Scott Morrison wants to use sewage tests to decide where to set up drug trials

Treasurer Scott Morrison. Photo: Stefan Postles/ Getty Images.

Treasurer Scott Morrison says sewage tests will be used to decide where the government will set up drug testing trials for people on welfare.

In Tuesday’s budget the treasurer announced that from January 1 next year, 5000 people seeking the Newstart and Youth Allowance will be chosen at random for drug testing, including cannabis, ecstasy and methamphetamines such as ice, at three yet-to-be named sites as part of a two-year trial.

The government says the move is designed “to prevent welfare payments being used to fund drug and alcohol addictions” and plans to move people who test positive onto welfare cards that limit their access to cash. The testing will be saliva-based and similar to the system currently used by police, but urine and hair testing may also be trialled.

Anyone who test positive to more than one drug will be referred to a contracted medical expert for a substance abuse assessment and potential treatment options.

Speaking to Buzzfeed today, Morrison said specific areas with high drug use will be targeted for the trial as “the best place to start”.

The treasurer said he’d never taken an illegal drug, and would be “happy” to blow in a bag if testing was introduced for MPs.

“Drug and alcohol abuse can stop you from getting a job. It can stop you from meeting your mutual obligation requirements. It can stop you from being in a position to make good choices for the rest of your life,” he told Buzzfeed.

The minister already has data available that suggests Western Australia and South Australia would be the best places to start the trial.

A large testing program of Australia’s sewerage system in 51 sites, covering nearly 60% of the population, found that WA was the nation’s ice capital.

The first National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program report last year for the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, found that ice consumption in WA and SA was higher than the national average, in both the capital cities and regional areas.

High levels were also recorded in regional sites in Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania.

Cocaine use was the highest in New South Wales, almost double the second highest jurisdiction the Northern Territory, in terms of doses consumed per day. The ACT recorded the third highest.

The report concluded Australia’s high methylamphetamine consumption puts its illegal drug use high on a world scale. Compared to European nations, Australia was second highest, only beaten by Slovakia.

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