Random drug testing trials spiked

The controversial welfare policy has been reportedly scrapped as key Senators and MPs ruled out supporting the scheme

Social Services Minister Christian Porter has told The Australian he will be removing the random drug testing trials of welfare recipients to salvage other major reforms put forward in the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017, first introduced in Parliament in June.

According to media reports, he remains locked in negotiations with the Nick Xenophon Team, which has already ruled out support for the drug tests.

Labor and the Greens also remain fiercely opposed to the proposed trials.

“What I will be saying to crossbench senators is that everything we are doing to move people from welfare to work is working and the welfare reform bill before the Senate is the next critical step in reforming the welfare system to get even more people to break the cycle of welfare dependency,” Mr Porter told The Australian.

While a recent Newspoll of more than 1600 voters conducted in October found three in four Australians backed random drug testing of welfare recipients, most health organisations and drug policy experts were outright against it.

Representatives from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, Australian Medical Association, Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, St Vincent’s Hospital and more spoke out against the scheme, saying that it was not evidence based and would not work.

In addition to political pressure, grassroots campaigns also claim to have played a role, with more than 32,000 GetUp members petitioning the scheme.

GetUp Campaigns Director Django Merope Synge says the abolition of the scheme will avoid unnecessary harm being inflicted on welfare recipients.

“It’s encouraging to see that the Senators have listened to the experts on this. From former AFP commissioner Mick Palmer to doctors and drug policy experts right across the country, they all agree that treating drug addiction with punitive measures like cutting off payments would only aggravate the issue,” says Mr Synge.

“The truth is, you simply can’t punish people into recovery from addiction. Drug addiction is a health issue, and needs to be treated as such.”

Health experts agree, including pharmacist and harm minimisation advocate Angelo Pricolo.

“Addiction cannot be cured by a punitive measure, certainly not one as simplistic as this,” he told AJP when the drug testing scheme was first put forward.

“Addiction means you continue to use your drug of choice even though it is doing harm, even though you know it and can see it. Smokers are a prime example. They have become the modern day lepers with almost no public places left to smoke, crazy prices to purchase cigarettes and all the health warnings, but they still smoke.

“We are setting people up for failure with the second strike or third strike philosophy. Addiction is not a game of baseball. Addiction needs support for the patient, the right setting and often pharmacotherapy. It takes a long time to treat addiction, it doesn’t just go away with the threat of punishment,” says Mr Pricolo.

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