Welfare drug test idea condemned

TASMANIAN commentators have criticised a federal government idea to drug-test welfare recipients and punish those who test positive.

Tasmanian Council of Social Service chief executive Tony Reidy

Tasmanian Council of Social Service chief executive Tony Reidy

Media reports yesterday quoted Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews as stating that he would not rule out drug-testing the unemployed.

The government is looking at a controversial New Zealand reform where jobseekers are drug-tested.

If a jobseeker fails a drug test or refuses to apply for a drug-tested job, unless they promise to stop using drugs, their welfare payments are halved.

Tasmanian Council of Social Service chief executive Tony Reidy said that if certain jobs required employees to be alcohol and drug-free, that was fair enough.

``But the idea of mandatory drug-testing of people in their private lives, to ensure they meet some drug-free code that is imposed on them, it seems an invasion of their human rights,'' he said.

``The only place that is being suggested at the moment is the New Zealand model, where it's been shown to be a failure.

``Of the 8000 people tested, only 22 tested positive or refused tests.''

Mr Reidy said the New Zealand example was an enormous waste of money that  could be better spent on targeted programs  that were successful in providing opportunities for education and employment.

Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council of Tasmania chief executive Jann Smith said that while it was sensible for certain industries to require drug and alcohol-free workers, she questioned the idea of blanket drug-testing of welfare recipients. 

``On the surface it looks fraught with issues and problems,'' she said.

``It's going to be very difficult to find any way to implement that type of policy or procedure, without it being quite discriminatory.

``It's kind of like trying to squash a peanut with a sledgehammer, in terms of what we really need to be focusing on.

``To reduce the amount of drug use, we need to invest far more in things like prevention, education and treatment - not going down that punitive path  with the big-stick approach.''

Email: ctang@examiner.com.au

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