Media Release: Canterbury-Bankstown first location for drug testing trial

22 August 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services

The Hon Christian Porter MP

Minister for Social Services

The Turnbull Government today announced Canterbury-Bankstown in western Sydney as the first location to be identified for a trial of drug testing of new job seekers.

Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter and Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge, made the announcement today in Bankstown.

From 1 January 2018, the two-year Drug Testing Trial across three locations will test 5,000 new recipients of Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance (other) for illicit substances including ice (methamphetamine), ecstasy (MDMA) and marijuana (THC).

Minister for Social Services Christian Porter said job seekers in Canterbury-Bankstown with drug abuse issues would benefit from the trial as its primary focus was to help people overcome their drug issues and to assist them achieve independence through work.

“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,” the Minister 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.”

The Minister said Canterbury-Bankstown had been selected as one of the three trial sites across Australia because of a range of factors, including data showing that methamphetamine-related hospitalisations are a growing problem in the area.

“The area is also well-serviced with drug and alcohol services available to support people in overcoming drug and alcohol issues,” the Minister said.

The Ministers also announced the Government would provide a dedicated treatment fund of up to $10 million to support job seekers in the drug testing trial across all three locations. This will assist in targeting support to those job seekers who test positive to a drug test more than once.

“The details of the treatment fund will be determined in consultation with Primary Health Networks and the drug and alcohol service providers in the trial locations before the trial starts in 2018,” the Minister said.

“This funding is in addition to the Australian Government’s commitment of almost $685 million over four years from 1 July 2016 to reduce the impact of drug and alcohol misuse on individuals, families and communities.

“We know that without assistance, many people with substance abuse problems can’t or won’t take action to help themselves and that drug abuse issues tend to be higher amongst people who are unemployed.

“Drug testing of new jobseekers will help ensure that those with barriers to securing work are identified and supported.”

Minister for Human Services Alan Tudge said that given the measure will only apply to new job seekers receiving payments from 1 January, it is likely the first tests would be conducted late January or February.

“People applying for job seeker payments from 1 January 2018 will have a new condition attached to their welfare – they may be subjected to random drug testing,” the Minister said.

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

“People who test positive to drug tests will continue to receive their welfare payment but 80% of their payment will only be accessible through Income Management.

“If a person tests positive to more than one 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.

“Income management 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 things such as illicit drugs. Income management is already in place in Bankstown – there are more than 250 merchants in the area who accept the BasicsCard, and more than 1400 across greater Sydney, including major supermarkets.

“The Department of Human Services estimates about 1750 people will be tested in the Bankstown-Canterbury area over the course of the two-year trial,” said Minister Tudge.

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.

Member for Banks David Coleman joined the Ministers for the announcement.

“I’m very pleased that this initiative is being trialled in this area,” Mr Coleman said.

“This policy has been carefully considered and designed to ensure that it is focused on identifying and helping people with drug abuse issues.

“As a community we have an obligation to help those who need extra support to deal with drug issues and this initiative will help change the lives of people who, for whatever reason, are prevented from being active members of our community through work and social participation because of drugs.” 

The Drug Testing Trial is subject to the passage of legislation.

More information on the Drug Testing Trial can be found on the Department of Social Services website.