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Greens Urge Crossbench To Vote Down Centrelink Drug Tests

"Health and addiction experts have overwhelmingly rejected this proposal"

The federal Greens have called on crossbench senators not to back down on their opposition to controversial drug tests for Centrelink recipients, as the government looks to get the plan through the Senate.

The proposal, to randomly screen 5000 recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance for marijuana, methamphetamine or ecstasy, has been long-delayed since first announced in the 2017 federal budget. It was opposed in the Senate and has been heavily criticised by Labor, the Greens, and many drug and addiction experts.

But the government has reintroduced the bill into the House of Representatives, and hopes that a shifting Senate makeup might give the plan more success the second time around. ten daily reported last week senator Derryn Hinch would back the plan, while Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff of Centre Alliance, Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm, and independent Tim Storer are still to finalise their positions.

Reuters

The government needs  to woo at least two of the four undecided members to get the 39 votes it needs, and the Greens have urged those senators not to cave in to government pressure.

“When drug testing income support recipients was folded into the broader welfare reform bill, it was rejected by the Senate for good reason. Health and addiction experts have overwhelmingly rejected this proposal," Greens senator Rachel Siewert told ten daily.

"It is 2018, we know that the best way to support people out of addiction is through strong wrap around health services and that punitive top down approaches don’t work."

"I urge the Senate crossbench to vote down the bill when it comes before the Senate."

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert. (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

The plan would see those who test positive to drugs would be placed on income management with a basics card that can only be used to purchase essential goods, as well as being diverted into drug treatment programs. Experts warned such targeting of welfare clients could further stigmatise or marginalise drug addicts, as well as unnecessarily diverting occasional or one-off users into already overcrowded treatment programs.

"There is no evidence this kind of approach will create jobs or assist people into treatment. This has been developed without any clinical input, as far as we are aware," Dr Nadine Ezard, clinical director of drug and alcohol services for St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, told ten daily.

"This is basically a punishment rather than being helpful... If someone has a drug dependence, by definition they can't stop. They won't stop just because someone is testing them."

Reuters

Siewert added there is "consistent overseas evidence to show drug testing income support recipients is expensive and ineffective and increases stigma for people struggling with addiction."

New social services minister Dan Tehan would not confirm when the bill would be brought before the Senate again -- only saying "we expect it... in the coming months" -- and asked opposition senators to reconsider their position.

"If drug use is a barrier to someone getting a job, we want them to get help, which is the aim of the drug testing trial," he told ten daily in a statement.

"I urge Labor, the Greens and the crossbench to support this legislation because doing nothing is not an option. Doing nothing is not helping Australians to get off welfare and into work."