Here’s How You Could Be Hit By Centrelink’s New Random Drug Test Program

Last night’s Federal Budget announcement laid out a massive new trial to randomly drug test 5,000 welfare recipients, with an eye to restrict payments to those found to have used cannabis, methamphetamine, or ecstasy while receiving government assistance.
In the hours since that announcement, the move has been pretty roundly criticised for its punitive approach to drug abuse. It’s also been revealed that the trial will focus on recipients of the Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance, meaning young Australians will be overwhelmingly targeted by the trial. 
Because only young Aussies who receive welfare payments use illicit drugs.
(The government is using a very liberal definition of “random testing,” here. Official docs state test regions will be identified by a “data-driven profiling tool developed for the trial to identify relevant characteristics that indicate a higher risk of substance abuse issues,” so don’t be surprised if the trials take place in low-income areas, or target regions with high Aboriginal populations.)

Despite all of that, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has maintained his position that “this is helping people,” through the logic that identifying and financially punishing welfare recipients will encourage them to seek work. 

This move is still in its early days – early day, really – and it’s going to take a while to fully understand the impact of welfare recipients being tested during random Department of Human Services appointments. However, drug testing in the private sector has existed for quite some time, and the rights workers have may point to how welfare recipients can prepare for the trial.

While employers are allowed to institute random drug testing as long as it’s laid out in their employment contact, the results of numerous court cases affirm that employees should only be tested in an effort to improve workplace safety, not to weed out those who use illicit drugs and are subsequently intoxicated wholly outside of work hours.

Even the CFMEU, which long opposed on-site drug testing as impeding on the privacy of its members, agreed to the tests in response to a heightened level of construction workers operating machinery while under the influence of ice. It’s pretty clear drug tests have a time and a place in ensuring workers are safe from anyone actively intoxicated.

That being said, receiving welfare payments is an entirely different ball game. It’s within reason that the specific tests implemented will pick up on trace amounts of illicit drugs within welfare recipients’ systems well after any apparent intoxication. If that circumstance comes to pass, people will be punished for taking illicit drugs, even if their drug use can’t be proven to directly impede their hunt for employment.
While it’s common practice for employers to institute a probationary system before terminating an employee due to failed drug tests, it doesn’t appear that provision has been built into the government’s plan. This could make failing a test a one-and-done scenario, meaning someone could have their welfare payments cut for an extended period of time should they fail a drug test.
As for warnings ahead of the tests, we’re more or less left in the dark as to how the government will proceed. PEDESTRIAN.TV spoke to WorkSafe Victoria, whose guidelines state that employers may choose to warn their workers ahead of time, but are under no obligation to do so. It definitely doesn’t seem likely welfare recipients will be given the heads up before their appointments.
Watch this space for more information as it becomes available.

Source: ABC / WorkSafe Victoria.
Photo: Matt King / Getty Images.