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Thursday, 17 October 2019
Page: 4501


Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (10:31): I also wish to make a contribution to this debate and, at the outset, I indicate that Labor is opposed to the proposition contained in this Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2019. When we talk about public policy, there are two aspects that affect it. Either a government comes with a mandate or, alternatively, it is evidence based. In considering this particular bill, neither is applicable—and I'll come back to that point.

I think we need to be clear that this bill, as the previous speaker, the member for Cowan, just indicated, seeks to indiscriminately and ineffectively apply drug testing to people unfortunate enough to be on social welfare. We've had a significant debate running, maybe not across the chamber but certainly out there in our respective electorates, about the inadequacies of Newstart currently. My electorate, probably more than most, has been affected by a decline of light manufacturing, and, regrettably, the people who are becoming more reliant on Newstart in my electorate are people aged 55-plus, who are not likely to get another job. They are now relying on Newstart. Under this bill, they are the sorts of people who, it could be contemplated, would be regularly and indiscriminately subject to drug testing. It just beggars belief that this is what the government thinks is progress in our community.

This is the third time that a bill of this nature has been introduced into the parliament. Labor opposed it on the last two occasions, and we won't miss this opportunity to oppose it. The bill is not well founded and it certainly doesn't take on board the evidence out there. It certainly doesn't have any support from the various stakeholders, whether it be from the mental health or social welfare quarters. It's fair to note that the likes of Dr Katie Seear, Professor Suzanne Fraser, Professor David Moore and Associate Professor kylie valentine, senior researchers with longstanding expertise in social policy issues relating to alcohol and other drug use, found the bill 'poorly conceived and counterproductive'.They go on to find:

a recent analysis of submissions to the Committees exploring the 2017 and 2018 bills observed that 98% of submissions by organisations and individuals opposed the bills. The remaining submissions—

those in support of the bill—

were from the Department itself.

So it gets back to what I said: when considering social policy, neither a mandate nor, alternatively, being able to develop from a social need was the case in this instance.

What this bill does, in effect, is that it will require about 5,000 people on Newstart and youth allowance in the Canterbury Bankstown, Mildura and Logan areas to submit to random drug testing over a two-year period. If a person does not agree to participate in the trial, their application for social security will be deferred, and they will not be able to apply for another period of four weeks. So to people who are doing it relatively tough now, living on effectively $40 a day, we're going to say, 'For the next four weeks, if you don't agree to undertake drug testing, you don't get anything, and you can't apply for another four weeks.' As part of the proposal, people will be required to submit to a saliva, urine or hair follicle test at a Centrelink office or at some other nearby location, and these tests will be designed to detect cannabis, heroin, cocaine and amphetamines. If a person fails a drug test, they'll be placed on an income management plan through a BasicsCard. The person who has tested positive will also undergo further random drug tests, the first of which will occur—hardly very random—25 days later. If a person tests positive to a drug test more than once within a 24-month period, they will be referred to Services Australia's contracted medical professionals. If a person fails to attend a mandated treatment or support activities, they will be sanctioned, and this would include having their payment entirely suspended for up to a four-week period.

This is not about doing something about drug and alcohol abuse. This is not doing anything other than trying to placate some of those who might spend their time in this place, when they're not listening to debate, tuned into redneck radio and thinking about what it is that we need to do to people who we consider dole bludgers. I think we have to be a little bit more mature than that when we have the honour of representing our respective communities. I can speak for a community that has a disproportionate number of people on Newstart or other forms of welfare, through no fault of their own. They didn't vote to contract manufacturing. They didn't vote to do all these other things. The fact is that there's little likelihood that they're going to be able to sufficiently retrain to get employment in the modern digital economy. They're going to be welfare dependent. This treats them, like anyone else who falls into that category, as being clearly second class.

As I said at the start, it's got to be either by mandate or evidence based. Neither is applicable here. As a matter of fact, the evidence that came from those with credibility in this field is all against the government. The Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists came out with couple of clear views that they submitted to the committee considering this bill. They said:

Firstly, there is no conclusive evidence that mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients delivers any benefits such as deterring recipients from drug use, increasing levels of employment or reducing welfare spending.

They went on to say:

Secondly, the notion that illicit drug use is higher amongst the unemployed population and that this results in lowered employment capacities is unfounded.

They are the two critical areas that this government has pinned this legislation on—trying to do something about drug use.

The government ought to look at other countries where this has been instituted, particularly New Zealand and the United States. Mandated drug testing of welfare recipients was proven to be a failure. For example, the Network of Alcohol and Other Drugs Agencies noted that, in 2013, the New Zealand government did institute drug testing of welfare recipients. They went on to find that, in 2015, only 22 of the 8,000 people who participated in the testing returned a positive result. That indicated that there was no correlation between those on welfare payments and those involved in drug and alcohol abuse.

This bill is counterproductive, as the two former iterations of this bill also were. The Australian Council of Social Service notes that the evidence indicates that such a practice could have a high social and economic cost, with the proposal actually making a person's social circumstances even more precarious. Associate Professor Yvonne Bonomo, Director of the Department of Addiction Medicine at St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne, extrapolated on that and said:

The international experience shows that 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.

Clearly—and I make no bones about it—this is going to push people to the brink. This is saying that, unless you cooperate, your welfare payments are going to be postponed for up to four weeks. If you're living on $40 a day, that's going to be pretty significant. Do you know what's going to happen? I do because people tell me all the time. St Vincent de Paul, Mission Australia and other church based organisations tell me that they, because of their moral and religious obligations, will be expected to pick up the slack and look after people. They will not be getting funding for that, but they will still have to do that because of their moral obligation to people in need.

This chamber is going to vote on this bill as if it were just any other piece of legislation. It is people's lives that are being played with here. We should look at what makes a difference. I don't disagree that drugs are a huge issue in our society. Those in the police force who I have dealt with over many years tell me that, particularly with respect to the new synthetic drugs. There is a major societal cost. Not only is there an impact on the person but also people under the influence of drugs commit family violence and community violence.

We looked at ice in our community. Recommendations were made for the courts to refer people to diversion opportunities. It is one thing for police to arrest and prosecute people, but what do we do for those people after that? Do you put them in jail? If you really wanted to address this issue of drug abuse, you would look at diversion. Lo and behold, whilst everyone thinks it's good to put more effort into arrests and taking people off the streets, we want people to be rehabilitated. They don't put money into diversion opportunities. The courts don't have any opportunity to refer people to counselling or drug services. No extra money goes into that. Simply putting a $10 million price tag on this to assist with the application through this bill doesn't put money into our drug support agencies. It doesn't actually do anything at all there. We are simply going to marginalise people without giving them any real referral prospects to drug and alcohol services. How better off is society after that? We want people off drugs. We want people to be treated. That's all fine. The money's not here to do that; it's just not.

Professor Alison Ritter, head of the Drug Policy Modelling Program at the Social Policy Research Centre, found that there are currently between 400,000 and 750,000 people in the country who are in need of drug and alcohol treatment. Those people can't access addiction services at present because they're currently, as I say, underfunded or not available.

So I would encourage those opposite to think differently about this and not vote as a bloc simply because it's another right-wing ideal to gang up on people they regard as dole bludgers. They should try and use this opportunity and their time on the treasury bench to make a difference for the better in people's lives. What is being proposed here will not make anything better for those people who are currently welfare recipients. (Time expired)