BILLS – Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform Bill) 2017

Mr PASIN (Barker) (12:30): Our welfare system is designed to provide a safety net for those who find themselves out of work or who are unable to participate in the workforce. It’s not created to perpetuate people’s drug habits. Taxpayers have the right to expect that their taxes are not used to fund illicit lifestyles. We also know that, without assistance, many people with substance abuse problems can’t or won’t take action to help themselves.

Data shows us that substance abuse is a bigger problem for people on welfare. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey showed that those who were unemployed were 2.4 times more likely to use drugs such as methylamphetamine, or ice, than these who were employed. While there are some existing mechanisms in place for identifying jobseekers who have substance abuse issues and assisting them to seek treatment, the government is committed to trialling a new approach to tackle this very significant problem. This measure is not about penalising jobseekers who are drug dependent. This trial is about ensuring taxpayers’ money isn’t used to fund illicit lifestyles. It is about testing new ways to help people with substance abuse issues to overcome them and re-enter the workforce.

The best form of welfare is a job. Everything should be geared towards supporting capable people into work wherever possible. This is the fundamental principle on which our policies are based. As part of the drug testing trial, the government has committed up to $10 million to create a dedicated treatment fund. (Quorum formed)

I thank the member for Lyons for the intervention. I was playing squash this morning with the former member for Lyons. What a great pity this place did not continue to be served by that man, the former member for Lyons. He wouldn’t be worried about these trivial quorum matters like those opposite are. Whilst I couldn’t beat the former member for Lyons at squash, I’d be really confident that I could beat the current member—and I extend that invitation. I think we could sell tickets to that event. The Labor Party’s continued kind of trickery is only fun for those opposite in the House. I think those outside this building would much prefer us to get on with the business of this place, including the very many students in the gallery today who have come to watch democracy in this nation at play.

As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted by the member for Lyons, as part of the drug-testing trial the government is committing up to $10 million to create a dedicated treatment fund. This fund will be able to provide additional treatment support in trial locations where the existing state or Commonwealth supports and services are not sufficient to meet any additional related demands as a result of the trial.

Those opposite are saying, ‘We don’t think it’s appropriate that you should drug test welfare recipients.’ That flies in the face of what those of us on this side believe. We believe Australian taxpayers’ funds should not go to supporting illicit lifestyles and, indeed, that people who are supported in their endeavour to look for employment should be able to do so in a drug-free environment. Those opposite are also opposed to that $10 million of additional funding going to communities to provide treatment services. I ask you to seriously consider imagining that you are looking into the eyes of a drug dependent constituent of yours and you are saying to them, ‘We’re not prepared to provide you with that additional support.’ I can’t understand why those opposite are not with us, but there you are.

The specific details of the treatment fund will be determined in consultation with the Department for Health, as it should be; the primary health networks; and the drug and alcohol sectors before the trial starts in 2018. This $10 million is in addition to the almost $685 million the Commonwealth is already contributing over four years, from 1 July 2016, to reduce the impact of drug and alcohol misuse on individuals, families and communities. That is because the Turnbull coalition government understands the harm that these drugs perpetuate on the individual, on their family members and on the communities in which these people live.

This $685 million includes an investment of almost $300 million over four years as part of the National Ice Action Strategy to improve treatment, after-care, education and prevention, and to support community engagement to tackle ice. Of this investment, more than $240 million will go to treatment services that are currently being rolled out through the government’s primary health networks and will be fully in place on 1 January next year when this trial starts. The availability of appropriate treatment in the trial locations will be monitored.

The National Drug Strategy 2017-2026 calls for a balanced approach across three pillars of harm minimisation: a balanced approach across demand reduction, supply reduction and, importantly, harm reduction. The Australian government is committed to reducing harmful and illicit drug use and supporting people that recover from substance addiction and misuse. This includes harnessing the welfare system to deter substance abuse and provide pathways to recovery. The key principles underpinning the National Drug Strategy are evidence, informed responses, partnerships, coordination and collaboration, and national direction with jurisdictional implementation. The government considers that the drug-testing trial is consistent with these principles.

This trial is all about developing an evidence-based effective approach to interventions in Australia, working hand in glove across government with local Primary Health Networks and treatment providers, and leveraging national mechanisms to try to improve outcomes for individuals, their families and their communities. This measure will trial the drug testing of jobseekers in three locations only. The trial will be subject to a comprehensive evaluation, to build an evidence base regarding the effectiveness of this kind of intervention in Australia’s welfare context. I remind members opposite, it is a context in which you are 2.4 times more likely to be subject to illicit substance misuse.

Drug testing of certain welfare recipients has been legislated in at least 15 states in the United States of America on either a fully rolled out or trial basis. It is also conducted in New Zealand as a pre-employment option that potential employers can request. It is not uncommon for employers in Australia to require employees or prospective employees to undertake drug testing as part of their obligations to provide a safe working environment, particularly in safety-sensitive industries such as aviation, mining, transport and construction.

I believe deeply in the maxim that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I formally record my position, which is that I am perfectly comfortable, at any time—indeed, from now, given that we are, hopefully, about to legislate a system of drug testing in these three trial sites—during the course of that trial, and indeed thereafter, to be subject to random drug testing at any time. I believe, quite frankly, that if we expect this of members of our community, then, as citizens who represent our community in this place, we should be leading by example. I have said as much in the media, but I wish to confirm as much in the House. As my wife said to me when I raised this issue with her, ‘Tony, unless they’re testing for KFC, I think you’ll be okay!’