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RANZCP submission on the Welfare Reform Bill 2017

10 August 2017

The drug testing pilot program for new welfare recipients proposed by the federal government is deeply concerning, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrist (RANZCP) says in its  submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs’ Inquiry into Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017.

The proposed reform to the Bill would see the establishment of an illicit substance testing program for new welfare recipients from 1 January 2018.

The 2017 trial would see recipients of the Newstart and Youth Allowance benefits, in three locations around Australia, randomly tested.

Under the trial those who return a positive drug test will have their welfare payments quarantined, which will limit how they spend their payments. They will also be subjected to further random drug testing during the trial period. If they fail subsequent tests, they will be referred to a Department of Human Services-contracted medical professional for assessment.

While the RANZCP strongly supports people receiving the treatment they need to address and support their addiction issues, we have several concerns regarding the proposed reforms.

The key points of the RANZCP’s submission are: 

  • The RANZCP opposes the trial.
  • This is more than just a substance misuse issue; people referred for possible treatment are likely to be individuals with complex, multi-faceted concerns such as physical and psychological health issues, housing issues and, for some, intergenerational unemployment and deprivation.
  • If the program goes ahead, the RANZCP would strongly recommend that the medical practitioners conducting the drug tests be addiction specialists, as they will have the skills and experience to interpret the test, conduct a holistic assessment of the person, and advise them on the appropriate next steps.
  • More than 50 years of psychological research shows that positive reinforcement strategies are more effective than punitive strategies in terms of bringing about behavioural change.
  • The government’s own advisory body – the Australian National Council on Drugs - also advises against drug testing welfare recipients. 
  • The RANZCP is also concerned about the confidentiality of the information about an individual’s participation in the trial and whether it will be shared with other government departments.
  • The RANZCP notes that treatment resources are already extremely stretched with long waiting lists for people who are voluntarily seeking support from addiction services let alone those who are required to attend services as a result of random drug testing. 
  • There are many regions of Australia that are out of reach of any addiction specialists.

Read the RANZCP’s full submission into the Inquiry into Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017.