Transcript: ABC Radio Melbourne, Interview with Tamara Oudyn

22 August 2017

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Minister for Human Services
Topics: 
Drug Testing
E&OE

TAMARA OUDYN:     
First though, the Federal Government has announced that it wants to trial a two year program to subject welfare recipients to random drug tests.

It has chosen Western Sydney as the first location for this proposed program because of the high number of job seekers applying for welfare payments there and also the high rates of drug use.

To talk more about this plan I am joined now by the Human Services Minister Alan Tudge. Minister, welcome to the program.

ALAN TUDGE:
G’day Tamara.

TAMARA OUDYN:     
How will drug testing increase jobs or help people with substance abuse issues return to the workforce?

ALAN TUDGE:
In essence, if you are tested positive the first time you are placed on to a form of cashless welfare system so you have got less cash available to spend on drugs.

Then you will be asked to be re-tested within 25 days. You will know that and if you are tested positive the second time then you will be required to get treatment.

We have got additional funds going into drug and alcohol treatment programs and what we want is for those programs to help people get off drugs, so that they are better able to get back into the work force.

TAMARA OUDYN:     
But couldn’t depriving some drug users of money just push them down other avenues for getting money, i.e. committing crime?

ALAN TUDGE:
That has not been the experience to date in the areas in which we already have forms of cashless welfare in place.

For example, up in East Kimberley or over in Ceduna where 80% of all welfare payments are placed onto a cashless welfare system. That has not been the experience there and we do not expect it to be the experience here.

TAMARA OUDYN:     
How is penalising drug users in this way ultimately going to help them to recover from their drug addiction?

ALAN TUDGE:
I would not say it is penalising drug users. To the contrary, it is actually about trying to identify those people who have a drug problem and to provide them with the very tailored assistance which they need to get them off drugs and so they are better able to get into the workforce…

TAMARA OUDYN:     
So what sort of assistance will they be getting?

ALAN TUDGE:            
…if that happens it is fundamentally a good thing. It will be up to the health experts to determine exactly what each individual requires, depending on their circumstances. For some it might just be some drug counselling on a regular basis.

For others, they may need residential rehabilitation. Each person will be different, but the idea is that once we identify those people that have such a problem, they get that assistance and hopefully they will then get off drugs.

As you would be aware Tamara, there are so many jobs these days which require you to be drug-free and to have regular drug testing and if you are not drug-free then you are effectively excluding yourself from the opportunity of getting those jobs.

TAMARA OUDYN:     
After Western Sydney, where are you turning your sights to next? Are you looking at Victoria?

ALAN TUDGE:
We have not announced the other two sites yet. We have just announced Western Sydney today and over the next week or two we will be announcing the other couple of sites in other states.

TAMARA OUDYN:     
How much is all of this going to cost?

ALAN TUDGE:
We have not announced that yet either, in part because we will go through a formal procurement process with expert drug testing providers and we do not want to jeopardise our procurement progress…

TAMARA OUDYN:     
I ask you that because…

ALAN TUDGE:
Once we have gone through that we will be able to reveal this.

TAMARA OUDYN:     
I ask you that question Minister, because New Zealand embarked on a drug testing program a few years ago and they spent about $1 million on testing around 8,000 people and they got 22 positive tests.

Do you think it is a good use of public funds?

ALAN TUDGE:
That is an interesting figure because when you look at the data in Australia we know that about 25% of people on unemployment benefits took drugs last year. About 8.5% took drugs last week.

It may be the case that in New Zealand, if they had anywhere like the same statistics, but the fact that there was a drug testing regime actually caused people to change their behaviour and not take drugs in the first place.

If that was the case then surely that is a good outcome. We would hope to see behavioural change by virtue of having a drug testing regime in place here.

TAMARA OUDYN:     
How are you going to measure the success in that case of behavioural change? If this is a trial, what checks and balances will you put in place there?

ALAN TUDGE:
We will have an independent evaluation which is done on this trial and obviously the main measure is going to be how many people can get treatment and through treatment get off drugs and back into the work force.

That is the ideal, but of course if people change their behaviour because they are concerned about being tested positive in the first place then that is also a very good outcome.

TAMARA OUDYN:     
If it does not get people into treatment, or ultimately jobs, would you be open to a rethink of this trial?

ALAN TUDGE:
It will get people into treatment. That is how the system is being designed. We are doing a trial in the very sense of the word.

We want to test something which has not been done before anywhere in the world, to try to assist people to get off their addiction into work. If it works, then we may roll it out further. If it does not work, then of course we will bring it to a close.

TAMARA OUDYN:     
This still has to get through Parliament, doesn’t it? Have you got the numbers to get this through? I know Labor and the Greens are staunchly opposed to it. Who is with you on the Senate crossbench?

ALAN TUDGE:
To be honest, I am astounded that the Labor Party is opposed to this. Astounded. Because it is a trial and is designed to assist people to get off their addictions and I do not understand why the Labor Party want to continue to support people who have addictions and allow welfare dollars to be spent to fill those addictions.

We are confident that we will get this through the parliament because we think it is the right thing to do and designed to help individuals, not to punish them.

TAMARA OUDYN:     
Minister Alan Tudge, thank you very much for joining me this afternoon on Drive.

ALAN TUDGE:
Thanks so much Tamara.