Hunter sewage to help shape drug test 'profiling tool'

TARGETING WELFARE: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney last week with Health Minister Greg Hunt. Picture: Peter Rae
TARGETING WELFARE: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney last week with Health Minister Greg Hunt. Picture: Peter Rae

PEOPLE in the Hunter who apply for welfare could be drug-tested in a trial by the Turnbull government.

The plan, in the federal budget, will mean 5000 Australians claiming Newstart and Youth Allowance will be subjected to drug and alcohol testing from January.

“Jobseekers will be selected for the trial on a random basis, based on a data-driven profiling tool... to identify relevant characteristics that indicate a higher risk of substance abuse issues,” the budget says. 

Welfare applicants who fail to meet the testing criteria will have their payments quarantined. Those who fail further tests will be referred to health professionals.

The two-year trial will run in three so-far unannounced locations across Australia. 

In Canberra last week, Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the test sites would be informed by a national analysis of sewage.

The Newcastle Herald has learned that two of the sewage testing sites are in the Hunter, putting local welfare applicants in contention to be profiled for drug testing.

Cassandra Goldie, of the Australian Council of Social Service, said people with addictions would avoid testing and be left without an income.

“It’s not a crime to be unemployed. This policy demonises people on low incomes and will do nothing to address addiction,” she said.

“For the people who are subjected to testing for no reason, this will just add further to their humiliation and sense of personal degradation.”

Labor has said it wants more detail about the trial. Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon said no one “will be in any doubt that we have a serious drug problem in the region”, but warned against any “under-resourced” testing plan.

“I’ll be concerned if it’s an attempt to win a few votes by a government by looking to be tough on people with addictions,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.

“I believe in evidence based policy. Whatever evidence a government can gather that will lead to good policy is OK by me.”

Hunter New England Health declined to comment on the policy.

Government to drug-test new recipients of Newstart, Youth Allowance