On Wednesday the new Social Services Minister Anne Ruston told the ABC that the government’s proposed policy of drug testing welfare recipients, while not a priority, is still going ahead if they can get it through Parliament.
The policy was first announced back in 2017, with the government arguing there was merit in drug testing 5,000 people who received Newstart or Youth Allowance. The bill was put on hold due to a lack of support from the cross-bench and opposition from Labor and the Greens. That should have been the end of it, but Australian politics works on a very small dial hitting only a few small topics ad nauseum. It’s back in the news and could be something Scott Morrison‘s newly emboldened government continues to try to push over the line in the years to come.
But here’s an idea for the nation’s ruling elite: test yourselves first, dickheads.
Besides the fact that introducing such a testing mechanism violates all sorts of basic ethical principles, the whole thing would cost a chunk of cash that could otherwise be put towards other, more effective harm reduction methods. There’s also the obvious reality that welfare recipients don’t just fucking disappear if you stop helping them financially – that responsibly instead falls onto loved ones and the broader community. Not to mention the fact that drug abuse and drug use are two seperate things, and that many, many people use drugs recreationally in society while maintaining a normal life.
Finally, here’s the real reason it shouldn’t happen: it’s pig-shit cruel.
You want to make a real difference, then start at the top: obliterate anyone from the political class who tests positive for drugs, recreational or otherwise. Give the flick to anyone caught wrongly using entitlements. Give the publicly funded, house-owning, raise-getting, multiple mistake-making political class no opportunities for slip-ups because, quite frankly, they don’t deserve them. When that playing field levels out, then maybe we can talk about targeting some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Maybe we should introduce mandatory testing for politicians, not just for drugs but for alcohol, too. They’re apparently already showing up in parliament trolleyed. What if we started testing the wastewater from Parliament House? What if we had sniffer dogs at all political events, with police eagerly strip-searching any suit-wearing elected official who gets on the wrong side of a dog? Sound cruel and unusual? Get over it. There will be privacy screens supplied while you’re strip searched. You’re welcome. Quit complaining and say thanks.
Here’s just one example where things could go wrong: Sydney University’s Lambert Initiative, probably the brains trust in medicinal cannabis research in the country, estimates around 100,000 people use medical cannabis in this country.
How many have legal access? At most, a couple of thousand.
So think of tens of thousands of people having to illegally source a drug to help their pain with a system not fully equipped to supply for them, and now imagine how some sections of that community would no longer be able to apply for Newstart.
Saying “no” to drugs doesn’t work. It never did and it never will. It’s a simple truth that breakfast television and sad old politicians are still allowed to trot out as if it’s based in any sort of evidence.
Stop trying to pretend nobody takes drugs. The internet has made keeping up that lie harder than ever before, and anyone over the age of 18 who enters the full-time workforce quickly realises that –yes – adults are just like you and – yes – adults take drugs, too. I understand the narrative exists to Keep Our Kids Safe, but how safe are our kids, and are we just trying the easiest thing possible as a means of harm reduction because the alternative is such an antithesis to everything we’ve been taught?
To assume that a process reliant on humiliating and dehumanising the most vulnerable in our society would work is pathetic. To assume it would be a success and have no negative effects is moronic. But our politicians do a lot of moronic things and they get away with it regularly. There are rules for them and there are rules for us.
Back when the idea of drug testing welfare recipients was first floated in 2017, Jobs Australia CEO David Thompson said he could foresee a future where people just didn’t try to apply for welfare assistance because of the demeaning barriers put in front of them. Michael Gannon, the president of the Australian Medical Association, said it “simply won’t work“, calling it a measure that’s not fair and not evidence-based. Matt Noffs, CEO of Australia’s largest drug and alcohol treatment service provider for people under 25, said forcing kids into rehab doesn’t work. These are the experts we should trust to make these decisions, and they’ve already made it clear how they feel.
“If someone is addicted to drugs, are we so foolish to believe that we could stop them using by simply quarantining their money,” wrote Noffs in 2017.
Australia’s political class might think we’re mugs, but we’re not. Before they drug test welfare recipients, let’s do it to them first.