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Newstart recipients to lose benefits if they refuse drug test

Unemployed Australians face losing their welfare benefits if they refuse to take a drug test. Images: Getty

Australians on unemployment benefits will lose their payments if they refuse to take a drug test, under a new plan from the federal government.

The proposal, to trial drug-testing of 5,000 Newstart recipients, was announced last week, with the Coalition government arguing that the move was a “tough love” program designed to help get substance abusers back on their feet and into the Australian workforce.

The outcome of a positive drug test would be income management, which would see up to 80 per cent of the recipient’s welfare payments placed onto a cashless welfare card.

However, in explanatory notes accompanying the bill, it is confirmed that Australians who refuse to participate in the trial will have their payment cancelled immediately.

“If the person then makes a new claim for Newstart Allowance or Youth Allowance (other) following cancellation, the payment will not be payable for a 4-week period from the date of cancellation,” the explanatory memorandum reads.

“Recipients who subsequently return to payment after their waiting period will still be subject to the trial and required to undergo random drug testing as a condition of their ongoing receipt of payment.”

The explanatory memorandum also details that should a welfare recipient fail a second or later test, they will be required to pay the cost of the tests. This will come out of their fortnightly social security payment.

Social groups condemn the plan

This isn’t the first time such a proposal has been brought forward by a Coalition government, with the idea first tabled in the 2017 budget.

However, it was soundly criticised by doctors and social services groups who said it would not help people with addictions.

Those warnings were aired again last week, with Professor Nadine Ezard, clinical director of St Vincent’s Sydney’s Alcohol and Drug Unit describing is as a “dead-end strategy”.

“We’re against it because our expertise and experience tells us that this isn’t the way to help people into treatment,” Ezard said.

“In the face of such overwhelming and universal opposition, why is the government persisting? It’s hard not to conclude that this trial is not about helping people at all, but about making a political point.”

The government is currently attempting to convince Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie to support the bill.

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