Should Australia Push for Random Drug Tests on Welfare Recipients?

Khryss | Published 2017-09-07 12:41

G'day mate! Actually, not so.

Fair warning: people receiving government income support in Australia, mark your calendars for there could be a two-year trial of random drug tests starting January 2018!

Particularly, the government is targeting three locations (for now)--Canterbury-Bankstown in New South Wales, Logan in Queensland, and Mandurah in Western Australia--due to their high rates of unemployment and drug use.

If approved, 5000 welfare recipients will be enlisted; of whom will be required to undergo random saliva, urine or hair tests. Illicit drugs checked would include methamphetamine, MDMA, cannabis and heroin.

Once positive, 80 per cent of one's welfare money will be transferred to BasicsCard, which can only pay for food, rent, childcare and other essential items. Next violation (if still positive) would then lead to referral for professional help on addiction.

Minister for social services Christian Porter said in a statement last week that this is to provide job seekers “the help they need to get on a path towards securing a job and building a better future for themselves and their families".

However, this has also raised concerns from different medical groups like the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, as this method had little success in different countries.

“Substance addiction is a complex, chronic relapsing medical condition,” says Hester Wilson, chair of the RACGP’s addiction medicine network. “One of the hallmarks is an inability to change behaviour despite harm, so punitive approaches don’t tend to work.”

She noted how the success of addiction treatment can be affected by one's freedom and will on making such choice. “A BasicsCard might be a good idea for some patients, but it’s going to work best if they choose to go on it because they want to change, not when they’re forced.”

“The populist idea is that there are armies of drug-addled people bludging off the welfare system. But the reality is, we’re talking about some of the most vulnerable people in the community who need a hand up,” AMA president Michael Gannon cautions. “These proposed measures will only serve to marginalise and stigmatise an already-impoverished group,” he added.

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