August 08, 2017

Labor has listened to expert advice from health professionals and will oppose the Turnbull Government’s proposed drug testing trial of social security recipients. 

We have carefully listened to the serious concerns of health experts, addiction medicine specialists and community organisations including: The Australian Medical Association; The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP); St Vincent’s Health; Rural Doctors Association of Australia; Harm Reduction Australia; The Penington Institute, The Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation; National Drug and Research Centre; Australian Council of Social Service; Uniting Care Australia; Homelessness Australia; and St Vincent de Paul Society.

Health experts and community organisations have said clearly that they oppose the Turnbull Government’s ill-conceived drug testing trial.

The Government has simply been unable to provide any evidence to support the establishment of this trial, nor have they revealed the cost.

Drug testing of income support recipients has been tried in several countries and there is no evidence to suggest it is effective. For instance, the New Zealand government instituted a drug testing program among welfare recipients. In 2015, and only 22 of 8,001 participants tested returned a positive result for illicit drug use.

Addiction medicine specialists have raised serious concerns about the technical aspects of the trial, including the type of drug testing that would be used, its cost and accuracy.

Labor is worried that vulnerable Australians may be pushed into poverty, homelessness and potentially crime as a result of this proposed trial.

The Government has been unable to confirm if treatment places will be available.

This trial will put pressure on an already overstretched system with long waiting lists, displacing people seeking help.

The Government should be focusing its resources on helping vulnerable people seek treatment for drug addiction as well as policing.

The Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017 implements a range of complex measures, many of which the Government needs to provide more detail on.

Labor will reserve its final position on the Bill as a whole until the completion of the Senate Inquiry, due to report on 4 September.

There are measures that Labor could potentially support if they are separated from other measures in this Bill.

However there are several measures that Labor cannot support, these include:

  • Establishing a drug testing trial for social security recipients (schedule 12);
  • Axing the Bereavement Allowance (schedule 4);
  • Start date for some participation payments (schedule 10);
  • Removal of intent to claim provisions (schedule 11);
  • Removal of exemptions for drug or alcohol dependence (schedule 13);
  • Changes to Reasonable excuses (schedule 14);
  • Information Management (Schedule 17).


“The AMA considers these measures to be mean and stigmatising. The AMA considers substance dependence to be a serious health problem, one that is associated with high rates of disability and mortality.

The AMA firmly believes that those affected should be treated in the same way as other patients with serious health conditions, including access to treatment and supports to recovery.”

-       The Australian Medical Association (AMA)


“The RACP and AChAM are concerned that these measures are not based on evidence of what works - either at a policy or a clinical level.

 “In our view they will not only fail to achieve the Bill’s stated aim of assisting people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction to access treatment and secure employment, but will harm an already vulnerable group of people and increase their social and financial disadvantage.”

-       The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) and the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine (AChAM)


“This approach has been implemented in some areas of the United States and it hasn’t shown to be effective in combating substance abuse.

“People who are looking for a job do not generally have any higher incidence of drug use than those in the general population, even if they are receiving government assistance.

-       Dr Ewen McPhee, Rural Doctors Association of Australia


“What it can do is actually make people's social circumstances even more precarious and perhaps tip people into more dangerous ways of living, and even more criminal ways of living if they can't support themselves.”

-       Nadine Ezard, St Vincent's Clinical School


“There is no evidence that any of these measures will directly achieve outcomes associated with reductions in alcohol or other drug use or harms, and indeed have the potential to create greater levels of harm, including increased stigma, marginalisation and poverty.”

-       National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre


“I strongly urge the Government to reconsider and reverse this retrograde approach to welfare before we see the increase in crime it is likely to create.

“In Australia there is a real lack of funding for drug treatment services – including medically supported drug treatment. The Government would have been better off making stronger investments there rather than attacking the vulnerable.”

-       John Ryan, CEO Penington Institute


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