Australia: Welfare drug testing: Morrison intensifies the war on the unemployed

There's currently a meme doing the rounds of the internet that depicts Jesus feeding the multitude. At the front of the crowd stands prime minister Scott Morrison with outstretched arms, beseeching Jesus as to what he should do. And Jesus tells the PM, "Only feed the ones who pass the drug test."

Which is about right. Not only has the Liberal Nationals government been persistently denying Newstart recipients a rise in their weekly payments – which are way below the poverty line – but now it wants to subject them to the humiliation and associated punishments of random drug testing.

A media release from social services minister Anne Ruston last Friday, explains that drug testing is designed to "help" new welfare recipients find employment. This is despite the fact that ACOSS pointed out in July that there's "only one job available for every eight people looking".

As treasurer, Scott Morrison first spruiked the welfare drug testing idea during his May 2017 budget speech. But, due to widespread condemnation, it was dropped later that year from an omnibus welfare bill. And a second attempt last year saw that legislation simply lapse in parliament.

So, it's hard to gauge why the government is back flogging this dead horse, except for the fact that it seems hellbent on further punishing a growing underclass of unemployed people that it's ensuring have to survive on a measly $40 a day, whilst disparaging them for not having a "fair go".

Method to his madness?

"With a poor rationale and disappointing results from previous similar trials, I see no reason to expect this trial to be at all helpful," said veteran drug law reformist Dr Alex Wodak. "I can only assume that the government has a political, rather than a policy, reason for pursuing this trial."

"The proposed trial has been severely criticised by an impressive array of experts, who argue that previous similar trials have been expensive and unhelpful," he told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. "The government has not explained why the views of these experts have been ignored."

The president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation further pointed out that the government has given no indication as to why – if this trial is sincerely being implemented to help people – it's not aimed at all those supported by the taxpayer purse and not just "the poorest".

Selective screening

So far, what's been released on the trial is much the same as what was proposed in 2017. It's a two year trial involving 5,000 new recipients on Newstart or Youth Allowance. And participants will be tested for cannabis, MDMA, methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.

The trial will take place at three locations, which were decided upon back in August 2017. These are Canterbury-Bankstown in NSW, Logan in Queensland, and Mandurah in Western Australia. The locations were based on their high levels of unemployment and drug use.

A Department of Social Security 2017 Factsheet explained recipients "will be selected for the trial on a random basis". To do this, Centrelink will use "a data-driven profiling tool developed for the trial to identify relevant characteristics that indicate a higher risk of substance abuse issues".

This doublespeak means that the government's random selection process is comprised of pinpointing areas where drug taking is most prevalent, then using a tool to locate those people most likely use them and finally, "randomly" choosing these individuals to test for illicit substance use.

If these purposefully selected individuals then fail the drug test, they'll be placed on income management for 24 months, meaning 80 percent of their payments will be quarantined, so as to only be spent via a cashless debit card with restrictions as to what can be purchased.

Following an initial failed test, a recipient will have 25 days to take a second one. And if they fail again, they'll be assessed as to whether they need treatment. The government will be investing $10 million on this. And while the community is crying out for drug treatment, it's not in this way.

The experts opposed

Back in 2017, major medical representative bodies raised their concerns about the proposal, including the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and the Australian Medical Association (AMA). And they're all starting to stand in opposition again.

Welfare drug testing has been carried out in New Zealand and several US states. In NZ, the $1 million program tested around 8,000 people and resulted in a mere 22 positive tests. While in the States, it was ruled the testing was unconstitutional.

And as Dr Wodak points out, this sort of testing is flawed as it relies on punishing people for "personal drug use and possession, even though drug dependence is defined – at least in part – by continuing drug use despite severe adverse consequences".

The failing drug war

Indeed, the war on drugs has been proclaimed a failure, as it's widely acknowledged that the most appropriate way to deal with illicit drug use is as a health issue, and not a crime. But, despite this, the government is aiming to utilise this drug war tactic to punish people who don't have jobs.

"Drug prohibition was not adopted following a careful review of the scientific evidence," Dr Wodak made clear. "It has been continued for decades despite dreadful outcomes, severe unintended negative consequences and very high financial costs."

The doctor added that these days, there's a long list of both retired and serving political and police leaders who are stepping up to declare "the failure and futility of drug prohibition", whilst calling for a major overhaul of outdated drug laws.

Lambs to the slaughter

Senator Jacquie Lambie is now seen as the key crossbencher that the government has to get on side to enable it to get its welfare drug testing legislation – set to be introduced this week – over the line in the upper house.

However, the Tasmanian politician has suggested she won't support the legislation unless mandatory drug testing is rolled out for politicians. Scott Morrison has said he'd support this idea as well. Although, it's rather doubtful either of them will go in for wage quarantining for federal MPs.

"The proposed welfare drug testing trial is yet another in a long list of cruel, expensive and extremist extensions of drug prohibition," Dr Wodak concluded. "The government may be hoping for a political benefit from this trial by throwing red meat to their supporters?"

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions