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Thursday, 17 October 2019
Page: 4510

Mrs ANDREWS (McPhersonMinister for Industry, Science and Technology) (11:11): The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2019 introduces a two-year trial of drug testing for illicit drug use of 5,000 new recipients of Newstart allowance and youth allowance in three trial sites. This trial is designed to test the effectiveness of drug testing and treatment, including income management, as a way to support jobseekers who have drug abuse issues to overcome their barriers to employment so that they can find and keep a job. This bill demonstrates the government's commitment to tackling substance dependence and supporting people into work.

During the first year of the trial, 5,000 new jobseekers in three locations across Australia will be selected randomly and tested for the presence of illicit drugs. The trial will operate in Canterbury Bankstown, New South Wales; Logan, Queensland; and Mandurah, Western Australia. People who test positive for illicit drugs will be placed on income management. Income management is a personalised intervention and does not reduce the amount of a person's income support payment. Instead, it changes the way a person's payment is delivered. Under income management, the majority of their income support will go directly to paying essential bills or onto a BasicsCard, which can be used to buy things like groceries and transport.

Jobseekers who return a second positive drug test during the trial period will be assessed by a contracted medical professional who has expertise in drug addiction. Any treatment that is recommended by the medical profession will become a compulsory activity in the person's job plan. This will ensure that they engage with treatment that is appropriate as part of their mutual obligation requirements.

To support jobseekers in the drug-testing trial, the government has also announced an additional $10 million treatment fund. The treatment fund will boost existing capacity in trial sites and assist people to undertake treatment that is recommended for them by a medical professional, should existing Commonwealth- or state-funded services not be able to meet any additional demand as a result of the trial. It will also provide funding for case management services.

This bill demonstrates the government's commitment to the drug-testing trial, which is a unique and innovative approach to helping people with drug abuse issues. The government believes that randomised drug testing can be an effective way of identifying welfare recipients for whom mandated treatment may be successful.

A comprehensive evaluation will be conducted in parallel with the trial. This approach will ensure that any unintended consequences can be captured in real time. The evaluation will build a body of evidence on the efficacy of this unique trial where jobseekers with drug abuse issues will be placed on income management and supported to access treatment. While drug testing is currently used in Australia by some employers and has also been used overseas in relation to welfare recipients, there is little comparable evidence available to tell us whether this sort of intervention would be effective in the Australian welfare context.

This government's measure is designed to help identify jobseekers for whom drug use is an issue. The purpose of testing welfare recipients in the drug-testing trial is to find people who may need help to address a barrier to employment that they may not have acknowledged or disclosed previously. The trial will ensure the welfare system does not support illicit drug use and continues to provide a safety net for those who need it most. This trial is complemented by a suite of other measures to address drug and alcohol abuse issues in welfare recipients and support these jobseekers to overcome barriers to getting into work.

Since 1 January 2018, for the first time all jobseekers have been able to include drug and alcohol treatment in their job plan and have this contribute to meeting their annual activity requirement. This measure supports jobseekers with drug and alcohol abuse issues and allows them to have a job plan that is properly tailored to their needs. Since this measure started on 1 January 2018, more than 5,047 stream A and B jobseekers who could not have previously done this have participated in a drug or alcohol treatment activity as part of their job plan.

The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Act 2018 passed two other measures to ensure that jobseekers with substance abuse issues remain actively engaged in appropriate activities, including treatment, to address their barriers to work. Under one measure, jobseekers are no longer granted an exemption from their mutual obligation requirements, including activities such as JobSearch and preparing for work, due to drug or alcohol abuse issues. Instead, they will remain connected with their employment services provider. Seeking an exemption on these grounds will trigger a conversation with their provider about their drug or alcohol issues and enable their activities to be tailored to address their needs.

The welfare reform act also passed a measure to tighten the reasonable-excuse rules and prevent jobseekers from repeatedly using drug and alcohol dependency as an excuse for not meeting their requirements without being prepared to do anything about it. Instead, they will be encouraged to undertake treatment as part of their mutual obligation requirements.

We know that drug use can be a major barrier to finding and keeping a job. The drug-testing trial will test an innovative method of assisting people with drug abuse issues. The government consider it critical to do all we can to help vulnerable jobseekers address their barriers to employment so that they can get and keep a job. I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Rob Mitchell ): The original question was that the bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Barton has moved an amendment that all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question before the House is that the amendment be agreed to.

A division having been called and the bells being rung—

The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business, this is why I have not locked the doors—so you can talk. The Manager of Opposition Business on a point of order.

Mr Burke: Mr Speaker, I have spoken with the Leader of the House to raise that, when the division was first called, the monitors all indicated that it was a quorum rather than a division. Who knows what will happen, but it may assist the House if we just do it again because, if we have to unravel it, it will take a good deal longer.

The SPEAKER: My understanding is it did say quorum and then went to a division, but if someone has looked at it and then gone away then I think what we will do is—I haven't locked the doors—just ring the bells again for four minutes.

The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this, the honourable member for Barton has moved as an amendment that all words after 'that' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. So the question before the House is that the amendment moved by the member for Barton be agreed to.