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Community Affairs Legislation Committee

BENNETT, Mr Shane, Group Manager, Payments Policy Group, Department of Social Services

DEININGER, Ms Rosemary, General Manager, Participation and Disability Division, Department of Human Services

McGUIRK, Ms Emma Kate, Branch Manager, Work and Study Payments, Payments Policy Group, Department of Social Services

MULHEARN, Ms Christine, Acting National Manager, Working Age Programmes and Compliance, Department of Human Services


CHAIR: I welcome officers of the Department of Social Services and the Department of Human Services. I remind witnesses that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state should not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. Can you please confirm that information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you?

Mr Bennett : Yes.

Ms Deininger : Yes.

Ms Mulhearn : Yes.

Ms McGuirk : Yes.

CHAIR: The committee has the Department of Social Services's submission. I now invite you to make any opening statements you wish to.

Mr Bennett : No, thank you, Chair.

CHAIR: We'll go straight to questions. Excellent.

Senator SIEWERT: I might go to consultation first. We've had quite a bit of feedback both in Bankstown from the people who phoned in from Mandurah and today about people still being unhappy with the level of consultation that has occurred. People have felt that there have been information sessions but not consultation. It's probably the Department of Social Services really that I think this should be directed to, but feel free to kick in any comments. Can you outline what you have been doing since we last discussed this—since the last inquiry basically?

Mr Bennett : To give this a wider context, I think it's valuable to go back to some of the initiatives that occurred after it was announced in the budget. As part of the budget information sessions there was a separate session associated with this proposal, and a broad range of people were invited to attend. There were sessions in Canberra on 23 May, in Sydney on 24 May and in Melbourne on 2 June. In addition to those broad sessions, there was a range of meetings held with the various governments and organisations through the period from May to July. In regards to the individual sites that were proposed for the trial, there was a series of activities that I'm happy to go through based on each site. Starting with Canterbury Bankstown, on Wednesday, 11 October sessions were held for community service providers, medical health professionals and the general public. On Friday 27 October further information sessions were held for employment service providers—

Senator SIEWERT: Are you able to provide the list, instead of taking up time?

Mr Bennett : I can.

Senator SIEWERT: I know there's been activity—we've been told about that—but it's the nature of the activity that people have criticised. They feel like it was an information session rather than a consultation session. My take on that is that they didn't feel they'd been listened to and they didn't feel they were having input into whether this was worthwhile. They felt they didn't have an opportunity to talk about what would or wouldn't work.

Mr Bennett : In responding to that, the department was very keen to engage with all stakeholders to make sure there was opportunity for consultation, so that obviously is not what was intended. As it was put to me, the sessions involved both the disclosure of information, because at times there had been misunderstandings associated with the trial, and then the opportunity for people to ask questions and engage with the department. In addition the department created an email address so that people could contact us with their issues and, subsequent to that, there has been contact with the department where people came to discuss the proposed trials. We would be of the view that we've had broad and active engagement. I understand that this is a sensitive topic but, within the nature of the government's proposal, officials have been out at each site on the ground on multiple occasions.

Senator SIEWERT: I won't continue this line of discussion because I think we will not agree. When the people you've been talking to say they haven't been adequately consulted, I would suggest to you that there are serious questions around the way the consultation process was carried out. If the people you are communicating with say, 'We haven't been heard', then they haven't been heard.

Mr Bennett : I think this comes back to different perceptions. I understand what you're telling me, but I come back to the points that I have discussed associated with active, broad engagement with the opportunity for people to express views. As I said, the creation of a dedicated email site for people to contact us. I think that reflects a strong commitment to engaging with and listening to people.

Senator SIEWERT: This is the problem with this whole ongoing area of social services. How many people use the email address?

Mr Bennett : I'll have to come back to you on that.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you take that on notice.

Mr Bennett : Yes, I will.

Senator SIEWERT: I'm not going to pursue the consultation process anymore; I'm going to move on. Where are you up to with the process in terms of the contracts that will be let? Where is that at? When are we likely to know how much this is costing?

Ms Deininger : We have been working on developing the procurement documentation for the drug testing provider. This is consistent with how we operate other budget measures when we need to do procurement. We haven't actually issued the tender. I believe at a recent estimates hearing our secretary explained to the committee that we wouldn't issue the tender until the legislation had passed. That is our existing position as well. We've been progressing the tender documentation to make sure that we are in a position to issue the tender subject to the passage of legislation.

Senator SIEWERT: We heard evidence yesterday around varying costs of effective drug testing. I realise this is difficult and we've partly been down here before. Yesterday we got evidence about how expensive really good drug testing can be. It's very difficult for us. I'm not going to bother having the argument or the series of questions we've had before; I know you're not going to give us the information. What I do want to know is: in developing the tender, have you spoken to drug and alcohol experts about how expensive proper testing is and about accessing experts in terms of the interpretation of those tests?

Ms Deininger : As part of developing the procurement documents we have engaged with external expertise in drug testing and pharmacology because we recognise that that is not an area of expertise that we were able to source. Internal to the department, obviously, we have a range of other skills and expertise, but we have sought that. In terms of price, I think we've given evidence previously that the price per head will of course depend on the service that we're seeking and the volume and so on. I think, realistically, until we have tested the market we won't know for sure because we will have given some thought and indication to that. We have previously indicated that we don't release the expected cost of tenders. I know you don't want to go down there, but that's the general reason. As part of developing the tender documents we have engaged external expertise.

Senator SIEWERT: Just for the record, I'm not going there not because I don't care; I'm not going there because we've had these discussions before, and I figure we're not going to get any further on it, so I'm not going to waste our time.

We've heard evidence around, for example, marijuana, which hangs around in your system for a long time. There's this issue around recreational drug use versus addiction. Have you had any further reflections on how to address that particular issue? Or don't you really care why someone may test positive, even if it was a joint they had? We heard evidence today and yesterday about how it hangs around for quite a long time, so somebody having one joint at one party could get caught up in this. How are you going to handle that? Is it a process of, 'You've tried a drug and that's it'?

Ms Deininger : If I could give a practical example, in terms of the referral to treatment facilities, the process is that you will have discussion with a medical assessor after you've had two positive tests—

Senator SIEWERT: Let's go back to the fact that you go on income management straightaway.

Ms Deininger : You do move on to income management if you've had a positive test.

Senator SIEWERT: Even if it is one joint at one party?

Ms Deininger : If it is a positive test, that's right.

Senator WATT: A second positive test.

Senator SIEWERT: No, the first one.

Ms Deininger : With the first positive test you go income management.

Senator SIEWERT: Right on to income management.

Ms Deininger : That's right.

Senator SIEWERT: And you can't get off. My recollection, from our previous discussion, is that that's it; you're on income management and there's no getting off.

Mr Bennett : You will be on for a period of 24 months while you're on payment, yes.

Senator SIEWERT: So one joint gets you on income management for two years?

Mr Bennett : What we come back to is the objective of the trial—taking into account that it is a trial. It is really, within the Australian welfare context, a way of identifying where the use of drugs might be affecting them—

Senator SIEWERT: But one joint at one party? If that affected everybody's workplace, we'd have a hell of a big problem in this country.

Mr Bennett : I come back to the objective of the trial. I understand that there are differences associated with this issue, but the objective of the trial is that, in cases where people are in receipt of government payments for these locations and they are subject to a positive test, they will be subject to income management for 24 months.

Senator SIEWERT: So this is about punishment, not about treatment. If the government were genuinely looking at treatment for those with addiction, where it affects their work—which is what I understand they are trying to do—they would be treating people who have, as what was put yesterday, a DM5 addiction. This is just about punishing people who may have had a joint in those instances.

Mr Bennett : I come back to the objective, which is looking to support people within the Australian welfare context to move into employment.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you want to say that a fourth time? Honestly! Can you see why people are so frustrated about this, given that there is a vast difference between somebody who has a joint at a party and somebody who has a very serious addiction?

Mr Bennett : The way that the policy will be constructed, for those who, for example, end up in situations where they have had two positive tests, go to a medical assessor et cetera, the considerations at that point associated with the needs of that person will be based on their circumstances.

Senator SIEWERT: If you say this is about serious addiction and addressing somebody's barriers to work, what is the possible policy objective of putting somebody on income management other than punishment?

Mr Bennett : I come back to this being a trial. Obviously, we have some distance between the views that are being expressed, but I am expressing the view associated with the objective of the trial, which is to assist.

Senator SIEWERT: If they've only had one positive test—which may have been through one-time recreational drug use or very minimum, if they don't pass the next one—how can you possibly assess whether income management is helping overcome a drug addiction when they obviously don't have a drug addiction in the first place? What is the rationale? Please don't repeat what you've got there; I understand what you're saying. What is the rationale for treating somebody who doesn't have an addiction in virtually the same way as somebody who does in terms of putting them on income management when they don't have an addiction?

Mr Bennett : Without being able to repeat what I have said, income management will not be a reduction in anyone's payment. They will get their full payment; it will be that there is a different way that they can access it.

Senator SIEWERT: It is income management and it is different and it will impact their lives.

Mr Bennett : They will still get the full amount of payment.

Senator SIEWERT: It's still income management.

CHAIR: Senator Siewert, will we move on or—

Senator WATT: I think now is the time for you to say that it is a decision of government.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay, we'll move on.

CHAIR: A number of witnesses raised the flow-on privacy issue. Can you just talk us through how that issue is going to be addressed?

Mr Bennett : When you say the 'flow-on privacy'—

CHAIR: Information about these sorts of things getting into the public domain—the fact that people have been drug tested, the fact that they have tested positive.

Senator SIEWERT: Private entities, potentially, if they tender, having access to the information as well.

Mr Bennett : Okay. There will be the existing privacy safeguards in place under the Privacy Act 1988 and the confidentiality rules in the Social Security (Administration) Act. These laws provide that protected information, including any personal information such as health information, can only be accessed, used or disclosed in limited circumstances. Under the social security law, this includes for the purposes of administering that law, which includes for research, statistical analysis or policy development. In summary, there will be strong safeguards associated with the use of people's private information.

CHAIR: We also had the associated concern raised that this could lead to interaction with the criminal justice system—that is, you test positive for drugs and, in some way, you enter the criminal justice system.

Ms Deininger : Adding to Mr Bennett's earlier comment, as you might appreciate, the department already has access to a range of very sensitive and private information about people—about their personal, financial and medical circumstances—so we already have quite stringent arrangements in place around protecting people's privacy, and Mr Bennett has referred to those. In addition, we already have arrangements where we use outsourced providers. For example, for the government contracted doctor service, we use an external provider—this is in the case of the disability support pension—to undertake those disability medical assessments. That's another example of where the private information of people's personal circumstances is with a third party and is shared back with the department. So we do have experience in managing those kinds of circumstances where people's personal or health information is held by a third party. I just wanted to add that to Mr Bennett's comment before we moved on.

Senator SIEWERT: That doesn't deal with the issue of possible criminal—

Ms Deininger : I know. I'm happy to move onto that, but I just wanted to add to Mr Bennett's comment.

Mr Bennett : In terms of law enforcement agencies, as I think you've mentioned, there's nothing in the trial that will include the sharing of information about positive test results with police, future employers or state and territory authorities.

CHAIR: So, basically, what is discovered within this system stays within this system?

Mr Bennett : Effectively.

Senator SIEWERT: To follow up on that, I'm not a full expert on the law, but do the police have any capacity to request or require the provision of information about somebody, if you or DHS holds information?

Mr Bennett : I'm not aware of that. I will take that one on notice, but I'm not aware of that ever being an issue.

Senator SIEWERT: Neither am I; it's a question that I'm asking.

Mr Bennett : Because of the nature of various topics that I've seen in recent years, I would have thought that one would have come up, but I'll definitely take it on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: If you could. Hopefully the answer is no. Have you considered then that issue in terms of putting people off? We've had a lot of evidence from experts saying they think this whole thing will put people off coming forward to get income support and drive behaviour underground. Have you considered the fact that, if people think their drug test information is going to become available to the police, whether it's true or not, that might put people off coming forward too?

Mr Bennett : We've obviously had lots of information put out associated with the trial. If I could speak more broadly, as we go forward, subject to the passage of legislation, reference groups will be established at each trial site. As part of those reference groups, we would expect that there would be an offer of representation for law enforcement agencies. We would see that as a valuable source of on-ground information, so that, if there was starting to be a misconception associated with this issue, we would be in a good place to take further remedial action.

Ms Deininger : If I might add to Mr Bennett's answer, in the case of jobseekers, for example, you can use drug and alcohol rehabilitation as part of meeting your mutual obligation requirements, so it is the case that the department and providers will know that, presumably, if you're having treatment, you have a substance misuse issue.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I understand that, but my point was that we were already getting evidence that people were going to be worried about actually coming for the test. If they already know they've got an addiction, for example, they are going to be put off coming and even more so if they think it's going to enable the police to charge them.

Ms Deininger : Certainly, as Mr Bennett said, there was no intention to share information in relation to the drug-testing trial outcomes with law enforcement.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, I took that on board. It's more if they have the capacity to require the provision of information that I'm interested in.

Ms Deininger : We'll take that on notice.

CHAIR: You may have answered this at some other point, but I can't recall the answer, so I'll ask it again. How is the system going to deal with people who are on a treatment program that involves, for example, methadone? If someone is in a methadone program and they come up for a random drug test, how do they notify? How do they interact with the system? Is that treated differently or exactly the same?

Mr Bennett : Certainly, arrangements are being put in place to address those types of circumstances. There may be a range of issues that may lead someone to a positive result. As part of the process, they will have the opportunity to disclose and, if need be, subsequently seek medical information to support that the positive result was a function of another, if you like, medicated activity.

CHAIR: What would the result of that be? Would it then go back to the previous circumstance or would they just continue down the path they're already on as a result of having a positive test?

Mr Bennett : It would not be treated as a positive test. I think, in your concept of continuing down the path, there would be no path.

Senator SIEWERT: If they're already on a treatment program and they test positive, they wouldn't then be put on income management because they've already—that's what I thought you were asking.

Mr Bennett : Maybe I misunderstood. I thought you were saying if someone was subject to, effectively, medication, and they produce a positive result, then as part of the work that's occurring with DHS and—

CHAIR: Would that be notified in advance or would they prove that afterwards?

Mr Bennett : That would be part of the discussions you would have at the first appointment, saying, 'Is there anything associated with the test that would reflect a reason why you might have a positive result?' And a person who was subject to either prescription medicine or, in this case, methadone, would have the opportunity to disclose that.

Ms Deininger : If I could add to Mr Bennett's answer, you would appreciate that a number of corporates and other organisations do this drug testing and have similar circumstances where people may have other medical conditions. So, as Mr Bennett said, there's an opportunity to disclose that, and that's something that we would work closely with the drug-testing provider on because, obviously, they will have already experience in assessing the impact of other medications or other treatments on the results that come through a drug test.

Senator SIEWERT: If I'm on methadone as a pharmacotherapy for an addiction and I go to my first interview and declare that I'm on methadone, so you know very well I'll test positive, I won't be put on income management even though I have an addiction which I've sought help for?

Mr Bennett : You will not be put on income management.

Senator SIEWERT: Because I've already sought treatment and I'm already in a treatment program?

Mr Bennett : Effectively because it's not an illicit substance.

Ms Deininger : Because you won't test positive. Because, as Mr Bennett said, if you disclose that there are particular circumstances—

Mr Bennett : But I also think it comes back to the point that the nature of the trial is associated with the focus on illicit drugs. Methadone would not be treated as—

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, but I have an addiction, so I have been using illicit drugs. Am I still okay?

Mr Bennett : The objective is that if you are on—if the use of illicit drugs is tested positive, there will be safeguards in the system associated with those who are not using illicit drugs but who may produce positive results.

Senator SIEWERT: I get it, yes.

Mr Bennett : I think I will take that on notice and come back to you. But I stand by the comment that if you are using illicit drugs the trial is aimed at creating arrangements where that will be tested for positive.

Senator SIEWERT: If you could come back to me—again, this is going to put people off coming and seeking income support. We know very well that, as we heard today, it can be nine times that people relapse before they have a sustainable progress. If they're seeking treatment for their addiction, we don't want to put people off coming to seek income support because they're scared that even though they are seeking treatment for their addiction they're going to get put on income management.

Mr Bennett : I understand the scenario.

Senator SIEWERT: Maybe that's what you'd call a cameo or question on notice or something.

Mr Bennett : Definitely a question on notice.

Senator WATT: I want to recap on a couple of things that Senator Siewert's touched on so far. You haven't yet put the services out to tender because you're waiting to see whether the legislation passes through the Senate.

Ms Deininger : That's right.

Senator WATT: I don't know how you would term it, but has there been some sort of a mapping of potential service providers—has there been any work done to identify potential service providers if you do end up going to a contract?

Ms Deininger : The approach that we propose to take with this contract is that it would be an open tender. It wouldn't be a tender where we would approach a handful or certain number of providers. The proposal is that we would undertake an open tender. But, I think, in our work we know that there are providers who provide this service in a range of corporate and government environments. So we certainly think there are providers who undertake this service.

Senator WATT: Has the minister or minister's office given any indication of the types of providers they have in mind or whether anyone has come and spoken to them about their ability to deliver these services?

Ms Deininger : If you've got a question about the minister and who he meets with, I think that's a matter for the minister. I'm not in a position to comment on that.

Senator WATT: I'm asking about whether the minister or minister's office has passed anything on to you or the department.

Ms Deininger : The procurement is being handled in the department.

Senator WATT: Yes. So my question is whether the minister or minister's office has passed on any suggestions or indications of possible providers.

Ms Deininger : No, Senator.

Senator WATT: Is Serco one of the companies that is a potential provider?

Ms Deininger : I'm not in a position to comment on who may or may not be providers. As I mentioned, it will be an open tender. We will have a work order, if you like, as part of the tender, in terms of the services that we will expect a company to provide, and we will leave that to the market.

Senator WATT: The reason I asked about Serco is that I see an increasing tendency for Serco to obtain contracts to deliver services through your department. Just yesterday there was one about, I think it was, Centrelink call centres. We've had NDIA call-centre positions. There've been other Centrelink jobs outsourced to Serco in the past. So they are a company that keeps coming up. Are they the sort of company that might end up getting this contract as well?

Ms Deininger : As I said, I'm not in a position to comment on who may or may not tender. As you would appreciate, drug testing is a specialist service, if I could phrase it that way. I think that if you're comparing a more general service, such as call centres, to drug testing they are very different services. I'm not in a position to comment on Serco's capacity to deliver services. I'm not in a position to comment on who may or may not tender.

Senator WATT: What's the proposed new start date for the trials?

Mr Bennett : As the legislation—this is from memory, without going through the folder. I believe it is, from the date of royal assent, 1 July, 1 October et cetera. It starts two months after the date of royal assent.

Senator WATT: Right. So, should the legislation be passed, you would have two months from the date of royal assent?

Mr Bennett : A minimum of two months. For example, once we get into May, it wouldn't be 1 July; it would be 1 October, because 1 July is less than two months after the potential for royal assent, given that the first week of sittings in May I think's about—

CHAIR: Wouldn't it be 1 August?

Ms McGuirk : No, 1 October would be the next possible starting date, because you need two months after royal assent. Then it's 1 July, 1 October, 1 January or 1 April once that two months has passed—

Unidentified speaker: The quarter mark.

Ms McGuirk : to ensure that there's a minimum buffer to organise implementation in the trial sites.

CHAIR: Okay.

Senator WATT: On the cost—you're not willing, for the reasons you've gone into, to advise us what the expected cost of the trial is. That's right?

Mr Bennett : Correct.

Senator WATT: Just so I understand the components of whatever the cost is: obviously there's the cost of the policy work that's being done, there's the cost of conducting the drug testing, and then there's the cost of administering the income management process. Is there any other major component to the overall cost of the trial that I've missed?

Mr Bennett : Separate to the factors you're discussing—and I know you heard about it in evidence—the government has announced the $10 million treatment fund, but that is separate. There has been no public disclosure associated with the running of the trial, again, for the reasons we discussed, because of the market sensitivities associated with that information.

Senator WATT: That's just the actual drug-testing part of the trial, though, that you're saying is commercial-in-confidence, isn't it?

Mr Bennett : To disclose a figure would reflect to people how much money is available, potentially, for the purposes of the procurement, and that's why—

Senator WATT: I understand the argument. I don't necessarily accept it, but I understand the argument. But what I'm saying is that that argument only applies to the component of the trial that involves the actual testing.

Mr Bennett : There's been no disaggregation of the elements. I think, if you look at the way that measures are often done, they have the headline figure associated with the cost of the measure. In regard to this one, there's been no disaggregation.

Senator WATT: Again, I think we've worked out there are roughly about four components to this trial: there's the policy work—even the cost of people like you coming to hearings like this today; there's the testing itself, which is the bit that you're saying is commercial-in-confidence; there's the process of income-managing people, which obviously incurs a cost—there's got to be staff who are employed to do that; and then there's the $10 million in services. They're the four major components?

Mr Bennett : They're the four main components.

Ms McGuirk : And general Human Services costs.

Ms Deininger : Yes, that's right. In relation to the income management category that you referred to, you might perhaps refer to that as a general DHS servicing component, because we will be engaging with customers around the trial; we won't just be engaging with them on income management. There will of course be many, many people who present for a drug test and who test negative, so that will conclude their interaction with us on that, but there will still be an interaction with us in relation to those customers.

Senator WATT: I suppose there are additional things, such as the cost of employing people to do the procurement and things like that, as well. Leaving aside the argument about whether you should tell us what the cost of just drug testing is, no-one has actually worked out what the overall cost of all this work will be.

Mr Bennett : Sorry, Senator, the government has not disclosed what the overall costs will be.

Senator WATT: So you know what the costs will be. You haven't disclosed those costs for the drug testing—

Mr Bennett : Sorry, Senator, I may have misunderstood you—

Senator WATT: I suppose what I'm trying to get to is: we've established that there are four or five major pieces of work to make this trial happen. One of them is testing people for drugs. That's the bit that you're saying you're not able to disclose the costs of. What I'm trying to establish is, putting all of work together, has anyone actually worked out what this trial will cost?

Mr Bennett : The normal process associated with the measure is that you would consider the various elements. As I said previously, it is not unusual in these types of measures, for the reasons that we've outlined, that you do not disclose that. I've seen no disaggregation of the cost publicly.

Senator WATT: I don't remember whether we've pursue this in the past before, but the sorts of figures that we've been provided, from memory, to conduct the drug testing in a proper manner are anywhere between $500 to $900. Does that range sound about right, without pinning you down on what you're hoping to get it for?

Mr Bennett : I do not have any recollection of that type of discussion, nor would I think it would be wise for us to enter into it.

Senator WATT: Were there any costs incurred in determining the trial locations?

Mr Bennett : Senator, can you assist me by breaking that down a bit further?

Senator WATT: I don't know whether consultants were used or whether any surveys were commissioned—

Senator SIEWERT: Information purchased or stormwater data.

Mr Bennett : The advice provided to government came from the department, taking into account the various elements that I know we've discussed before associated with what constituted those elements of advice.

Senator WATT: I have a few other questions to round out the costing part and then I'm sure we've all got other questions. We've talked before about the requirement on trial participants to pay for tests in certain circumstances. Can you confirm for us the situations within which a participant will be required to pay back the cost of the test?

Mr Bennett : Where a person is subject to the first test, they will not be required to pay that back. Where they're subject to a second test that is positive, there will be a cost associated with that. Where they appeal the outcome of a test—for example, the first test—and there is a cost associated with that, they will be subject to that.

Unidentified speaker: If that test is positive.

Mr Bennett : If that test is positive.

Senator WATT: I understand that the cost of the test will be set by the secretary and will not be more than the lowest cost of a test set by the private provider who's engaged to deliver the trial. Is that correct?

Unidentified speaker: Yes.

Mr Bennett : That is.

Senator WATT: Will that cost be taken into consideration when selecting a provider?

Ms Deininger : One of the assessments that we'll make when we go through the procurement is value for money. There is a range of things that we'll have to assess and value for money will be one of those. There is obviously the cost of the trial and there may well be a cost per test, but, as part of the pricing, there will be overhead costs. Potentially other costs come into that. There is certainly value for money, and the cost of the testing will be taken into account as part of the procurement. As it is in all our procurements, value for money is an underlying requirement in Commonwealth procurement—

Senator WATT: It won't necessarily be that the lowest cost gets the tender?

Ms Deininger : We have to take into account all the factors because we need to make sure that certain standards are met. There will be certain standards, for example, as we discussed, around privacy and disclosure. There will be certain standards that we'll require the successful tenderer to meet.

Senator WATT: I understand that there's provision for someone to be exempted from paying the cost of their test if they can demonstrate financial hardship.

Ms McGuirk : Yes, at that period in time. It essentially acts like a debt. If you're in financial hardship in that particular period of time, you wouldn't pay at that particular period of time.

Senator WATT: Could you give us some examples of the situations that would constitute financial hardship?

Ms Deininger : I am happy to take the question on notice. I don't have any examples to hand.

Ms McGuirk : It's currently the same with debt management, as I understand it. The maximum amount would be 10 per cent, which is low. The current debt amount is 15 per cent. The maximum would be 10 per cent. It could be lower, based on somebody circumstances or, if they're in financial hardship, they wouldn't be required to pay at that particular time, until they were out of that hardship position.

Mr Bennett : I just clarify that it's 10 per cent of payment.

Senator WATT: So you're saying that there'd essentially be the provision for a repayment regime for someone?

Ms McGuirk : Yes.

Senator WATT: If, for argument's sake, the cost was $500, they may have to pay 10 per cent of their benefits until they pay that off?

Ms McGuirk : Yes.

Senator WATT: But separate to that there is the capacity to waive the cost altogether if financial hardship can be demonstrated?

Ms Deininger : I'm happy to take the financial hardship aspect on notice.

Senator WATT: Okay. Is it intended to engage the same provider in all three trial locations?

Ms Deininger : The proposal for the tender is to go out for one provider.

Senator WATT: I think that's it in terms of costs. I'm happy to go onto a different topic. In terms of the selection of sites, we've had evidence previously about the reasons why these locations were chosen. In his second reading speech the minister said that 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. However, the CEO of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission has told the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement that he had not received a request in relation to the drug testing of social security recipients and that the wastewater analysis was limited to providing analysis at the level of capital cities. Can anyone confirm the role that wastewater analysis did play in decision-making? I notice that it is not mentioned as a determining factor on the DSS fact sheet.

Mr Bennett : As we've previously discussed, a range of information was given to government associated with the selection of trial sites. My understanding of the report that you reflect is that it reflects both metro and non-metro information. Just so we are clear: it is metro and non-metro, not just metro. It would not be unusual to draw information from a public report rather than necessarily contacting the CEO associated with that. As I said, there were a number of sources of information provided to government.

Senator WATT: So essentially what you're saying is that, to the extent that the wastewater results were a factor in determining the three locations for the trials, really you are relying on those public reports as opposed to a separate request made to ACIC?

Mr Bennett : That is my understanding, Senator.

Senator WATT: I've actually had a bit of a look today at those reports. I don't know if you heard the evidence this morning from Logan City Council, but they raised some concerning evidence. They said that the information the department had provided to justify locating a trial in Logan included wastewater data from these reports that didn't necessarily involve wastewater testing conducted in Logan and also that the department was relying on crime statistics that covered a police district that went well beyond Logan. What's your position on that?

Mr Bennett : I come back to what we discussed when I reflected that it was based on metro versus nonmetro. It's obviously at that type of spatial scale. There was never a case where that report was used or purported to be used at a smaller spatial scale. What we're saying is there was a range of information given to government associated with factors associated with drug related information. That would be consistent when you talk about information to do with other reports that may not be able to be specifically produced to the same spatial scale. That does not mean that does not reflect broader information that people can use as part of a decision-making process.

Senator WATT: But the truth is that you don't actually have any wastewater data or crime data that justifies choosing Logan as a trial site any more than any other metropolitan part of Queensland.

Mr Bennett : I come back to there was a range of information given to government. I don't think we've ever purported to have it at a smaller spatial scale than what the nature of those reports are, but they do reflect the information that was given to government associated with this process.

Senator WATT: Feel free to take this on notice: can you point to anything in that wastewater data that indicates that Logan is somewhere with above-average, concerning—however you want to describe it—levels of drug use?

Mr Bennett : I will take that on notice.

Senator WATT: How can you assure us that a trial is not being established in Logan to manage drug users in Logan based on what might actually be cocaine use in inner-city Brisbane or drug use somewhere on the Gold Coast or somewhere in the Scenic Rim council area, which is near Logan?

Mr Bennett : Maybe I could raise this conversation up, because I feel like we've come on some reports to a smaller spatial scale. One of the things when government was looking to undertake the trial was to have a consideration of what sites were available that would support the potential testing of 5,000 people. So the first thing that we had when we looked at information was the inflow of participants on Newstart and youth allowance, and then there was a range of other information given to government. I don't think the department has ever said, in regard to any of the sites, that they reflect the highest use of drugs in the state. They are supposed to be for the trial to give information. A number of factors were considered, including, I believe, that there has been information provided previously, associated with the different sizes of expectations associated with the level of testing that would occur, and by that I mean that it is not one third, one third, one third; different sites will have a different level of testing based on the different inflow of participants to Newstart.

Senator WATT: Yes, but the reason I'm harping on about wastewater data is this. Here's the minister's second reading speech. The very first thing that he said was that the basis of choosing the sites was the wastewater data. So, if he's wrong to have chosen Logan, and, in fact, if you interrogated the wastewater data more closely you'd find the real issue is in inner-city Brisbane, why is the trial not happening there and why is it happening in Logan?

Mr Bennett : I come back to the points I previously discussed, associated with the fact that the trial was looking at a range of information associated with different circumstances. You've asked me to take something on notice. I will take it on notice.

Senator WATT: I've got other questions but it's probably time to hand over.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go to the $10 million allocation for treatment services. First off, how was the $10 million figure arrived at?

Mr Bennett : The $10 million treatment fund was arrived at following consultations with the Department of Health.

Senator SIEWERT: Did they recommend $10 million, or did they provide information which you then used to decide on the $10 million?

Mr Bennett : Unfortunately, I don't have the benefit of living knowledge on this topic, so I'm going to have to take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Then there may questions I'm about to ask that you may need to take on notice. Did they recommend $10 million or did they give you information around how much services cost and you arrived at $10 million?

Ms McGuirk : It's probably best to take that on notice—

Senator SIEWERT: Yes, that's what I'm asking: could you take those questions on notice.

Ms McGuirk : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: What data was used? Was there costing of services used to arrive at that $10 million?

Mr Bennett : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Let's see how I go with the other questions; you may need to take them on notice as well. Given the discussion we've just had, there are going to be different numbers of people that are participating in the various trial sites, so is it going to be allocated, therefore, against proportion to individuals?

Mr Bennett : The government at this stage hasn't released further disaggregation of that figure.

Senator SIEWERT: So $10 million has been allocated but it hasn't been decided yet how it's going to be spent?

Mr Bennett : Government has not yet released details of that disaggregation.

Senator SIEWERT: It may be difficult for you to answer these next questions in terms of potentially what's in and what's out, but I'm going to try. Over the last couple of days we've had a lot of information saying that it's not just the drug and alcohol services that aren't meeting demand. There's a big unmet need, but there are also a range of community services that have to go hand in hand with those drug and alcohol services. For example, yesterday we heard from Passages in Mandurah that they support a lot of young people, particularly homeless young people, and they're finding there's a lack of accommodation for those homeless young people, and it's really hard to provide services that are positive if somebody is still homeless. So my question is: will some of that money be available for services that are not necessarily drug treatment services?

Mr Bennett : I understand your question. For the information I have that's publicly available for the treatment fund, you are taking a wider lens associated with support services. I think it would be safer, rather than potentially misleading you, to take that one on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. I am after whether it will be available, for example, for accommodation services—mental health services in particular, but the range of other community services that have been articulated as being needed to support somebody who has a significant addiction disorder. Could you take that on notice?

Mr Bennett : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Could you also take on notice—or maybe you know—when the government's likely to articulate the broader parameters for how that money is going to be spent.

Mr Bennett : I will have to take that on notice.

Senator SIEWERT: Are you able to tell us what the consultation process will be in order to determine some of these factors?

Mr Bennett : As part of the treatment implementation process et cetera there will be further ongoing consultations. Again I think I will take this one on notice, because of the link you made to the other comments. I've previously reflected the expectation of creating a reference group at each of the locations. If that's not the area, if you're talking more about the treatment fund, then—

Senator SIEWERT: I'm talking about the treatment fund.

Mr Bennett : allow me to take it on notice please.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. Thank you. The welfare reform bill has now gone through—minus the trial sites, obviously—and there have been changes to the way drug and alcohol addictions are treated through the assessment process. What's also come up in evidence is the fact that that's going to lead to potentially more people in treatment services. Will the $10 million cover that extra demand? The point has been made that that's going to put extra demand on services. The way people have been talking about unmet need is that you need at least double the funding. They're saying that's how much unmet need there is. But on top of that they're saying there are going to be more people, potentially, in the system now because going into treatment is one of the mutual obligations.

Mr Bennett : I understand what you're saying. The purpose of the treatment fund is associated with the three trial sites.

Senator SIEWERT: So, if you are looking at meeting unmet need in the three trial sites, has the government taken into consideration the fact that there may be more people than anticipated seeking treatment services in each of those trial sites?

Mr Bennett : If we can come back to the broader nature, I think you have previously been given information associated the number of people we expect.

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Mr Bennett : Spread across the three trial sites, with the additional $10 million and, subject to the medical assessor, the proposed treatment for people will vary. Some will be quite intensive and some will be less intensive. The purpose of the trial fund is to supplement existing resources and so it is associated with the scalability of existing resources, taking into account conversations we would expect to have with area health networks associated with those types of services. I understand your point, but we can't be specific about the number of people because we don't know how many people will end up with two positive tests. It could be quite small spread across three sites, but it gives you an indication of the coverage of the $10 million treatment fund.

Senator SIEWERT: Yesterday we heard there are no long-term rehab services in south-west WA specifically for Indigenous people, despite the Better Choices. Better Lives plan which articulates that. WACOSS has called for it a number of times. Could something like that be funded through the treatment fund?

Mr Bennett : Again I'm going to have to take it on notice. I understand the question you're asking.

Senator SIEWERT: WANADA yesterday was talking about Better Choices. Better Lives as the agreed plan for the way health services et cetera will be delivered. When you're talking to stakeholders and states about the $10 million, will that expenditure be guided by states' existing plans?

Mr Bennett : Different jurisdictions will have different approaches et cetera. The person who considers the treatment services as they go through, is expected to be someone who has local information.

Senator WATT: I have questions about access to services. One of the consistent themes across all of the hearings, this time and last time around, was concerns about the level of services currently available, the current waiting lists—whether this will make things worse not better for waiting lists. When we have asked about this previously, I think we've been told that your departments don't have data on waiting lists and the unmet demand for drug and alcohol services in the areas covered by the trial sites. That data is more likely to be held by state agencies and, in some cases, NGOs that deliver the services. Has any more work been done by any Commonwealth department to try to get a handle on the waiting lists or the level of unmet demand that currently exists in the trial areas for drug and alcohol services?

Mr Bennett : That might be a better question for the Department of Health, Senator.

Senator WATT: But who is the lead agency for this?

Mr Bennett : Obviously, we're the lead agency but for that type of information—

Senator WATT: Put it this way: are you aware of any other work having been done, whether by your department or by the Department of Health, to establish the waiting times that already exist for drug and alcohol services in the trial site areas?

Ms McGuirk : The Department of Health may have provided some advice at their own estimates hearing around minimum dataset changes. But, apart from being peripherally aware that there is broadly something going on in that area, I think it is best answered by the Department of Health.

Senator WATT: In essence, what does your department say to the repeated concern expressed by people who are on the ground delivering drug and alcohol services in these trial sites that there are inadequate services now? Is the answer that $10 million will be put in and that will buy the additional services needed?

Mr Bennett : Taking into account the cohorts we've talked about and the fact that there will be a spectrum of services that will be required and the fact that the $10 million will be able to be used to access services in a local area, yes, that would be the response.

Senator WATT: The other concern that has been raised is that, even with that extra money, bringing additional people into the system for drug and alcohol services as a result of this trial might effectively push back other people who are already waiting for services.

Mr Bennett : I understand why people might have those concerns, but the intention is that this additional $10 million will create extra capacity to meet the requirements of the trial.

Senator WATT: A related point—again, a very consistent message—has been that Australia already has a shortage of qualified people to deliver drug and alcohol services. What work has been done to ensure that there will be qualified, trained people available to fill the positions that this $10 million will fund?

Mr Bennett : One of the things associated with the consideration of the trial sites was the existence of services. With the additional money, the expectation is that those services will be able to be scaled to meet the extra requirements. I feel that sometimes the conversation implies that there will be a massive increase coming through from this trial, when we have already discussed the numbers expected to test positive and the fact that there will be a range of support services that these people will be able to access.

Senator WATT: I accept that not everyone is going to go into residential rehab. I totally accept that. Let's give you the benefit of the doubt: let's accept that the $10 million will buy enough services and let's accept that that will not displace people who are already waiting for services. But I have to tell you that there is a really genuine concern among the existing service providers about whether they can find the bodies who can actually deliver these services. We've heard that over and over again.

Mr Bennett : That's one of the things that we come back to when we have people referred to the assessor associated with the second test and them having local knowledge of the services that are available.

Senator WATT: What happens if someone is sent off for drug and alcohol treatment—and you can have all the money in the world—but there is no-one actually qualified and ready to deliver the services? We are being told that that is a very real risk.

Mr Bennett : It is an issue that will be carefully monitored as we go forward. I have spoken about the existence of the reference groups that will be created at each site, which would be expected to have representation from a number of sectors, including those that provide treatment services.

Senator WATT: So, to come back to my original question in this bracket, what work is being done now—whether by your department, the Department of Health or whoever it might be—to ensure that if this bill gets royal assent there will be people available? To give you another example, when the NDIS was first invented a lot of work went on to ensure that, when the time came, there would be people ready to deliver the service. Is similar work being done now to prepare for the potential need for extra qualified staff?

Mr Bennett : I think this is the type of conversation that I would be best to take on notice, because I think it involves more than one department.

Senator WATT: Okay. In passing, you mentioned that we're not necessarily talking about thousands of people who will need drug and alcohol services, and you referred to the numbers you've given us previously. Are you still pretty confident that those numbers are about right? I think what we've been told previously is that, of about 750 trial participants in Mandurah, only 10 to 15 are expected to fail two drug tests; in Logan, only about 50 to 60 are expected to have a second positive drug test; and I haven't got the Bankstown figure with me, but I think it's 20 to 25.

Ms McGuirk : That's still the estimate.

Senator WATT: The other really consistent theme this time and last time from every kind of witness is the lack of evidence to support this proposal. When we've asked about this at previous hearings of the department, no evidence has been able to be provided. We've been told: 'This is an innovative new thing. We're trialling it. It's a world first.' Since we last asked you, has any other evidence emerged that gives you confidence that this will work?

Mr Bennett : If I could say that the previous positions on this provided by the department remain.

Senator WATT: So, no.

Senator SIEWERT: Income management came up this morning in terms of it already being here in Logan, Mandurah and Bankstown. I assume, in terms of the assessment of cost, you're not factoring in that infrastructure cost for income management, since each of the trial sites already has the equipment for income management. Is that correct?

Mr Bennett : If I could put it this way, the existing sites have infrastructure that can be leveraged from?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Mr Bennett : That's correct.

Senator SIEWERT: Was that an issue in the decision-making in regard to the trial sites?

Mr Bennett : A range of things were considered in the decision-making process. One of the elements of the trial did include income management. There were a range of locations around the country that do have income management. It was part of the information suite provided to government.

Senator SIEWERT: Did you look at any of the outcomes of income management in the three sites in terms of providing that information to government?

Mr Bennett : I would have to take that on notice. This predates me, in that the measure is in last year's budget, and—

Senator SIEWERT: Could you take on notice: were the outcomes of the place-based income management taken into account? It's called something else now, isn't it—the Supporting People at Risk Measure? Is that the general term that's now used for what was the place-based income management approach?

Unidentified speaker: No, it's a separate measure.

Senator SIEWERT: Can you take on notice: were the outcomes of both taken into account in deciding the three trial sites? Thank you. What progress is being made in terms of determining the assessment of the three trial sites in terms of outcomes?

Mr Bennett : Are you talking about—

Senator SIEWERT: In terms of the evaluation of the trials, what progress has been made in determining what the methodology is and the process?

Mr Bennett : At the moment early preparatory work is associated with the undertaking of the evaluation. Subject to the passage of legislation, an independent consultancy will be procured to undertake the evaluation.

Senator SIEWERT: Do I take from that that the consultancy won't be done until passage of the legislation?

Mr Bennett : That would be my expectation.

Senator SIEWERT: Will the consultant be in place before the trials start?

Mr Bennett : We've discussed the timing associated with commencement of the bill. The expectation is that the evaluation would start early and provide ongoing feedback. I won't say it will be underway from the first date of commencement of the trial, but it is expected to occur early in the trial process and be ongoing.

CHAIR: Have you started developing the evaluation metrics, or will you wait until you have the evaluator?

Mr Bennett : We would wait until we have the evaluator, but the department has evaluation expertise that would be used to develop this process, including setting up the parameters to go market to find the evaluator.

Ms McGuirk : There is also a commitment to run evaluation design workshops in all three trial site locations to inform those metrics.

Senator SIEWERT: When would they be run?

Ms McGuirk : We're not from the evaluation section, but it is part of the plan to roll that out once we understand more about the timing of the implementation.

Senator SIEWERT: Would the department carry out those workshops, or the successful contractor?

Ms McGuirk : The department would be part of organising and facilitating those; we just have to look at the timing of engaging the contractor. Ideally, yes.

Senator SIEWERT: The department would run them?

Ms McGuirk : No, ideally it would be with the support of the contractor.

Senator SIEWERT: Presumably you're not putting the cost of the evaluation out yet either? I know the answer I'm going to get.

CHAIR: I think you do know the answer to that one.

Senator SIEWERT: But just for the record.

Mr Bennett : I'm probably going to disappoint you on the figure.

Senator SIEWERT: How can you give us that figure and not the other one?

Mr Bennett : The figure I'm going to give you was discussed at previous Senate estimates. There is a difference between something broad and something subject to an element of market sensitivity. This is a broad figure. As I understand it, it is approximately $980,000. My understanding is it's also in a letter on a question to—

Senator SIEWERT: Yes; sorry, you've just reminded me.

Senator WATT: What distance will the samples taken through the drug-testing be required to travel from where the tests are conducted to where the results will be analysed?

Ms Deininger : We don't know that yet, because we don't know who the provider will be.

Senator WATT: Will issues like the validity of tests that travel extended distances be taken into account?

Ms Deininger : In the tender process we will ensure the drug-testing arrangements are very efficient and rigorous, with strong validity.

Senator WATT: Has any information about the possibility that this will trial occur already been distributed to Centrelink recipients in the trial areas? Has there been any sort of information or anything like that at this point?

Mr Bennett : Not that I'm aware of.

Ms Deininger : There will be information in the public domain about the drug-testing trial. As we've discussed, there are a number of fact sheets and so on, but DHS has not sent letters to recipients of Newstart or youth allowance in the trial sites, because the measure is subject to the passage of legislation.

Senator WATT: We've heard evidence that the people affected are likely to have a range of other issues, whether it be homelessness or employment and training issues. Beyond drug and alcohol services, is this $10 million intended to provide any other support to people going through the trials?

Mr Bennett : I believe Senator Siewert asked me a very similar question, and I've taken it on notice.

Senator WATT: Sorry, I missed that one. I may have asked this at previous hearings: an issue raised by some drug and alcohol experts is the risk that people might move from the types of drugs that would be detected using these tests to synthetic and other drugs that evade testing. We're told some of these synthetic drugs can potentially be even more harmful than the sorts of drugs that would be picked up. Has that been taken into account in this program? What measures will be taken to prevent people from moving to alternative synthetic drugs?

Mr Bennett : The objective of the drug-testing will be to test all illicit drugs available, taking into account that arrangements will be finalised post the procurement of the drug-testing provider.

Senator WATT: That raises one other issue. The consistent evidence from service providers is that alcohol is by far the biggest problem facing many of the people they currently assist. This trial is not intended to assist people with any alcohol addiction in any way; it's focusing on the types of illicit drugs we've talked about.

Mr Bennett : The trial is focused on illicit drugs. The treatment fund is linked to the trial.

Senator WATT: Was consideration given to using the trial to assist people with alcohol addiction, given the evidence that that's the biggest issue?

Mr Bennett : I understand what you say about alcohol, but it is not an illicit substance. We have to take into account the parameters of the trial. We've discussed before that it is a trial whose target is illicit substances.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you done any work on alcohol as a barrier to work?

Mr Bennett : I will take that on notice.

CHAIR: That concludes today's hearing. I thank officers from DSS and DHS for appearing, all those who have given evidence to the committee, and the secretariat and broadcasting.

Committee adjourned at 14 : 58