The Turnbull Government‘s really quite bad plan to drug-test young people in low socio-economic areas receiving welfare assistance will be mercifully put on ice, after the embattled Government failed to secure crossbench support for the controversial measures.
Under the plan, around 5,000 new Centrelink recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance would’ve been routinely tested for ice, ecstasy, and marijuana. The testing was set to take place in three sites, all of which skewed on the poorer side, would you even believe.
The Government’s proposal would have seen people who failed a first test have 80% of their payments placed onto a cashless debit card that could only be used on rent, child care, and food. A second subsequent positive test would’ve seen the individual charged with the cost of the test, and referred to treatment.
The plan was bashed from pillar to post by just about every opposing politician, and critically a throng of leading medical and social welfare organisations, under the sun. Prime Minister Turnbull insisted that the policy was “based on love,” but multiple bodies – including the Government-funded and advising Australian National Council on Drugs – asserting that such a policy held no positive effects for welfare recipients, and ran the risk of carrying a steep monetary and social cost.
Labor, the Greens, and the Nick Xenophon Team all pledged to block the policy in the senate, leaving the Government’s majority precariously balanced and hinging on the support of David Leyonhjelm and his laundry list of truly psychotic provisos he insisted the Government include.
But without the necessary crossbench support, the Government will now opt to push an alternate version of the welfare reforms through the senate, one that does not include drug testing.
Greens senator Rachel Siewart issued a statement on the decision, stating that while removing the drug testing was a good thing, other areas of the bill remain a concern.
Dropping drug testing from the Welfare Reform Bill is good as the drug testing measures are bad policy that addiction experts have overwhelmingly rejected.
However other measures in the Bill are also of concern such as the impacts on bereaved pregnant women, older unemployed Australians and people having to wait longer for income support. The compliance changes are half baked and need further refinement.
I urge the opposition and cross-bench to also look at these measures.
Social services minister Christian Porter has asserted that, while drug testing welfare recipients is off the table for now, it has not been binned completely. Instead, the Government will simply wait until such time as it “has the support”.
Good luck with that happening any time soon, my dude.
The Senate is due to debate the welfare reforms tomorrow.Image: Getty Images / Matt King