Mandurah drug tests for the dole: How will it work?

Drug testing: Social Services Minister Christian Porter and Canning MP Andrew Hastie announce random drug testing of Mandurah job seekers, with City of Mandurah Mayor Marina Vergone. Photo: Kate Hedley.
Drug testing: Social Services Minister Christian Porter and Canning MP Andrew Hastie announce random drug testing of Mandurah job seekers, with City of Mandurah Mayor Marina Vergone. Photo: Kate Hedley.

Drug testing for Mandurah’s job seekers. It’s the hottest topic of conversation online, with hundreds of comments flooding social media, and everyone in Mandurah is talking about it.

But how does it work and who is affected? All your questions answered.

What’s the big idea?

The plan to trial drug testing of job seekers was announced by the Turnbull Government during the May federal budget.

Job seekers signing onto the Newstart allowance in Mandurah will be subject to random drug tests. A positive test will mean the welfare recipient is placed on income management for 24 months. They will receive 80 per cent of their income on a cashless welfare card. A second drug test is then scheduled within 25 working days of their initial positive result.

If the job seeker tests positive again, they will be required to attend treatment sessions.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the policy had two purposes: to stop taxpayer’s money being spent on drugs and to help those struggling with drug addiction to find treatment.

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Who gets tested?

The trial will be run in three places: Mandurah and two locations in the eastern states (Canterbury-Bankstown in Sydney and Logan in Brisbane have already been identified as the first two sites).

The Mandurah trial covers people who live in the City of Mandurah’s local government area including the suburbs of Bouvard, Clifton, Coodanup, Dawesville, Dudley Park, Erskine, Falcon, Greenfields, Halls Head, Herron, Lakelands, Madora Bay, Mandurah, Meadow Springs, Parklands, San Remo, Silver Sands, and Wannanup.

The trial will run for two years and the government expects to test 15 per cent of the estimated 5000 new job seekers signing onto Newstart and Youth Allowance in Mandurah. This adds up to about 750 job seekers.

Job seekers already on benefits before the trial starts will not be affected.

What do they test for?

Job seekers will be tested for a large range of drugs, similar to the ones tested for at work sites. These include ice (methamphetamine), ecstasy (MDMA), marijuana (THC) and opioids such as heroin.

Random tests: Mandurah job seekers will be tested for drugs in a trial of a controversial new measure. Photo: Canberra Times.

Random tests: Mandurah job seekers will be tested for drugs in a trial of a controversial new measure. Photo: Canberra Times.

Where do the tests happen?

The government is currently looking at contracting a drug test provider with experience in delivering drug tests in employment environments such as mine sites.

Depending on what kind of test a job seeker is selected for, the test will either take place at a Centrelink office or nearby facility. All tests will be conducted in private by suitably qualified staff from a drug testing provider.

Will job seekers who fail drug tests lose their benefits?

No. Job seekers will not lose their benefits if they fail a drug test.

However, if a job seeker is required to attend treatment sessions and don’t turn up, their payments could be suspended. The requirement to attend treatment to address their drug use becomes part of their Centrelink Job Plan. If they fail to attend treatment they could be suspended, just as they could be suspended for failing to turn up to a job interview.

Who finds out about test results?

The government has said drug test results will be private and will not be shared with police or result in criminal action if a job seeker tests positive.

How much will it cost and who pays?

At his press conference on Sunday morning, Mr Porter said the taxpayer would pick up the cost of the first drug test and subsequent drug tests if the job seekers passes.

But if a job seeker fails the second drug test, they would be billed for the cost, which is expected to be minimal.

On top of the cost of testing, the government is setting up a $10 million treatment fund to assist job seekers access the treatment they need.

What treatment support is available?

Mandurah has a range of existing drug and alcohol services available to support people in overcoming substance abuse.

People who test positive to more than one drug test will be referred to a medical professional who will assess their particular circumstances and identify appropriate treatment options.

Based on the recommendations of the medical professional, they may be required to participate in treatment at local drug services.

Why was Mandurah chosen as a trial site?

Mr Porter said Mandurah is an area that would be likely to benefit from this measure.

Drug abuse in the Mandurah region is considerably higher than the national and Western Australia averages, and is causing increasing social and community harm with increasing instances of drug offences.

Canning MP Andrew Hastie said he was excited to see this program trialled in Mandurah.

“Our community has really struggled with the impact of drugs and this initiative is a practical step to help address that,” he said.

Won’t there be an increase in crime?

Some argue that people will turn to crime to fund their drug addictions if forced on to a cashless welfare card.

But the evidence from trials of the system in the Kimberley and Ceduna in South Australia demonstrates that both drug use and crime fell after the introduction of cashless welfare.

In Ceduna, crime dropped to such a degree that no robberies had been reported after the introduction of the card.

Admissions to the Wyndham Sobering-Up Unit in September 2016 were 69 per cent lower than before the trial began in April 2016.

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