Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients to face random drug testing

May 10, 2017
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In what was probably a surprise to no one, Scott Morrison announced in last night’s Federal Budget the plan “to stop people taking an easy ride on our welfare system”. What was perhaps more surprising was when he announced that the gov would introduce “a modest drug testing trial” for 5,000 new welfare recipients. Taking affect as of January 1, 2018, any new recipients of Youth Allowance or Newstart Allowance may be subject to a random drug test that will test for illegal drugs including marijuana, ecstasy and methamphetamine.

Will you be tested?

While it has been stressed that this will be “random” testing, this isn’t entirely true. The drug test will take place in three locations around the country, with the specific locations yet to be determined. What we do know is Centrelink will target areas that are known for their high drug use, and that the recipients chosen will be based on “data-driven profiling tools” to identify the characteristics and ensure those who are more likely to have substance-abuse issues are tested.

Will you know if you’re going to be randomly selected?

All signs point to no. If you’re chosen to undertake a drug test, you’ll receive a letter telling you that you’re required to attend an appointment at Centrelink. But don’t expect this to be a dead giveaway – Centrelink tends to arrange a lot of face-to-face appointments where attendance is mandatory, particularly for Newstart recipients. It you have been called for a drug test, the official report states you will most likely be subject to the same saliva tests used by roadside police, but hair follicles and urine may also be tested.

What will happen if you test positive?

If you test positive, the result is a restriction on your payments and even a restriction on your autonomy to spend your money. Anyone who tests positive will be placed on “welfare quarantine” – this means they’ll be forced to use a cashless welfare card that quarantines their Centrelink payments so they can’t withdraw cash or spend money on alcohol or gambling. A positive test will also mean further random drug tests and referrals to medical professionals if there is more than one positive drug test. Just like every Federal Budget, there's no surprises that there was a lot of adverse reactions on Twitter.

Lauren Piggott