Experts urge senators to block drug trials
Medical professionals, addiction specialists and community organisations are urging federal politicians to reject a Turnbull government plan to drug test welfare recipients.
A Senate inquiry will hold a public hearing in Sydney on Wednesday into two welfare bills before parliament.
The drug tests – along with the removal of exemptions for welfare obligations based on drug and alcohol dependence and changes to reasonable excuses – are among the most controversial measures.
More than 1000 doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals have signed an open letter to parliament, fearing the changes will punish people with alcohol and drug problems and push them further into the margins.
Senators will also investigate plans to make migrants wait up to 15 years before qualifying for aged or disability pensions, and cut off pension supplements to people after six weeks overseas.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians, which will be among those to front the inquiry, has described the three measures as “at best ineffective and at worst directly harmful.”
The college, which represents more than 23,000 medical specialists across Australia and New Zealand, believes the policy will prove a waste of resources, money and opportunity.
“We are concerned that the measures would in fact cause considerable harm to a highly vulnerable population and merely add to the already long queue of people waiting to access treatment,” its written submission said.
These concerns were echoed by St Vincent’s Health Australia, a major provider of drug and alcohol treatment and withdrawal services in Sydney and Melbourne.
St Vincent’s fears the measures will increase the stigma and anxiety experienced by people with substance abuse issues, and exacerbate their addictions rather than address them.
Alison Ritter, from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, described the provisions as ill-placed, ineffective and damaging.
The government plans to roll out the drug testing pilot in January next year across three trial sites – Mandurah in Western Australia, Logan in Queensland and Canterbury-Bankstown in NSW – affecting about 5000 people.
Senior officials from the three federal departments involved – Social Services, Employment and Human Services – will also appear at the inquiry.
They’ve argued the proposed trials for drug testing were designed to measure their effectiveness in detecting people with drug issues as well as the intervention strategies deployed.
The departments said exemptions for mutual obligations based on drug or alcohol misuse were not in line with community expectations, and changing reasonable excuses would encourage recipients to address their dependencies.