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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2198


Mr TEHAN (WannonMinister for Social Services) (09:32): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill will establish a two-year trial of drug testing for 5,000 new recipients of Newstart allowance and youth allowance (other) from 1 July 2018.

This is another component of a suite of measures announced in the 2017 budget to strengthen and simplify the welfare system. These changes will help people with drug abuse issues to get treatment, rehabilitate and get a job.

Research shows us that substance abuse is directly impacting the ability of some jobseekers to undertake job search or other activities to get them into work.

The community has a 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 subsiding drug dealers.

The welfare system is designed to provide a safety net for those who find themselves out of work or unable to participate in the workforce—not to help perpetuate people's drug habits.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey shows that those who were unemployed were three times more likely to have recently used drugs such as ice and other amphetamines than those who were employed.

For too long, not enough has been done to try and deal with the real connection between drug abuse and unemployment.

While there are some existing mechanisms in place for identifying jobseekers with substance abuse issues and assisting them to seek treatment, the data clearly shows that more needs to be done to help these people.

The trial established by this bill will assess the use of drug testing as a means of identifying jobseekers with substance abuse issues that may be preventing them from finding a job, and supporting them to get treatment.

Importantly, the drug testing trial is complemented by the government's other substance abuse measures.

This includes, for the first time, ensuring that all jobseekers are able to undertake drug or alcohol treatment as an approved activity in their job plan.

Since the commencement of that measure on 1 January 2018, 259 Stream A and B jobseekers have had drug or alcohol treatment included in their job plan.

Other measures to ensure jobseekers with drug or alcohol abuse issues remain connected to their employment services provider are contained in the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017 currently before the Senate.

Measures include removing exemptions from mutual obligations due to drug and alcohol use, and tightening the use of drug and alcohol issues as a reasonable excuse for not meeting obligations.

These measures are scheduled to commence on 1 April 2018, subject to the passage of the bill.

Together, these measures recognise that supporting jobseekers to address their substance abuse issues through appropriate treatment is a crucial first step to getting a job.

Supporting jobseekers to take action to overcome their substance abuse will improve their chances of finding a job. This will benefit not just the jobseekers themselves but also their families, the wider community and the economy.

The trial will operate in three locations: Canterbury-Bankstown in New South Wales, Logan in Queensland and Mandurah in Western Australia.

Trial sites were chosen based on careful consideration of the available evidence and data, including: the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission's National wastewater drug monitoring program report; the AIHW's 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey; state and territory government crime statistics in relation to drug use and possession; state and territory government hospitalisation data; and administrative data from the Department of Human Services.

For the trial to be robust and successful, the government identified locations with varying profiles and sufficient support services.

To complement this, the government has announced a dedicated treatment fund of up to $10 million to support jobseekers in the drug testing trial across all three locations.

The government will establish this fund to provide for additional treatment support in the trial locations where the existing state or Commonwealth services and supports are not sufficient to meet additional demand as a result of the trial.

This is in addition to the almost $685 million the Commonwealth 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 over four years as a part of the National Ice Action Strategy to improve treatment, after-care, education, prevention, support and community engagement to tackle ice.

Comprehensive rules will be set out in a legislative instrument relating to any additional illicit drugs tested for and the protocols for conducting the drug tests, including safeguards to ensure that testing is conducted appropriately and in accordance with relevant standards.

This legislative instrument will provide the flexibility to ensure that expert advice from the contracted testing provider and the drug and alcohol sector can be taken into account in developing these protocols and safeguards.

An exposure draft of the Drug Test Rules was tabled at the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee's public hearing into the welfare reform bill on 30 August 2017, and feedback has been gathered for input into further development of the rules.

There will be appropriate 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.

If a jobseeker refuses to take a drug test, having acknowledged that they may be required to do so as part of their condition of payment, their payment will be cancelled and they will not be able to re-apply for a four-week period.

Jobseekers who test positive to a drug test will have their payments placed on income management. This is designed to restrict their access to cash and limit their ability to use their payments to fund further harmful drug use, while not reducing the amount of payment they receive.

Jobseekers who test positive will also be subject to a second drug test within 25 working days and may also be subject to further subsequent tests. This will help to identify those for whom drug abuse is an ongoing problem that may require treatment.

Jobseekers who test positive to more than one drug test during the trial will be referred to a Department of Human Services contracted medical professional with experience in drug and alcohol treatment, who will assess their particular circumstances and identify appropriate treatment or support options.

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 activities such as rehabilitation, counselling or case management.

This trial is not about penalising jobseekers with drug abuse issues. It is about finding new and better ways of identifying these jobseekers and ensuring they are referred to the support and treatment they need.

This measure has been specifically designed as a trial so we can assess the value of drug testing jobseekers as a way of identifying those for whom drug abuse might be a barrier to work and supporting them to undertake treatment.

There will be a comprehensive evaluation of the trial to determine which aspects have been successful in addressing welfare recipients' substance abuse and barriers to employment.

The drug testing trial will test an innovative method of assisting people with drug abuse issues.

I ask the opposition and the crossbench to support this trial, as it will find ways to support and treat people with substance abuse.

It is imperative that we help these people so that they can find work and not live their lives on welfare.

Be brave enough to change your mind, because if we always do what we've always done then we will always get what we've always got, and that is simply unacceptable.

The government wants to ensure that the welfare system provides strong incentives for people with substance abuse issues to get treatment, rehabilitate and find a job.

Debate adjourned.