As part of the budget announcements, a new previously unheard of trial was launched. This trial will target Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients in Australia, testing them for drug use. Mr. Morrison’s explanation for such a measure is that it is all about “helping people” to be “in a position to make good choices for the rest of your life.” In some ways, this logic is understandable. Drug abuse can in some cases make people lethargic, dangerous, depressed and unemployable.

These tests are designed to establish where taxpayer funds are being used to support drug addictions, and address the problem. 5000 “randomly selected” welfare recipients will be selected for drug testing, looking for traces of cannabis, ecstasy, and methamphetamines. Agreeing to these tests will be a condition of receiving a benefit. If a recipient tests positive, the amount of money they can access will be drastically reduced to “help them stabilise their finances and reduce the cash available to expend on drugs.” Their welfare payments will then be transferred to a card which can only be used on government-approved goods. So, to recap – if a recipient of Newstart who is looking for a job smokes a joint, gets tested and then shows up positive for drug use, they will only be able to spend money where the government dictates that they should.

This is a harrowing road to head down.

The major problem here is that these so-called “random” tests will be targeted towards specific demographics, which really takes the random out of random.

 

The testing subjects will be selected using a profiling tool that will look for “characteristics that indicate a higher risk of substance abuse issues.” The government will also be testing sewage to determine which areas have higher quantities of drugs in their waste,  and targeting those areas. What this indicates is not that the government is randomly testing welfare recipients, but that they will systematically be targeting the most vulnerable people, and using them as political currency to drive a stronger government oversight of welfare distribution. Many areas in Australia have been ravaged by drug use, and these tend to be lower socio-economic areas. Similarly, those with drug abuse problems tend to live under harsh conditions, and the issues are often deeply engrained. The lower class in the most vulnerable areas, under the most vulnerable conditions, are being targeted by the federal government.

There are many who suggest that this is a good measure to be undertaken and that it will help to address a widespread problem of taxpayer money (which is designed to be a safety net) being spent on illicit substances. While the idea itself is potentially not a harmful one, the way in which it is being implemented could well be. Those who are at the highest risk of drug abuse are also the poorest. These are the people who would suffer the most by having their welfare payments cut. The government should not be taking money from people in need, but rather they should be addressing drug abuse problems in communities and establishing ways to lessen these problems, instead of victimising individuals. By creating support networks in these vulnerable areas, and making treatment programs easily accessible to people, and encouraging them to participate. Money needs to be invested in comprehensive drug education for young people, in order to deter them in their formative years.