened with 29 returning a positive result. These were costly initiatives—costly initiatives that drive people into poverty and potentially crime. We don't know the full cost of the government's measures yet, and we haven't seen evidence to support it.
The Department of Social Services' own figures show that very few jobseekers are likely to test positive. A recent Senate estimates hearing heard that overall the department expects only 100 to 120 people to test positive a second time across the three trial sites. That's $1 million committed for an evaluation of a trial that is likely to impact up to 120 people, before we know how much the contract to the private provider will cost. Concerns have been raised about these measures by health and welfare groups, including St Vincent's Health, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, ACOSS and Uniting Care, amongst others. Not a single health or community organisation has come out publicly in support of this trial.
Addiction medicine specialists I've spoken to, and others who've been reported on, are concerned about the technical aspects of the trial. For example, the government is yet to confirm what sort of test will be used—urine, hair, saliva. With lower-cost tests there is a risk of false positives. Reliable tests can be extremely costly and likely unaffordable. For example, according to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, a gold standard urine tests costs been $550 and $950 to administer. The testing could potentially encourage people to use less-traceable but more-harmful drugs or increase alcohol consumption, which is not being tested as part of the trial. Consultation with the treatment sector suggests that there are long waiting lists for treatment around the country.
I want to turn now to speak particularly about women and children who may be caught up in this trial. In New South Wales, there are only three residential treatment programs for women with children experiencing addiction—Kamira in my electorate, Jarrah House in Little Bay, which has a short 10-week program, and Kathleen York House in Glebe, which has only eight beds. I spoke to the CEO of Kamira, who also sits on the Network of Alcohol and Other Drugs Agencies' subcommittee for women, where this proposal has already been raised as a concern. In her view, this trial is set up for failure. She said to me that it will marginalise people already on the bottom rung of the ladder. Currently Kamira, like other treatment centres, is full, which would mean a two- to four-month wait for treatment. These are the questions she thought should be answered: What will happen if a woman tests positive? Will her children be removed by FACs? Will she lose housing after losing her children and become homeless? This is the harsh reality of this drug treatment trial. And, in New South Wales, all of these services are NGOs; there are no government funded residential rehabilitation services for women in New South Wales.
These trials will put increased pressure on the system, and, where treatment is unavailable, jobseekers identified as having a problem with drugs will have difficulty accessing the treatment prescribed. Further, health professionals warn that treatment is not successful unless a drug user is ready to seek treatment. Forcing people to turn up will not address their drug issues. It will put pressure on an already stretched sector and displace people genuinely seeking treatment. John Ryan, CEO of the Penington Institute, commented:
I strongly urge the Government to reconsider and reverse this retrograde approach to welfare before we see the increase in crime it is likely to create.
In Australia there is a real lack of funding for drug treatment services—including medically supported drug treatment. The Government would have been better off making stronger investments there rather than attacking the vulnerable.
If the government was genuine about trying to help people overcome addiction or seek treatment, it would do this differently. Labor is open to considering genuine attempts to help people into treatment, but these changes will impact people with serious illness, pushing them into financial hardship and, potentially, crime. The trial could put Centrelink staff at risk of aggression and violence as they attempt to enforce drug testing on participants.
International experience shows when you push people to the brink, like removing their welfare payments, things just get worse. There will be more crime, more family violence, more distress within society. We can expect at Centrelink offices there will be aggression and violence as people react to this. Had [the government] spoken to the various bodies who work in this area and know about this work, we would have been able to advise them this is not the right way. Pushing people to the brink won't make it better.
In conclusion, this bill is risky. As I mentioned at the outset, I've worked with people living with drug dependency and addiction for 20 years before entering this House. From my second year as a pharmacy student, I worked with people on the Opioid Treatment Program in community pharmacies. In the last 10 years before I came into this House, I worked as a mental health specialist pharmacist and also was a clinical support to an OTP clinic and an inpatient rehabilitation service. As I said at the outset, addiction and dependency are health issues. Dependency doesn't discriminate between those who are working and those who are looking for work. This government's attempt to link drug use or drug misuse with unemployment is wrong and it is harmful. I oppose this bill.
I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018. I spent some time in my electorate meeting with local action groups and people trying to deal with the scourge of drug addiction in our community. I remember sitting down at a meeting one day with parents, with survivors and with a handful of people trying to kick the habit. A mother looked at me and she said, 'My daughter is trying to get off drugs. She's really trying hard, but every one of her friends uses drugs. She makes a bit of a break and then the friends are all around her, and she falls back.' Then she looked at me even more intently. She looked into my eyes, I suppose you could say, and she said, 'And you keep giving her money.' When she said 'you', she meant that the government kept giving her daughter money. It was money that she couldn't control and money that went directly into drugs. She's right: it's a challenge—it's a real challenge. We do give money with no strings attached. There's no compulsion to spend it on food, on shelter, on education or on help to get off drugs. We just give them cash.
We know this is not what Newstart and youth allowance are meant to be for. Newstart and youth allowance are meant to sustain a person and to help them prepare to get into a job. One thing you can't do—or not in too many places—is get into a job if you're on drugs. If you do get into a job, OH&S will probably rule you out pretty quickly and you won't be in a job anymore. Let me tell you, it can be hard enough to find workers in regional Australia—perhaps that too is part of the debate. Why is it that we have pools of regional unemployment, where in fact we can't seem to shift those people that are in that regional pool of unemployment into work when we know there is work available? I know local businesses that have reached out to these groups of people who are unemployed and have had a red-hot go at trying to get them into the workforce. They need workers, so they were willing to give it a go. They've taken starters in for training, educated them, assisted them and counselled them, only to have them fail at a drug test either in training or on the job.
This scourge of drugs in our community is a cancer. The members on the other side are right: it is a health issue. Absolutely, it's a health issue. Absolutely, it's a drug addiction that is beyond the means of those who are suffering from it. But we have to identify them, we have to find out who they are and we have to try to get services to them so that we can actually interrupt that lifestyle to make a real difference. Every time an employer is burned in the way that I've just described, it makes it that much harder next time to get that employer to consider someone with similar problems. It is that much harder for them to take the risk. Every time a worker is struck out, their record of failure is extended. Every time they fail, their self-esteem is further eroded. Every time they fail, the call of the drugs becomes ever stronger.
We simply have to try. At this place, of all places in Australia, we simply have to try. We've tried many things over the years—so many programs. The previous speaker was speaking about her life in trying to work with people in rehabilitation programs. Boy, there have been some resources thrown at it over the years, and I would have to say the record isn't all that good. So we have to try something different, I think. It is time to really try something different, because, if we can't keep that trainee or that employee off drugs, they will lose their job and they will fail.
I've had the privilege of seeing the merits of the cashless welfare card trial in Ceduna. I know it's not the same, but there are enough similarities here to draw a parallel. Certainly the 80-20 split on income is the same split that operates under the cashless welfare card, so in that case it's directly comparable. In Ceduna, the introduction of that card has made a real difference. It's certainly made a difference to alcohol consumption in the community. It's made a difference to the way that children are treated in their homes. It's made a difference to the amount of money that is spent on food in that community. So I think we can easily draw that parallel to this program for drug testing of those on Newstart and youth allowance and those who enter the programs.
This bill is about a trial of 5,000 people. It's not nationwide. We're not doing it everywhere in Australia. It's a geographically discrete trial for Canterbury-Bankstown, Logan and Mandurah. I say let's give it a go. Absolutely let's give it a go. I wonder what those on the other side of the House are scared of. Perhaps it might be that it would work. What if it works? It is a trial of 5,000 people. What if it actually works and starts making a significant difference in getting these people off drugs and getting them into the workforce, taking control of their lives? For pity's sake, let's move to help our young and most vulnerable. Let's help that mother who looked into my eyes and stop sending cash. Let's help those people try to kick their drug addictions.
Step 1 is failure of the first drug test. That leads to 80 per cent of income going on the BasicsCard, which is just like the cashless welfare card, and 20 per cent to spend as the recipient wishes. Sadly, that can still be spent on drugs. There is no reduction in income at all—not one cent. There is just a requirement to spend the money on the good things in life.
I'm reminded, Mr Deputy Speaker Andrews—and I think you were probably there too—of when we had Twiggy Forrest come into our joint party room to brief us about the cashless welfare card. He was suggesting at that time that it should apply to 100 per cent of income. Subsequently, after negotiation in the Ceduna community with various people—the leadership of the Indigenous groups and also the local council and other people in the town—it was decided there would be an 80-20 split. I raised the question with Mr Forrest. I said: 'I get what you're saying, but you don't think 100 per cent's a bit harsh? You don't think maybe we ought to give a bit of money to people to make decisions about their lives, to have a bit of cash to go to the pub or whatever it might be?' He said: 'Well, you can if you like. It's up to you. You could make it 80-20 or fifty-fifty. You do whatever you like. But you should ask yourself the question: is it the taxpayers' responsibility to fund somebody's alcohol, drug and gambling addictions?' That's a very good question. I think you clearly understand, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I think those on the other side do as well, that that is not what Newstart and youth allowance are for. They are not to fund drug addictions. They are to try and get people through a tough spot and then get them into the workforce. That's step 1.
Step 2 is the second failure: no loss of income at all as long as the recipient is prepared to stay involved and engaged with the scheme. Where there is a loss of income is if they refuse to engage—that is, refuse a drug test. That would most certainly cease the payments, because somewhere in this pile of tools we have to have some stick; there are plenty of carrots. That would mean that their payments cease until they re-enter the program. However, the most important part of step 2 is that the recipient is referred to medical assessment and then rehabilitation. This is where the rubber hits the road, where we help these individuals take control of their lives and take the first steps to getting rid of their dependency on drugs. The government has provided $10 million for that medical assessment and rehabilitation service, which is around $2,000 per person for the 5,000 people that will be involved in the trial.
The whole program is about identification. It is about finding those people in the community who are abusing their bodies. Step 2 becomes about wellness, the steps to recovery and putting people in control of their lives. Those who oppose medical assessment and treatment for people with drug addiction should probably stand up and say so quite clearly. They shouldn't prevaricate, saying it is not fair and is victimisation; they should state how they don't mind if taxpayer funds are used to feed drug habits. It is pretty depressing. The trial is to be evaluated by an independent body, information on individuals will remain discreet, and drug users will not be referred to the police. As I said, the drug testing is an identification tool. Once we find out who these people are, we can get the right people in their lives to help.
We want people to engage and to attend treatment courses, and we are going to treat that as a jobseeker activity. As you would well know, people on Newstart are required to engage: to attend interviews or be in education. If the person involved is attending treatment, that will count as a jobactive activity. That's because the government wants the individual to change and take control of their life. Young people in Australia are perhaps those most heavily suffering through drug use. Out of 18 comparable European countries Australia has the second-highest usage of methamphetamine. Only quite recently have we seen those figures about the sewage content of our major cities. It is really scary stuff. We need to take action.
It is time to stop wringing our hands and say, 'We're going to do something; we're going to have a go at some early intervention.' Let's hope it works. Maybe it won't work or make a scrap a difference, but it is a trial, just as the cashless welfare card is a trial, and the runs are on the board with the cashless welfare card. We know it is a good thing and we are looking to extend that trial into other areas. We want to do the same with this: just give it a go. If it's no good, those on the other side can knock it down as a complete failure and say, 'We told you so,' but at least let us not stand here in a few years time and say, 'We had a good idea, but we were all too gutless to give it a go, quite frankly.' We need to get on board.
According to Newspoll 73 per cent of voters back the trial. Why? The voters see the damage on a daily basis. They are the parents of children in trouble. People know what's going on in our communities. I get told constantly—as just about every member of this House does, I bet—about the ravages of drugs in their community, and to do something about it. Well, this is a chance to do something about it. It's a chance to give it a red-hot go, a chance to try to get people to take control of their lives and to give them the tools to do so. But we can't do that if we refuse to engage with them. If we're just waiting for them all to step forward and have the moment of realisation that they're no longer in control of their life, then we're going to lose a lot of them along the way. This is the early identification program. This is the thing that can change your life. If you've been unemployed for five, six or seven years and you've got a drug habit, there's a fair chance it'll be for the rest of your life. We need to get in earlier than that and make a difference earlier. So, I implore those on the other side to think about what it is they are trying to oppose here and come on board and give this trial a fair dinkum go.
I'm sure to the great disappointment of the member for Grey, Labor will not be getting on board with the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018 and we will oppose it—absolutely oppose it. We will do that not on the basis of ideology but on the basis of evidence that has been given to us and to the government from many experts who work in the area of addiction and treatment—welfare experts and also people who are affected by this terrible health issue. As the member for Dobell made very clear—and she is better placed than most people in this place to make it clear—this is a health issue. Dependency will not be managed or sorted out by this particular measure.
I will firstly say that it is the view of the Labor Party that the government is making a second attempt to pass this measure, and we hope it ends up as disastrous as the first attempt. Last time around the community, the medical experts and the addiction treatment experts said that this will not work. Nothing has changed from that position, and nothing has changed from the position Labor has taken. This piece of legislation and this trial will drive vulnerable people away from income support. It will drive people who are suffering from addiction away from rehabilitation. It will drive desperate people to do desperate things. The Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association said in its submission on the bill:
The bill is premised on a range of assumptions regarding substance use and implies a connection between substance use and unemployment. This connection is overly simplistic and tenuous at best and does not account for the range of elements contributing to entrenched unemployment, such as regional variance in opportunity, family violence and mental health issues. It implies that illicit substance use is a key driver to unemployment and it fails to acknowledge that substance use and dependence is ubiquitous across a range of demographics.
Anglicare Australia said:
There is no evidence that people using welfare benefits and looking for a job generally have a higher incidence of drug use than the general population.
As I said, the government is confusing a healthcare issue with welfare, and the government is fabricating a narrative that is grossly and maliciously misleading and harmful. I will have more to say on that in a moment.
On the question of this bill, this government is ignoring the experts and it is ignoring the evidence. This bill proposes a trial of random drug testing among some 5,000 income support recipients at selected locations around Australia—as has been articulated, Logan in Queensland, Mandurah in Western Australia and Canterbury-Bankstown in Sydney, an area that I am incredibly familiar with. In establishing this trial, the government, through the Department of Social Services, says it consulted with various government and non-government stakeholders. I question that. Of the 53 submissions received on this bill, opposing submissions were received from a number of community groups, including the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists. the Australian Injecting Illicit Drug Users League, Anglicare Australia, the Community and Public Sector Union, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, Logan City Council, UnitingCare Australia, the Australian Association of Social Workers and the St Vincent de Paul Society.
In 2013 the then peak Commonwealth advisory group, the Australian National Council on Drugs—the government's own body—reviewed evidence on the impact of drug testing welfare recipients and concluded:
There is no evidence that drug testing welfare beneficiaries will have any positive effects for those individuals or for society, and some evidence indicating such a practice could have high social and economic costs. In addition, there would be serious ethical and legal problems in implementing such a program in Australia. Drug testing of welfare beneficiaries ought not be considered.
That was in 2013. This is an extract that is almost universally cited among the opposing submissions received from the community on this bill.
In 2013 the New Zealand government instituted a drug-testing program among welfare recipients. The member for Dobell spoke about this, and I won't go over the statistics from New Zealand, except to say that, of the 8,001 participants tested in New Zealand, only 22 returned a positive result. We saw the same in Utah and also in Missouri, where the testing outcomes were about the same.
The submission from the Department of Social Services estimated that up to 10 per cent of those tested will test positive to an illegal substance. Yet the College of Psychiatrists says it believes this is a gross overestimate and that it is more likely to be less than one per cent. You've got to ask: is it best to put the money into this or to put the money into rehabilitation and programs that are going to help people with a drug addiction? St Vincent de Paul says that, given the disproportionately large number of people who will test negative, it will inconvenience an unreasonably large number of people applying for income support.
The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre has questioned the scientific basis and research standards and integrity of this so-called trial. The centre questioned the geographical focus of the trial, the lack of a trial protocol, ethics approval, the independence of the research team and the absence of auditing or trial monitoring. That says to me that, if a trial is going to be a genuine trial, you would think that those measures were in place. The centre also went on to question the arbitrary nature of drug testing of welfare recipients:
The "reasonable excuse provisions" is one example of how this Bill fails to understand the nature of drug dependence. "Reasonable excuse provisions" will apply but not where the reason is wholly or substantially attributable to drug or alcohol use. This is the same as suggesting that if a patient with cancer fails to attend for a chemotherapy session … they are penalised because it is the cancer that has prevented their attendance.
It is grossly misjudged and ill thought through.
Many groups have also expressed their concern about the disproportionately costly nature of this measure. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists estimates the cost of testing to be approximately $500 to $900 each. The college said that the time and money and resources projected to be sunk into this trial could be better spent on treatment services, and that is certainly the view of the Labor Party. Anglicare Australia says the costs could be up to $1,600 per positive result and cites the New Zealand trial, which spent $1 million testing 8,000 welfare recipients and, as I said, returned 22 positive results. That's over $45,000 per positive result.
At a time when the government has slashed 2,500 jobs from the Department of Human Services and is crying a budget emergency, the government is really cutting off its nose to spite the face of vulnerable income support recipients. Even the efficacy of this approach to rehabilitation has been brought into question by Anglicare, which says, 'Mandatory drug rehabilitation has been repeatedly found to be one of the least effective ways for people to overcome a drug addiction.' How can the government be so blind to not be listening to people that know what they are doing in this space?
They know better than the government. They know better than this side of the House, which is why we have taken so much time to listen to people who actually know what they're doing.
One of the submissions was received from a Sydney social worker named James Clarke, who observed:
I often see my clients drop out of their reporting obligations due to existing reporting requirements and red tape. By enforcing testing, these amendments will create further bureaucratic hurdles for people to clear before receiving the meagre rate of pay that Newstart affords. Not receiving a Centrelink payment prevents an unemployed person from secure tenancies or participating in community, and increases the risk of homelessness and long term unemployment.
The Public Service Research Group says:
Punitive responses to test refusal or positive test results risk driving drug users towards "even more dangerous ways of living."
… other barriers to self-sufficiency are more prominent, such as poor physical health, poor academic skills, mental health issues, transportation barriers and language barriers.
The member for Jagajaga, in her contribution to this debate, talked about risk of false positives and the burden of costs which may be placed on the jobseeker, and they are patently obvious. More than 982 doctors, nurses, addiction specialists and allied health professionals signed an open letter calling on the government to end its mandatory drug testing for people receiving income support—982 people that know what they're talking about. Amongst the signatories were 109 addiction specialists, 330 doctors, 208 registered nurses and hundreds of other allied health professionals. How much louder does the call have to be for this government to grow some sort of sense and sensitivity about this and understand that this is a fraught proposition?
The government has confused addiction, a healthcare issue, with income support, and it is not fair. It is not appropriate, and I am sick of this government demonising people who from time to time throughout their lives have to rely on welfare. It is unbelievable when you look at the litany of the outcomes in Centrelink and the fact that there have been so many jobs cut. There have been people accused of owing money that they didn't owe. There has been mistake after mistake. There have been 55 million unanswered calls, and under this government we have seen Centrelink wait times increase. In that context, the government pushes ahead with this ill-informed trial in three sites. It's ill informed, and I would urge people to vote against this, particularly when it goes to the other place. Listen to the experts. Listen to people that find themselves in these very difficult situations, and make a distinction between what is a health and welfare issue and what is an employment issue.
It is just unbelievable to me that this government would not listen to the experts and would not understand that the government's commitment of $10 million is a drop in the ocean when it comes to treatment. Anyone that has tried to support someone to get into treatment will know how difficult it is. Whilst the government say, 'Oh, well, this will be seen as part of a person's mutual obligation,' I question whether the government thought those things through and whether they've actually tested them. I've questioned the government on whether or not there are going to be the available facilities out there to support people who need this support.
I want to understand how the government has thrown together unemployment, people needing to rely on welfare assistance and drug addiction. There is no connection. We know that drug addiction affects all demographics, we know that drug addiction does not discriminate, and we certainly understand that drug addiction is a healthcare issue. It will not be fixed up by further penalising people who are relying on Newstart and other payments. It is a ludicrous proposition that the government has put in front of itself. Time will show that this trial is a waste of taxpayers' money and that the money spent on this trial, if it ever gets up, would have been better spent on services that support people with addiction and that look at as a healthcare issue and not as something which can be controlled through people's access to Centrelink payments.
It is an exciting evening in the federal parliament, where I'm quietly optimistic that the trial being proposed in the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018 will go ahead. This trial was originally conceived back in 2013. I remember the member for Gilmore was right there in the coalition welfare reform group, which was formed in that year. The member for Braddon, a young whipper-snapper, the member for Pearce, who had just joined the parliament, and I were also in that group. Together, we started to conceive what we thought was the next step in the Work for the Dole mutual obligation. We slowly worked our way through to make sure that there was hope for every Australian, where they could one day hold down a job and have a chance in the brilliant economy that this current government runs. Of course, that is not the case at the moment.
There are large proportions of the population, particularly in poor electorates, which are completely distanced from the opportunities that Australia offers. That's just not bad for them; we know through epigenetics and intensive social policy research that that is bad for their kids as well. This is an intergenerational challenge that needs to be broken. In the 1990s, just as we were starting to make progress as a coalition government in the area of Work for the Dole, the possibility that a person would be made to be active in return for their payment was considered anathema. It was people like John Howard and Tony Abbott, the then employment minister—and even my father, Bruce Laming, who brought down the new employment policies from Queensland—who were urging businesses to take on an extra worker and find a way to connect people to work, because, fundamentally in the Liberal Party, we never give up on anyone. We will never give up on an individual and say: 'You're on drugs. There's nothing we can do.'
What we've seen over decades from those on the other side of the chamber, the Labor Party, and from peak welfare groups is a persistent behaviour whereby they throw up their hands and say: 'There is just nothing we can do. If they don't feel like doing it, we're not going to make them do it.' This was the attitude of a large number of the employment service providers in the 1990s. Anyone who has been around long enough will remember how it was utterly unfeasible to contemplate that an individual would be made to actually get out of bed and turn up somewhere for work. All the same excuses were trotted out. By golly, on the coalition side, we have seen, thank goodness, from government most of the time, some of these ridiculous excuses—and haven't we heard them all?—being trotted out almost hysterically by peak welfare groups. I'm most disappointed to see a select group, even within learned medical colleges, dancing to this same tune. There are probably highly selective experts within a greater profession who strongly support these initiatives, because they understand: 'What is the alternative? What is the alternative to raising a white flag as ice is being trucked around in vehicles on a passenger seat and sold to young kids, who then fall out of school, or to young girls, who then fall to prostitution or who turn to crime?' They are using those same excuses to say, 'Let's not do anything about it, because it might make that happen.' For goodness sake, that is already happening! That is the status quo.
Australia has the second-highest use of methamphetamine in the OECD, where we have suitable comparative data. Australia is literally awash with it. I don't mean to be hysterical about this, but we've heard read speeches from the Labor Party and we've heard non-noted speeches from the coalition, because we speak from the heart about this. We know that 83 per cent of coalition voters are behind us on this issue. We know that 65 per cent of Labor voters distance themselves from Labor representatives on this issue. We know that nearly three-quarters of Australians fundamentally look at this problem and say: 'Ice is a bloody tragic thing. I've seen mums and dads who, the minute they leave home, watch their son pull out the stereo and try to hock it to drug dealers.' This is a really hard issue.
To be told by those on the other side that there is no evidence for an initiative that is fundamentally a trial speaks to their inability to simply understand what this is. It is world-leading. It is groundbreaking. And it has the word 'trial' in it for a good reason. There is nothing similar between the Australian proposals and the US states that made quite energetic but ultimately futile attempts, with quite perverse and damaging outcomes for those who were found to be positive. It is also quite different from the New Zealand actuarial models, where they introduced drug testing if one were applying for a job where drug testing was already happening. These are completely different concepts. What we have here is effectively a non-punitive measure that forms, in the brief of intervention science, that opportunity to say to someone, 'You know you have a problem here, because we have the drug test.' Up until now, what the welfare system relies on is someone walking forward and saying, 'You do know that I'm on drugs, and I'd really like to get off them.' There are people like that, but there are not very many.
Ice is characteristic of this feature: people don't genuinely believe that they can just simply go and get help and everything will be okay. For many people it is futile, hopeless and desperate. For many people, they are looking after minors, dragging them into child care at noon, engaging in prostitution from home, ducking back to pick up the kid again and then having the door kicked in as drug dealers are seeking payment. What three-year-old deserves to have that treatment? There is someone pushing past a three-year-old, watching a drug deal trying to settle debts, because they know there is money in the house somewhere. This is the status quo that we are trying to break.
By breaking the status quo, there were three or four key considerations. That first consideration is that we must respect the privacy of the individual and adhere to the legal obligations of this nation. We're not profiling people. We're not saying, 'We don't like the cut of your jib. We want you to step into the side room.' This is about a prospective, grandfathered, signing up of new Newstart recipients to the possibility of that test. Because that particular cohort is up to three times more likely to be on recreational drugs, they have got to be prepared to face a simple test. It's a non-invasive test. It doesn't go on your criminal record. Someone doesn't pick up the telephone and tell the police. No, people can't rummage through your files and find out the result.
In a career of drug taking, where one is building a criminal or a dislocation resume faster than they are building an occupational or educational one, we are trying to find that opportunity to break into the cycle somewhere. The whole point is that at the moment there is nowhere to break into the cycle. If the state has a chance to say, 'This could be the moment. You are losing your house. You are losing your kids. Your job is long gone. At what point do we keep paying for your drug habit using taxpayers' money?' That is possibly one last chance before a drug addiction continues unabated and out of control for years.
That's why instinctively Australians like the idea. They appreciate that there is not the evidence, because it has not been tried before. They want to see something done. As soon as we know that someone has a positive test, nothing is taken away and the payment goes on. It's a BasicsCard; about 80 per cent of it is onto a BasicsCard. There is still the liquidity to do pretty much everything one needs to do. You have intensive case and financial management available. Finally, and let's remember this, it becomes awfully hard to pay the drug dealer. It's not impossible. You can go out and flog stuff, but you will be picked up by the police and you will have another problem on your hands. You will be going cold turkey in jail. There are no easy ways out of this.
What I'm saying here is not to simply throw your hands up and say, 'I wouldn't want to step between a drug taker and their drugs. I wouldn't want to get between them and their habit. Let's keep paying them taxpayers' money so we don't have any trouble from them.' That's the counternarrative coming from the other side. That's not the narrative of Australia, of hope, of justice and of giving it a red-hot crack. We will do everything in our power, as the state, to help people off ice. It is not a public good. It is not something to be protected nor something to be feared. When we initially designed this policy in 2013, we could not have dreamed that the great party of the Labor Party would actually oppose it. We never thought one could be that politically lucky, but in fact we saw Labor literally and figuratively wet their pants over this issue. It was really, really unbelievable that they did everything they could to stop the smallest and most modest of trials.
This is a trial. If it's not financially or clinically effective, it will not continue. But what was the first objection put up by the Labor Party? There may not be enough treatment facilities out there. The treatment facilities will be overrun with queues going around the corner like in Cuba. At the same time, you have another individual up here saying, 'The pick-up rate will be so low. It will be down to 0.0001 per cent. It will be catastrophic. What a waste of money with no positives.' Of course, you can't have it both ways, can you? What you can have is every single excuse you can dream up distilled into a Labor Party policy. That is what has been presented. 'It is an invasion of privacy. It erodes all morals that we have in this nation up to this point. It's a complete intrusion. It'll lead to an outbreak of crime around the nation where the idea is trialled.' To ask for evidence out of this policy but then to purport that their counternarrative is in any way evidence is just really, really ridiculous. They have dreamt up, as a Labor Party, every possible objection, but it doesn't stand scrutiny.
We as a coalition have designed a forward, prospective, grandfathered approach systematically and without any selection bias, doing a simple trial. We know that rates of drug use are high in this cohort, and Australians would expect us to do everything within our power. Once the first positive is received, then, of course, we have the financial intervention. There isn't the ability to use the cashless debit card in some of these trial areas. Then there is obviously the possibility of a second positive test. What's forgotten by the other side is not so much the impact on the individual being tested or testing positive but the signal that sends through the entire half a million people on Newstart who are signing up prospectively that it could happen to them. It makes the likelihood of them being work ready every Monday morning that slight bit higher.
The testing could well be in a longer form, using hair bulb testing rather than saliva or a buccal swab. If that's the case, they're going to be looking at a far longer period of recreational drug use, which is almost impossible to hide. We've moved now into an era of extremely high-level and effective technology. It is incredibly cheap and extremely accurate, and, in a single test, it is able to pick up up to eight different recreational drugs. That was never used in any of the previous tests. That wasn't used in New Zealand. It wasn't used in the US, and that is a nation that still gets people to walk in a straight line to see if they're over the blood alcohol level.
This is brand-new, cutting-edge technology. I have to acknowledge that the nation's drug testers, who are doing amazing work in the major occupations of mining and industry, have said this is a simple process to step it into those who are looking for work. Isn't it the coalition policy that, if you can't get a job but you are receiving a government payment in lieu of one, you should be ready to turn up on Monday morning and do a job? This feeds into that very simple mentality that, 'No, not everyone has a job, but everyone should be ready to go to work if they're physically and mentally fit and able to do so and in the appropriate age range.'
I will finish where I started. This is a party of hope and belief. What you've heard from the Labor Party is a disappointing rendition of resignation, which is the futility that ultimately there will never possibly be enough service providers out there and there'll be queues. It just denies the fact that, with the national ice initiative's $685 million and with $10 million directly invested into these trial areas, there will be people screaming for patients. There will be people scrounging around and looking for ice addicts who could possibly receive counselling and treatment. If an MP in this chamber doesn't understand that, they're clearly not connected to their PHN locals—formerly Medicare, a conception of the previous government—and the good contracting work they do in my area with after-care in particular, not necessarily primarily focused on drugs but where it is secondary to a mental health issue. They are desperately looking for people to avail themselves of their services. If there is one area for which the coalition could pat themselves on the back, it's these services available through our PHNs all over the country. This complete fiction that there are just no services out there hearkens back to an era when many of us thought the only way to recover from drugs was to go into a Hollywood-style residential facility for 30 days. It's true that that used to be the way it was done; it no longer is. There are very few residential facilities, rightly or wrongly, but it is increasingly hard to prove their cost-effectiveness because they're super expensive and ice is super addictive. They get short-term results, and then people are addicted again, which means their numbers don't look so good.
We have an incredibly hard battle here. If there's one thought that I leave this chamber with, it is that we need to try everything. What you have is a Labor Party desperate to stop us trying everything in our power to take an ice addict and try and break that cycle. They will present, as the member for Oxley did, a young woman, tragically, raped at an early age, who says, 'I live for ice and nothing will ever stop me taking it.' That's the hardest of the hard. I'm not saying it's going to fix every case. We're talking about those right down at the margins, intermittent recreational users, who last year used that excuse nearly 2½ thousand times to not show up for work, but they still got paid with taxpayers' money. For those on the margins that are just opting in and out, using ice as a convenient excuse not to work—we know there are around 85,000 persistent evaders and many of them use drugs and alcohol as an excuse—your time is up. The holiday is over. We will, through a series of reforms, eventually prevent you leading that life. Maybe not you—maybe under that roof you've never understood the importance of holding down a job and supporting a family. But all of us will realise that one day, and we don't want to see children damaged while we wait those years for people to come off addiction.
I'm not speechless because I'm speaking but, let me tell you, I've never heard such complete and utter ignorance than what I have just heard from the member opposite. Peoples' lives are complex. The reality is that drugs and alcohol misuse occurs across our community in every sector at every age. I will share some facts that will prove that. It is completely unacceptable that we can stand in this place and trivialise the lives of people whose existence is so complex that it is beyond the ability of most of us to understand. It is simply unfair.
I want to stand in this place today to make my view on this bill very, very clear. I will always welcome genuine and effective efforts to assist and support people who are struggling with drug and alcohol dependency to access appropriate treatment. I don't believe that income support is best utilised to support a drug habit; however, as I have said, peoples' lives are complex. What is very clear to me is that this bill is not a genuine attempt to assist people struggling with drug dependency. It will do nothing to stop the use of illegal drugs, it will do nothing to prevent ongoing drug misuse and it will not deliver appropriate treatment. For people who seek treatment for dependency on drugs, they have to be in a position where they are ready to make change in their lives.
The changes in this bill will have a severe impact on people who have extremely complex lives and needs. The impact of this bill will push them further into serious financial hardship and potentially crime. This bill is based on a misunderstanding of the data which is so full of holes that you could drive a truck through it. I cannot and will not stand in this place and support legislation that will do absolutely nothing to address a serious and complex social problem, a health problem in fact. I cannot believe that in 2018 this government still considers drug testing people on Newstart and youth allowance as a real solution.
We have all seen the national footage where former Prime Minister Tony Abbott admits to Annabel Crabb that he passed out drunk whilst on the job and by his own admission missed a very important division. Yet, the same person who passed out drunk whilst on the job wants to enforce drug testing on people struggling with drug addictions. This is nothing short of double standards and entitlement. Does the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott not realise the hypocrisy? Does the Turnbull government not see the hypocrisy in this situation? Not to mention the blanket prejudice of assuming that people on youth allowance and Newstart must be the people who are misusing drugs.
A study by the National Centre for Education and Training on Addiction found that drug use is significantly more prevalent among those in the paid workforce in comparison to those not in paid work. Furthermore, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, the median age of illicit drug users has risen from 32.8 years in 2001, to 36.5 years in 2013, for any illicit drug. Research has also shown that the numbers of people over 50 years of age are responsible for the largest rise in illicit drug misuse and were the only age group to show a statistically significant increase in misuse. The most common age for illicit drug misuse is 36.5 years of age, but the Turnbull government is choosing to test those on youth allowance, where you have to be under 24 to be eligible. This just does not make sense.
This bill is clear evidence that the Turnbull government doesn't give a damn about vulnerable jobseekers or young people; nor are they interested in assisting people struggling with drug addiction to access treatment. If the Turnbull government was in any way genuine or cared one iota about helping people struggling with drug addiction, they would increase funding into prevention and early intervention programs. Medical professionals, along with the drug and alcohol treatment sector, have raised significant concerns about these measures and the negative impacts that they will have on jobseekers. More importantly, these measures won't be effective in identifying those with a serious problem; nor will they provide them with appropriate treatment options. This is yet another attempt by the Turnbull government to demonise vulnerable job seekers, without any evidence that these measures will work, and it's likely to be a significant cost to the budget.
Experts warn that these changes will not help people to overcome drug misuse; this is not how programs to assist people to address their addiction challenges work. Instead, people will be pushed into crisis, poverty, homelessness and, potentially, crime. And yet the Turnbull government is pushing ahead with its plans to trial the drug testing of around 5,000 welfare recipients at three sites across the country: Logan in Queensland, Canterbury Bankstown in New South Wales and Mandurah in Western Australia. Those who fail a test will be forced onto income management for 24 months. This means that 80 per cent of their welfare payment will be quarantined and can only be spent on specific items. A second failed test will prompt a referral to treatment. Failure to comply with the drug-testing regime could see the welfare recipient lose his or her welfare payment. The proposal has been met with strong opposition from doctors, psychiatrists, welfare advocates, community groups, local mayors, charities and the United Nations. Of course, this approach also assumes that there are drug and alcohol programs available for young people in their communities. Many fear that taking a punitive approach to drug addiction and misuse will simply drive people away from the welfare system and further into poverty. The question must be put to the Turnbull government: where is the evidence—where is the detail? Surely the government should be looking at evidence-based practice.
Overseas examples of drug-testing income support recipients have clearly demonstrated that there is no evidence to support these measures as being effective. In 2013, the New Zealand government instituted a drug-testing program for welfare recipients. In 2015, only 22 of 8,001 participants tested returned a positive result for illicit drug use—that detection rate was much lower than the proportion of the general New Zealand population estimated to be using illicit drugs. Similar results were found in the United States: in Missouri's 2014 testing program, of the state's 38,970 welfare applicants, 446 were tested with 48 testing positive; and in Utah, of the state's 9,552 welfare participants, 838 were screened with 29 returning a positive result. These were extremely costly initiatives. They are costly initiatives that will drive people further into poverty, homelessness and crime—yet the Turnbull government is determined to implement this regime with no detail on real costs.
Concerns have been raised about these measures by health and welfare groups, including St Vincent's Health, the Royal Australian College of Physicians, ACOSS and UnitingCare. No health or community organisations have come out publicly in support of this trial. Addiction medicine specialists are concerned about the technical aspects of the trial. While people taking prescription medicine could be exempted, this would not guarantee that they are not also misusing illicit drugs, thus undermining the purpose of the trial. The testing could potentially encourage people to use less-traceable but more-harmful drugs, such as synthetic cannabis, or to use alcohol, which is not being tested as part of this trial. A long-term cannabis user who is attempting to address their drug misuse will still test positive for up to six weeks. How will Centrelink know if they have actually stopped using cannabis?
The Turnbull government claims that the availability of treatment will be the criteria for selecting trial sites. But Senate estimates revealed that the Commonwealth does not have access to data on the availability of treatment, and will need to rely on the states to provide this information. How is this going to work? For example, if you are a young person tested in Townsville and return a positive test, where would you go? The Salvation Army built a youth detox centre, but they are now struggling to secure funds to operate it. Our youth have to travel to Brisbane or Melbourne, because North Queensland just does not have these facilities. The Turnbull government would not match Labor's initial commitment to fund the Townsville Salvation Army detox centre for young people, and they have not come to the table to fund the operation of the new centre, so there are no services to offer our young people in the north, if the government chooses to run a trial in my community. There are very lengthy waiting lists for treatment around the country. These trials will put increased pressure on the health system and, where treatment is unavailable, jobseekers that are identified as having a drug-misuse problem will have difficulty accessing the necessary treatment. The flaws, gaps and traps in this bill are enormous.
But one thing is evident: the Turnbull government don't have a plan to address any real drug misuse issues, but they do have a plan to attack vulnerable jobseekers and to make the poor poorer whilst appearing on the surface to be doing something—something that delivers nothing more than distress, anxiety and disadvantage. This is a government that don't want to help the sick, as is obvious in the cuts to Medicare. This is a government that don't want equal access to quality education, as is obvious from the savage cuts to education. This is a government that don't want the poor to become middle class, as seen through the cuts to universities.
When you are sick, you should always have access to health care. Where you live shouldn't matter regarding your child's access to a quality needs based education. The size of your wallet or trust fund should not determine whether you can or cannot attend university. When you lose a loved one, someone close to you, you should be allowed time to grieve without fear of not being able to pay for the simple costs of living. But the Turnbull government are completely out of touch with vulnerable citizens, especially in their big talk about supporting the aspirations of Australians. They are not a government of aspiration but rather a government that is hell-bent on making life harder. They are a government that puts aspiration out of reach for some of our most vulnerable citizens. The Turnbull government are a government for the wealthy, not the battler.
To all of those people that the Turnbull government is neglecting I say: you need to know that you matter to the Labor Party and that you matter to me personally. I will fight every minute of every day in this place for you. I will continue to fight against the Turnbull government's savage cuts. I will continue to fight for real action to help people overcome their drug misuse challenges, not rubbish bills like this one. I will continue to fight against the Turnbull government's top hats approach, and I will take up the fight for hard hats. I will continue to fight for jobs in Townsville. I will continue to fight for a fair go for our veterans and ex-service personnel and their families. I will continue to fight for aged care, child care and Medicare, because Labor does care. Labor is the only party that gives people something to aspire to, and that is the opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their children. This bill certainly does not do that. Punishing the most vulnerable at the most difficult time in their life is anything but a solution to get people moving on with their lives.
Centre Alliance has not changed its position in relation to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018. Despite it being a scare tactic used by members of the Liberal Party in my community during the recent by-election, we will not back down from our position. The bill before us is a rebadged extract of schedule 12 of the Social Services Legislation (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017, which has already been extensively debated and discussed in both houses of the parliament. The drug-testing component of the welfare reform bill was rejected by both Centre Alliance and the parliament. Yet here we are again, with the government attempting to pass the same piece of legislation using the same completely unsatisfactory policy arguments. We have so much to debate in this place, so I cannot understand why we are expending more time on this when this particular schedule has already been resoundingly rejected by the parliament.
In my previous speech on the welfare reform bill, I comprehensively detailed my concerns with the drug-testing element of that bill, and just briefly I wish to outline some of the salient arguments once more. The government refuses to publish the cost of the trial to the taxpayer. The government argues there are commercial implications for this nondisclosure. I do not believe this. Government knows exactly how much it intends to spend on this particular pilot study, and it should know how much it intends to spend on this program or pilot study. Every single program should have a dollar figure attached. Publish the costings. Every other program has this. Why not this? In the absence of exceptional circumstances, I and my Centre Alliance colleagues will never support legislation without knowing how much it's going to cost the Australian taxpayer. We believe it is irresponsible, and we believe we would be doing a great disservice to the Australian taxpayer if we did that.
I also think that not detailing those costs is actually quite arrogant, to the parliament and to the Australian taxpayer, who is expected to foot the bill for this policy. I can only assume that this legislation is likely to have a hefty financial cost, given the enormous cost of similar programs in the United States of America. In other jurisdictions, drug testing programs have been proven to be highly ineffective in discovering drug addicts, completely failing any reasonable cost-benefit analysis benchmark. For example, in 2015 research undertaken by the ThinkProgress project of the Center of American Progress discovered that, collectively, 10 US states spent more than US$850,000 on their testing regimes but uncovered only 321 positive tests. In more than one of those American states not a single positive test was found. Based on America's experience, it costs approximately US$2,650 for each positive test secured. How much will it cost us? Experts suggest it will cost us approximately $1,600 per test, per recipient. I'm sure that when we collectively look at how many recipients may test positive the cost will be higher than the US cost.
Again, we have no information about who will perform these tests and how they will be performed. Will Centrelink recipients be expected to go to the Centrelink office with a specimen cup? Will they be mouth swabbed? Will this be outsourced to a private company? How can we ensure the integrity and the veracity of such testing? We just don't know. Is this the best use of taxpayer funds? Centrelink is already aware of who has a serious drug addiction and who is on welfare with a serious drug addiction, because, until recently, addicts were able to rely on drug addiction as a reasonable excuse when failing to attend job provider appointments. We supported changes to legislation that no longer allowed addiction to be used as an excuse for missed appointments. We supported changes to legislation that meant that Centrelink recipients receiving a working-age payment have one of two pathways to go down. Either they can actively engage and look for work and connect with their jobactive provider, or they must seek rehabilitation to address their addiction if that addiction is stopping them from meaningfully looking for work. These are very important levers that we were keen to support. With this legislation now in place, why would we waste what I can only assume will be millions of taxpayer dollars—and when we've already tightened the activity requirements?
I'd like to raise a serious but often missed point in relation to drug addiction. Existing drug addiction services are utterly swamped. One of the most concerning findings raised during the Senate inquiry into the welfare reform bill was that unmet demand for treatment of addiction in Australia was estimated at between 200,000 and 500,000 Australians—half a million Australians. That is why, in our negotiations with government over the welfare reform bill, we ensured that $40 million of funding was put to one side and provided for specialist drug rehabilitation, including $20 million over three years for specialist methamphetamine rehabilitation facilities in South Australia and $20 million over three years for drug addiction support and training for GPs and other allied health professionals in regional Australia. Good, sound policy analysis showed that there was a significant gap in support at the primary healthcare level for medical professionals, who are often the first and only people that a person with an addiction will go to to seek assistance.
If we have millions to spare on this random drug testing—and we still don't know how much it is—then more money should be put into addiction services. Let me be clear: Centre Alliance believes that people who are on jobseeker payments should not be allowed to sit and do nothing. This is why we supported an amended welfare reform bill. Centre Alliance believes that jobseekers should be either actively engaged in jobseeking or actively engaged in becoming job-ready, and that would mean addressing their addictions. In the case of a person with a drug addiction, this means engaging in drug rehabilitation, getting counselling and in some cases going into a rehab bed. We believed it was right and we believed it was responsible. However, what we have before us today is really poor policy formation. There is no clarity of cost or of expected outcomes, and we have already changed the legislation to deal with people with addiction. Let's face it: if the US have abandoned their drug testing, we need to learn from them. Why would we go down the same path? The US has far more populist politics than we do. Surely we can learn from them. I believe this is a crude attempt to demonise people receiving Centrelink payments. We do have long-term unemployed in Australia, but for the most part they are older Australians completing job application after job application. We also know that there is a one-to-16 ratio of jobs to jobseekers. That is what we should be addressing. In conclusion, the drug-testing trial bill is but a populist piece of legislation. I call upon the parliament to once again oppose this flawed piece of legislation. We cannot afford to waste more taxpayer money on this.
It's almost one year since the House last debated this proposal. It's almost a sense of deja vu, but like a bad smell, here we are back again. I hope that, when the Senate again does its work, this bill will be well on the way to becoming another one of those zombie bills that hang around on the government's Notice Paper going nowhere. It's called the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018. You could just be honest and call it the 'drive up crime' bill. That's what a former Australian Federal Police commissioner said this bill will do. You still can't find one single credible expert that says this bill will do anything meaningful to address drug addiction. It will just demonise people on welfare, which serves your political purpose. We know that well, having lived through the by-elections with the rubbish and the bile that you spew out in communities. All it will do is drive up crime, and you know it. You haven't taken advice. You didn't take advice from the health minister. You have no experts on your side. It's just brain-dead prejudice.
Just be honest and admit this is a 'drive up crime' bill. You know it is, Government. The Senate rightly rejected this offensive stunt last year, yet it's back. We have a new minister but no new ideas, just the same failed, bigoted policies. We heard it in question time today. The backbench over there looked appalled. You're still on about the trickle-down economics, you're still about to bring back your racist, bigoted English language test to become a citizen, and now we have this garbage.
I'll just precis my speech from last time this was before the House. Drug addiction is a health issue. It's a health issue. It's a health issue! Addiction must be treated like a health issue, like other health issues. The evidence is clear: making it a moral issue does not help. It might make you feel good in your Liberal partyroom meeting in government, but it doesn't actually help anyone in the community suffering from addiction. Addiction cuts across every class and hits every suburb and every family in this country. Last time I spoke I outlined in deeply personal ways how my family's story in life has been touched by addiction. They're not all my stories to share, and I said as much as I could. I also outlined my experience in my 20s, as the mayor and leader of an inner-city council where the heroin epidemic saw people dying every day, every week around the city, in shops, in front yards, in laneways. The evidence then remains true: criminalising or demonising someone's addiction, whether or not they need income support, doesn't actually help. The Prime Minister's absurd claim that this is a policy born of love is ridiculous, especially with the lack of real funding for rehabilitation.
Once again, I'm left with profoundly unparliamentary words running through my head. It's really bad. If the government keeps serving up reheated, sloppy-seconds legislation, then I'll quote myself:
… ignorant, prejudiced, scuzzbucket, brain-dead moron and bottom feeders. They were the kindest epithets to describe those amongst those opposite who dreamed up this particularly special piece of public policy.
I refer the House to my previous remarks.
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.