Call to action! Drug testing in the job seeker system
The Federal Government is again looking at drug testing people in the job seeker system but they are struggling to get the numbers to pass the Bill.
- the Bill could be in the Senate any time from Monday
- three Senators are needed to join the Greens and Labor in opposing the Bill,
- the senators to focus on are Senators Griff, Patrick and Storer.
The Drug Testing Bill 2018 will establish a trial with the following parameters:
- ‘the drug trial areas are the local government areas of Canterbury-Bankstown, New South Wales; Logan, Queensland and Mandurah, Western Australia;
- the trial period is 24 months and will apply only to certain illicit drugs (testable drugs);
- trial participants who test positive to a testable drug will be placed on income management for a period of 24 months;
- trial participants may request that a positive drug test sample be retested, but the trial participant will be required to pay for the retest if it returns a positive result;
- failing to comply with a notice from the Secretary to provide a sample means a trial participant’s payment is not payable and will be cancelled. The trial participant will be required to serve a 28 day drug test refusal waiting period before they are eligible to receive the payment again.’
To stop the bill three or more cross bench senators need to oppose, alongside Labor and The Greens. The senators that might do this include:
- Tim Storer (Independent) – centre-left leaning. Position on the Bill not clear at this point.
- Rex Patrick (Centre Alliance) – doesn’t see testing as a big issue because he draws a parallel with his experiences in the navy where drug testing is common occurrence for personnel. Not clear whether he understands that the purpose of testing in the Navy is different from testing jobseekers. Has said he is still to decide whether the government’s intention was to ‘help or to harm’. If he decides their intentions are genuine, then he will likely vote for it. But if he felt it was punitive, he won’t. He has more recently shifted from ‘what’s wrong with a trial?’ to ‘probably need to consider this a bit more’.
- Sterling Griff (Centre Alliance) – seems to be relatively sympathetic to opposing the Bill.
- Derryn Hinch (Independent) – may oppose the bill on a technicality about what kind of income management is involved. Has his own experiences with alcohol that may lead him to be sympathetic towards people with drug-related problems.
- David Leyonjhelm (Independent) – proposed extensive amendments to the 2017 Bill, including adding alcohol to the testable drugs, and these were not taken up by government. For him, the absence of alcohol represented an unjustifiable prejudice against illegal drug use. He is likely to oppose on the grounds that his amendments are unlikely to be accepted (even while he supports the idea that government can impose these kinds of rules on people in the jobseeker system).
What to do
- Contact Senators to encourage them to oppose the Bill: phone calls, requests for meetings, emails of encouragement
- Focus on Senators Storer, Griff and Patrick, as they are still in the process of forming a position
- Senators are likely to be at their electoral offices this week, and will be in Canberra next week and the week after (i.e., weeks commencing 18 and 25 June)
Electorate office (08) 8232 0220
Canberra phone (02) 6277 3500
Electorate office (08) 8232 1144
Canberra Phone (02) 6277 3785
(08) 8212 1409
Canberra Phone (02) 6277 3128
(03) 9820 2222
Canberra Phone (02) 6277 3168
(02) 9719 1078
Canberra Phone (02) 6277 3054
The Welfare Reform Bill 2017 and the Drug Testing Trial Bill 2018
This 2018 Bill is almost identical to Schedule 12 of the Welfare Reform Bill which government introduced in June 2017. On 7 December 2017, following sustained opposition within and outside Parliament, the Senate, on the motion of the government, agreed to remove Schedule 12 from the Welfare Reform Bill.
In February 2018, Dan Tehan, Minister for Social Services, introduced the new Bill (Drug Testing Trial) in the House of Representatives. The Bill was read in the House. The Senate then referred the Bill to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee for review.
The committee’s report was tabled on May 7, accessible here.
There were 52 submissions to the Senate Committee review. The only one unambiguously in favour of the Bill was the Government’s own Department of Social Services. Organisations that made submissions opposing the Bill included St Vincent’s Health Australia, the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Kirby Institute, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the Salvation Army, Anglicare, St Vincent de Paul, Mission Australia, Uniting and more. This was consistent with the Senate Committee review of the 2017 Bill – in that case, all 43 organisations that made a submission opposed the Bill.
The Senate Committee, chaired by the government, nevertheless recommended that the Bill be passed. (The Committee also recommended that the government publish an evaluation plan prior to commencing the trial, and publish the results of the evaluation after the trial is complete.)
 Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2018.