Tuesday, 24 November 2015
Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers
That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by Senator Lambie today relating to a proposal to drug test income support recipients.
There may be some Australians who were offended by the suggestion contained in my questions to the Attorney-General today that dole recipients be tested for illicit drugs. All I would say to those people is this: if you want to use illicit drugs, then go and get a job. Receiving government welfare is a privilege given to you by hardworking Australians who care about the disadvantaged. Dole payments are meant to be a social safety net to protect you from the hard falls in life—not a jumping castle for you and your mates to party on.
Like the majority of my fellow crossbenchers, I have a record of protecting disadvantaged Tasmanians and other Australians from the unfair Liberal welfare cuts and the increases to Medicare payments that they have tried to impose on the poor.
Of course, there are better ways of raising revenue and cutting back on government spending which do not impact on the poor. A financial transactions tax or FTT which targets the super-rich and the big end of town is a much better idea than raising the rate of the GST, which will hit poor people's food and living costs. And then of course there was Chris Bowen this morning who came up with something very simple: put tax on cigarettes, which will raise billions. You people must be very embarrassed over there this afternoon that the best thing that you can do is take off the poor by putting up the GST. You have just been trumped.
However, just because I stick up for the underdog, that does not mean I accept that welfare money can be spent lining the pockets of drug dealers. That is why I commissioned a Parliamentary Library study, which, with the permission of the Senate, I seek to table. The key points of the study say that several US states have passed laws that require drug testing of welfare applicants and recipients, these laws generally only require testing where there is reasonable suspicion of drug use, and US courts have found that state laws that require all welfare applicants to pass a drug test or require random testing of existing recipients violate the Constitution's fourth amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches.
New Zealand requires income support recipients with work obligations to take and pass a drug test where an employer or training provider asks for one as part of the application process for a suitable job. Drug testing for welfare applicants and recipients has been proposed by governments in the UK and Canada. However, it has not been implemented. The idea has been discussed in Australia too, but so far the current federal government has ruled it out. There are no obvious constitutional obstacles to introducing drug testing for income support recipients in Australia.
The library study goes on to talk about New Zealand's experience, which I think we should pay attention to. In the lead-up to the 2011 election, the New Zealand National Party announced:
… if a person doesn't apply for a job because a potential employer asks them to take a drug test, or if they fail such a pre-employment drug test, their benefit will be cancelled … those who suffer from drug addiction will be offered help and support to deal with their addiction. If there is doubt about whether a person suffers an addiction or is a recreational drug user, a National Government would be guided by expert professional advice.
This has now become policy. According to Work and Income New Zealand, 'Beneficiaries with work obligations are required to take and pass a drug test where an employer or training provider asks for one as part of the application process for a suitable job.'
In a regulatory impact statement, the New Zealand Treasury noted that the policy was 'potentially inconsistent with the right to be secure against unreasonable search and seizure and the right to refuse medical treatment'. However, the statement also noted:
Officials at MSD consider this is justified, as it is reasonable to have an expectation that people receiving a work-tested benefit not engage in illegal behaviours which limit their ability to secure paid employment.
In Australia, we already have illicit drug and alcohol testing in many workplaces such as in the military, the mines, the building sites—if you are not in Victoria, that is—and heavy industry to increase safety and protect workers' and businesses' health.
It is time we expanded those tests to all workplaces, including Parliament House, and led by example. Why can't we put illicit drug and alcohol testing in our schools? Surely they produce a product that is far more important and valuable than any mineral or metal that a mine will ever produce.
Question agreed to.