Western Sydney suburb to be targeted in drug test trial

 

Almost 2000 welfare recipients in southwest Sydney would be drug-tested under a new trial being fervently pursued by the federal government, with as many as 150 expected to have an illegal substance in their system.

Canterbury-Bankstown has been selected as one of three trial locations because data shows it has greater levels of disadvantage and higher drug use rates, a government source said last night.

The Coalition on Wednesday will ­introduce legislation that, if passed, would allow 5000 new recipients of Newstart or the Youth Allowance to be screened for heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and ice ­nationally.

About half of the proposed testing would take place at Logan in Queensland, with a further 15 per cent at Mandurah in Western Australia.

Newstart recipients will be tested for ice. Picture: iStock
Newstart recipients will be tested for ice. Picture: iStock

The rest, some 1750 people, would be drawn from the Canterbury-Bankstown region.

It is anticipated as many as 150 people there would come up positive in an initial test of saliva, urine or hair.

The government would prefer a mouth swab be used ­because it is less intrusive, however a final decision will be made by a yet-to-be-selected testing provider, which will also set the threshold for a positive result.

Anyone who tests positive would have 80 per cent of their welfare quarantined on a cashless card, aiming to ensure it could not be spent on drugs.

Only 25 or so people in the Canterbury-Bankstown trial would be expected to return another positive when tested again 25 days later.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison continued on Tuesday to push his cashless welfare cards and drug test policy urging Labor to support the bill. Picture: Getty/Tracey Nearmy
Prime Minister Scott Morrison continued on Tuesday to push his cashless welfare cards and drug test policy urging Labor to support the bill. Picture: Getty/Tracey Nearmy

Those who do would be considered drug dependent and referred to a medical professional for treatment.

The bill to enable the trial comes with $10 million of ­rehabilitation funding shared across the three trial sites.

"Obviously in a more ­entrenched situation of drug dependency they won't be able to pass the second test and that's when we need to provide the services," Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's 2016 ­National Drug Strategy household survey found the unemployed were three times as likely to use ice and other ­amphetamines and 50 per cent more likely to use cannabis.

But a leading academic said the plan was "fraudulent nonsense" and more about "surveillance". Professor Alison Ritter will deliver a paper on the proposed trial at the Australian Social Policy conference in Sydney on Wednesday. In it she will argue the government has failed to "distinguish between drug use and a drug problem".

Ahead of her address, Prof Ritter told The Daily Telegraph "using cannabis or ecstasy ­occasionally, that's not an ­impediment to getting a job".

She said dependency on crystal meth or heroin was and those people "should be on the disability support pension" not Newstart, she said.


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