INTERESTING issues are raised by the proposal by four Hunter councils to randomly test their employees for drugs, medication and alcohol.
The question of privacy will naturally arise, as it does when the issue of drug sampling is discussed in the context of sporting teams. Some will believe that the use of recreational drugs in a person's private life should have no bearing on their workplace relationships and that what they do in their own time should be their business alone.
Others will argue, however, that intoxicated employees are a potential danger to themselves and others, while nobody has any business at all using illegal drugs like cannabis or ecstasy.
Indeed, the fear of being detected, exposed and disciplined may help some drug users quit habits and save them - whether they admit it or not - from long-term addiction and its consequences. Testing may also identify people with previously unsuspected drug problems and enable them to be helped.
For their part, the councils are emphasising the safety aspect of the proposal, in much the same way as the issue has been framed in the Hunter's mining industry.
If the trial at Newcastle, Maitland, Port Stephens and Muswellbrook councils is successful, it seems likely the practice may be adopted across the region's wider local government sector.
What should help it succeed is the inclusive nature of the program, with every employee from the general manager to the most junior clerk equally likely to be tested. Every employee will be assigned a number which may be drawn at random by a computer, lottery style, to select those to undergo saliva testing.
The involvement of unions in the implementation of the scheme should ensure that the focus remains firmly on health and safety where it belongs and that counselling and assistance are offered to anybody who returns a positive test.
Perhaps the only query that might be raised by habitual watchers of local government issues in the Hunter is whether the same testing regime ought to be applied to elected councillors.
PRESSURE on jobs in the non-mining sectors of Australia's economy has forced the federal government to transfer some of that pressure back on the big miners by demanding they use more Australian contractors and suppliers.
Manufacturers, in particular, have been feeling the pinch as a result of the high dollar and competition from mining for scarce skilled labour. Complaints about mining companies bypassing domestic suppliers to buy cheaper goods from China, or writing specifications to suit foreign rather than domestic firms, have been coming thick and fast.
The government is using the most obvious weapon in its armoury by threatening to remove tax concessions on supplies imported by the miners unless they show better support for the Australian economy.
As the months of low-taxed "super profits" in the resource industry turn into years, it hardly seems a lot to ask.