Transcript: 3AW Melbourne, Interview with Tom Elliott

22 August 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Drug Testing
E&OE

TOM ELLIOTT:
Minister for Human Services, Alan Tudge. Mr Tudge, good afternoon.

ALAN TUDGE:
G’Day Tom.

TOM ELLIOTT:
I understand you are trialling a new type of, how do I put it, welfare control in Western Sydney? What are you doing?

ALAN TUDGE:
We are doing a trial, drug testing new welfare recipients. If you are in the Canterbury-Bankstown area in Western Sydney, and you are applying for an unemployment benefit, then you may be subject to a drug test.

If you tested positive, you will not have your welfare withdrawn, as you indicated before, but rather you will be placed on a form of income quarantining where 80% of your welfare has to be spent on the basics – on your rent, on your food, on your petrol, that sort of stuff.

And 20% is available for cash.

TOM ELLIOTT:
You sign up for Newstart, when you are looking for a job. You undergo a compulsory drug test?

ALAN TUDGE:
You may be randomly selected. There are obviously thousands of people who are signing up for Newstart. Then you may be randomly selected. You will be told that when you sign up.

You will go into Centrelink, they will tell you that you may be subject to a drug test on the spot there. You will do that drug test and if you are found positive the first time, you will go onto this income quarantining.

TOM ELLIOTT:
And this – sorry we are going a bit fast here – if you test positive for illegal, recreational drugs? Correct?

ALAN TUDGE:
If you test positive for any illegal drug, that is right – for marijuana, cocaine, for ice, opioids, etcetera.

TOM ELLIOTT:
Right. From that point onwards, Newstart goes from 100% cash to 20% and 80% cashless debit card which cannot be used for certain things?

ALAN TUDGE:
That is exactly right. The second step of the process is important actually Tom and that is, if you test positive the first time, you will be required to undertake a second test within 25 days.

You will know this, and so if you test positive the second time, the chances are you do have some sort of addiction. And then if you test positive, you will be required, as a part of your mutual obligations to undertake a drug treatment program, which will be determined by a health expert.

In doing so we are hoping that people will actually get off the drugs and be in the position to get back into the workforce more quickly.

TOM ELLIOTT:
Okay. Let’s say you continue to test positive for drugs. You are either using the 20% of your welfare to buy drugs or someone else is giving you drugs. Does your welfare get chopped off or do you just stay on cashless welfare? What happens?

ALAN TUDGE:
You will stay on cashless welfare as long as you are undertaking your treatment program. If you do not undertake your treatment program, then your welfare will be cut. It becomes a condition, if you like, of your welfare is to fulfil that treatment obligation.

That treatment obligation might be ongoing drug counselling or it could be some residential rehabilitation or whatever is required for that particular individual. The objective here, Tom, is not to cut people’s welfare payments off, far from it.

Our objective is actually to identify those people who have got a problem and try to provide them with assistance to get off welfare and back into the workforce.

As you would know, and your listeners know, so many jobs these days require you to be drug free.

TOM ELLIOTT:
Yes they do. I understand you are trialling it in Western Sydney, but two other locations are mentioned as well. Where else is it going to be trialled?

ALAN TUDGE:
We have not announced that yet, but we will be doing so in the next two or three weeks. So watch this space.

TOM ELLIOTT:
Okay. Again, going back to – so someone is tested positive. They then have to attend some sort of counselling or whatever to get off drugs. If they do all the counselling, but for some reason do not get off drugs, they do get to keep their welfare?

ALAN TUDGE:
They do as long as they are undertaking their drug treatment program. As I said, the treatment program is specifically designed to get people off the substances so they are in a better position to be able to get into work.

We know though that some people, they give it a go and if it does not quite work the first time, they have to give it a second go.

The aim is not to cut people’s welfare payments as such, but to get people into a treatment program and off drugs all together.

TOM ELLIOTT:
Okay, does it apply to all existing dole recipients? Or just new ones from whatever date?

ALAN TUDGE:
It only applies to new ones from the specified date and in essence it becomes a condition of you signing up to the dole.

If you want to sign up to the dole you have to, effectively, consent to undertaking a random drug test and so people will do that and in the future they may be called up and asked to undertake such a test. 

TOM ELLIOTT:
Thank you very much Mr Tudge. Alan Tudge there, Minister for Human Services.