One of the most controversial aspects of this year’s budget was the government’s commitment to drug test welfare recipients – and by ‘controversial’ we do explicitly mean ‘bullshit’.
Now the government has announced the first location to be targeted by its drug-testing trial – and you’ll be absolutely shocked to learn that they’re not scoping out Manly or Bondi residents for cocaine use. Nope, the first people to be under the yoke of welfare drug testing are those in Sydney’s Canterbury-Bankstown area.
Social services minister Christian Porter told ABC radio that the area was selected because of “real problems with drugs in the community”.
“It is not about penalising or stigmatising people who have a barrier to employment which is as serious as drug abuse,” Porter said.
“We want to help people in this situation. Failure to do so simply leaves people at risk of a cycle of welfare dependency.”
Anyone who tests positive to drugs even once will be pushed onto a cashless welfare card, which will quarantine up to 80% of their welfare income for ‘essentials’. The process – which will either be conducted at Centrelink or a nearby facility – will test for ice, ecstasy and marijuana.
Turnbull: [drug testing welfare recipients] “is all abt love – if you have loved one on drugs you want them desperately to get off” #auspol
— Paul Karp (@Paul_Karp) August 21, 2017
It’s worth noting that 20% of the base Newstart payment is $53. That doesn’t leave people a lot of leeway for… really anything, to be honest.
It’s the same cashless welfare card which has been forced onto Indigenous communities, because generally every punitive social and economic policy is foisted upon our First Nations people before they hit anyone else.
Like the program in Indigenous communities, the welfare drug testing program has been slammed by drug experts, who argue that it could have “unintended consequences” and drive those with addiction into criminality.
The program isn’t a sure thing, though. It is nestled in a welfare bill which has passed the House of Representatives, but faces a tougher slog through the Senate. Both Labor and the Greens have said they oppose the bill, and the government is still negotiating with Nick Xenophon‘s party to see if they can get it through at all.
If it passes, the drug-testing regime will kick off in 2018.