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Drug testing dropped by Government to get changes through

Date published: Friday 8 December 2017

Category(ies): News

The Federal Government has dropped its controversial plan to drug test welfare recipients in order to get the remainder of its welfare reforms through the Senate.

After Social Services Minister Christian Porter agreed to drop the drug testing provisions the amended Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017 was passed by the Senate. The amended bill will have to go back to the House of Representatives next year.

The Bill contains a number of other controversial provisions designed to cut Government welfare spending, including abolishing seven existing employment benefit payments including the Newstart allowance and replacing them with a single 'Jobseeker' payment.

The Government wanted to drug test 5000 welfare recipients in a pilot across three trial sites from January. Anyone who tested positive would be shunted onto cashless welfare cards, while those who failed more than once were to be referred to medical professionals for treatment.

Mr Porter said the drug test component of the bill was taken out "for the time being".

"The bill will proceed, in all likelihood, [but] the drug testing component of the bill will be taken out for the time being," he said. "But we are absolutely committed to that policy of drug testing welfare recipients in a trial to see whether or not compelling people into treatment improves their employability and employment prospects."

The plan was also opposed by medical groups, including the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs, the Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.

The president of the Australian Medical Association, Michael Gannon, welcomed the change of plan.

"This was the single measure in this year's budget that stood out as being mean and unfair and not evidence based, and we're glad that the Government's walked away from it," he said.