Doctors and addiction experts have delivered a submission urging members of Federal Parliament to vote against the Australian Government’s plans to drug test up to 5,000 social welfare recipients.
The Australian Government initially proposed a drug testing trial last year but abandoned its plans due to a lack of parliamentary support. Now that the Senate crossbench is made up of several new members, the Government has decided to try a second time to push ahead with the proposal, which has been universally condemned by health and medical experts.
Commenting on the trial, President of the RACP’s Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine, Associate Professor Adrian Reynolds said the Government is ignoring expert advice that the policy will harm, not help a vulnerable section of the community.
“Instead of supporting some of the most poor and vulnerable people in our community, the Government is resurrecting its plan to drug test welfare recipients, a plan that will be costly and ineffective,” said A/Prof Reynolds.
“The experience of countries like the USA and New Zealand tells us that drug testing has a poor record in identifying people with drug problems and modifying drug use.
“A similar program cost the New Zealand Government around $45,000 for each positive result detected during the program so why are we expecting a drug testing trial in Australia to produce different results?
“As doctors, we see and treat people battling drug and alcohol addiction every day. We have been unequivocal in telling the Government that forcing people into treatment won’t work and threatening to remove their income support will make a bad situation, much worse for many people.”
A/Prof Reynolds said the Government should invest in drug and alcohol services, an area which is chronically underfunded.
“The Government doesn’t need a drug testing trial to know what the situation is, with more than 16,000 welfare recipients telling Centrelink there are times when they can’t meet their welfare activity requirements because of their alcohol and drug addiction.
“The focus should be on helping these people access treatment and ensuring the sector is suitably resourced, not wasting money on a trial that we know won’t work.”
Around 200,000 people receive treatment for drug and alcohol dependency every year in Australia. Government modelling, however, shows that between 200,000 and 500,000 people are still waiting to access treatment services.
Read more in the RACP's submission