Drug testing trial for welfare recipients in Mandurah

Canning MHR Andrew Hastie and Social Services Minister Christian Porter
Canning MHR Andrew Hastie and Social Services Minister Christian Porter

A drug testing trial has been announced in Mandurah.

NEW job seekers receiving welfare will be drug tested as part of a trial in Mandurah.

The new $10 million treatment fund in Mandurah is to be the third and final location to trial drug testing of new job seekers.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter made the announcement today with Canning MHR Andrew Hastie.

Starting next year, the two-year Drug Testing Trial across three locations will test 5000 new recipients of Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance (other) for illicit substances including ice (methamphetamine), ecstasy (MDMA) and marijuana (THC).

Mr Porter said the trial would benefit job seekers in Mandurah who have drug problems.

“This trial is focused entirely on helping job seekers overcome drug problems and to receive the help they need to get on a path towards securing a job and building a better future for themselves and their families,” he said.

“It is not about penalising or stigmatising people who have a barrier to employment which is as serious as drug abuse. We want to help people in this situation. Failure to do so simply leaves people at risk of a cycle of welfare dependency.”

Mr Porter said high rates of drug abuse in Mandurah impacted the whole community.

“While Mandurah has existing drug and alcohol services to support people in overcoming substance issues, the Government is also establishing a dedicated treatment fund of up to $10 million to support job seekers across the three trial sites,” he said.

“Details of the treatment fund will be determined in consultation with Primary Health Networks and drug and alcohol service providers in the trial locations before the trial commences.

“This Government is responding to community concerns regarding increasing drug use and its debilitating effects on individuals and families. Drug abuse is a known barrier to employment with consequences for individuals and their families and whole communities.”

Mr Porter said the Government had committed almost $685 million over four years from July 1, 2016 to reduce the impact of drug and alcohol misuse.

“Without assistance, many people with substance abuse problems can’t or won’t take action to help themselves and that’s why we need to trial new approaches,” he said.

The trial begins in January 2018 in three locations across Australia. Canterbury-Bankstown in Sydney and Logan in Brisbane have already been identified as the first two sites.

“People applying for the main job seeker payments will have a new condition attached to their welfare – that they may be subjected to random drug testing,” Mr Porter said.

“Given that the measure will only apply to new job seekers receiving payments from January 1, it is likely the first tests would be conducted late January or February. People who test positive will continue to receive their welfare payment but 80 per cent of their payment will only be accessible through Income Management.

“Income Management has already been used in Mandurah and is a proven and effective tool to help welfare recipients manage their money to ensure their basic living needs are met and, consequently, limits the amount of cash available to fund illicit drugs. There are almost 1300 BasicsCard merchants in Mandurah and surrounds, including major supermarkets.

“If a person tests positive to a second or subsequent drug test, they’ll be referred to a medical professional who will make recommendations on the type of treatment plan they may need to overcome drug abuse issues.”
It’s expected about 750 people will be tested in Mandurah over the two-year trial.

Depending on what kind of test people have been selected for, the test will either take place at a local Centrelink centre or a nearby facility. All tests will be conducted in private by a suitably qualified representative from a contracted drug testing provider.

The drug testing trial was one of five measures announced in the 2017-18 Budget to support people into work and ensure the welfare system continues to provide a safety net for those who need it most.

It is hoped the evaluation of the Drug Testing Trial across three locations would build a stronger evidence base in this area of intervention by testing new ways of encouraging job seekers with drug problems into treatment.

Member for Canning, Andrew Hastie, said he was excited to see this program trialled in Mandurah.

“Our community has really struggled with the impact of drugs and this initiative is a practical step to help address that,” Mr Hastie said.

“Tackling the impact of drugs is one of the main issues I receive feedback on from the Mandurah community. I’ve been fighting in Canberra for action on this front for some time now.

“We all know the devastating impact drugs have on individuals, families and communities. We need to try new things to help people overcome substance abuse so they can get clean and get a job. Employment provides individuals with the stability and self-worth they need to be healthy functioning members of their family and community.”

Survey results
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2013 showed illicit drug use for Mandurah Statistical Area level 4 was 23.6 per cent. The national average was 14.7 per cent.