Proposed Drug Testing for Job Seekers Trial Bill Referred to Committee

Wednesday 28 March 2018 @ 9.27 a.m. | Industrial Law | Legal Research

On 22 March 2018, the Senate referred the controversial Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018 (the Bill) to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. 

What the Bill Does

The Federal Government introduced the Bill into the House of Representatives on 28 February 2018. The Bill proposes to set up a two year trial of drug testing for 5000 people receiving new payments of Newstart and youth allowances payments. The trial is scheduled to start from 1 July 2018. 

The Bill aims to identify people looking for jobs with drug abuse issues and then to help them recover so as to be able get a job. The trial proposed by the Bill would operate in three locations around the country, with a fund of up to $10 million to support those seeking jobs who want to access treatment.

The trial will involve a range of measures being applied, these include cancellation of a payment if a person seeking a job refuses to take a drug test and with that a four week wait before they can reapply for a payment. Additionally, a positive drug test result will result in a person seeking a job being placed on "income management", which means their access to cash funds would be limited, however, their payment would not be stopped.

The Bills Progress through Parliament

The drug testing trial proposed by the Bill was initially introduced into the Senate as part of the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017, which was recently passed by the Senate on 26 March 2018. However, in the Senate it was agreed to remove the proposed drug testing trial from the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017 in order to enable the rest of that Bill to pass.

Need for the Measures Proposed

In explaining why the measures proposed by the Bill were required the Minister for Social Services said in his second reading speech:

"The community has a right to expect that taxpayer-funded welfare payments are not being used to fund drug addiction and that job seekers do all they can to find a job. We don't want our welfare system subsiding drug dealers. . . . The welfare system is designed to provide a safety net for those who find themselves out of work or unable to participate in the workforce - not to help perpetuate people's drug habits."

Principles Behind Testing

Introducing the Bill, the Minister for Social Services, said:

"This trial is not about penalising job seekers with drug abuse issues. It is about finding new and better ways of identifying these job seekers and ensuring they are referred to the support and treatment they need. . . . This measure has been specifically designed as a trial so we can assess the value of drug testing job seekers as a way of identifying those for whom drug abuse might be a barrier to work and supporting them to undertake treatment. . . . The government wants to ensure that the welfare system provides strong incentives for people with substance abuse issues to get treatment, rehabilitate and find a job."

In his speech the Minister cites The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey as showing that the unemployed are ". . . three times more likely to have recently used drugs such as ice and other amphetamines than those who were employed." The Minister indicates further that the Governments view is that ". . .for too long, not enough has been done to try and deal with the real connection between drug abuse and unemployment."

Next for the Trial and the Bill

As already indicated the Senate agreed to remove the proposed trial of drug testing for job seekers from the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017 to a separate Bill. Submissions to the to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee are sought by 11 April 2018 and the reporting date for the Committee is 7 May 2018.

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Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018, 2nd Reading Speech and supporting materials as reported in the TimeBase LawOne Service.

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