The two-year trial of drug testing welfare recipients in Australia has received new criticism, with the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) now refusing to support the plans and placing new doubts on the plans to overhaul the welfare system. The governments plan to trial drug test random claimants is due to start in January next year, and will initially affect 5000 people.
The government plans to use testing in three trial locations; Logan in Queensland, Canterbury-Bankstown in south-western Sydney, and Mandurah in Western Australia. Those who failed the test would be referred for drug treatment, and would see their benefits cut if they choose not to take part in treatment.
Both the Labour and Green party have openly stated that they oppose the new reforms, which are part of government measure to improve the effectiveness of the overall welfare system. The NXT’s have been in negotiations will the government for several months, and its decision to oppose the bill makes it much more difficult for it to be approved by the Senate.
The new measures have also seen a lot of criticism from drug and healthcare workers, who claim that it will not help to deal with underlying problems of drug misuse and addiction, but instead will push the most vulnerable in society into further poverty by restricting their access to welfare. They claim that this will lead to higher crime rates as drug users struggle to fund their addiction.
Cassandra Goldie from The Australian Council of Social Service expressed her concerns, saying that “It simply demonises people on low incomes and would do nothing to address addiction. Drug addiction is a serious health issue needing a serious response. We now urge all other members of the crossbench in parliament to follow suit, and reject random drug testing. The Senate must firmly reject this bill in its entirety.”
Other welfare reforms are being suggested by the government as part of the overhaul, which are equally unpopular. Some of the changes include cuts to bereavement allowance, which will leave low income families up to $1300 worse off; as well as cuts pension payments for women living overseas and for migrants.
Goldie added that “The welfare reform bill also includes a number of other harsh cuts to social security for people on low incomes – for example, taking payments from people bereaved and increased waiting periods for income support – and it must be opposed. People are already hurting. Income support payments are already way below the poverty line. There is nothing more to take from people who already have the least”