Young Australians who seek to go on welfare from 2018 will face random drug testing under a two-year trial announced in the budget on Tuesday.
The government says the move is part of a range of measures it plans to introduce “to prevent welfare payments being used to fund drug and alcohol addictions” and stop people finding work.
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. The testing will be saliva based and similar to the system currently used by police, but urine and hair testing may also be trialled.
Agreeing to the testing will be a condition of receiving the payment. Welfare recipients who test positive will have the amount of cash they can access cut “to help them stabilise their finances and reduce the cash available to expend on drugs”, the government says. Their welfare payments will go on a card that can only be used for expenditure on government-approved goods.
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. A jobseeker getting treatment or counselling will have those efforts count as part of their job plan.
If a jobseeker tests positive once, they will be subject to further testing and anyone who refuses a test will be penalised.
But the “random” testing subjects will chosen using a profiling tool that will look for “characteristics that indicate a higher risk of substance abuse issues”.
The government declined to reveal the cost of the trial, which will be contracted out, citing commercial-in-confidence
But the move targeting welfare recipients is part of a broader crackdown that includes a “demerit” system targetting around 100,000 people who miss job appointments. A jobseeker who has four demerit points in six months will be subject to a three strikes policy on “intensive compliance” that would see them lose half a fortnight payment on the first strike, all of a payment on the second and facing a four week suspension of payments on strike three.
The government expects to save $632 million over five years as a result.
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