OPINION

Scott Morrison's drug test plan has nothing to do with helping

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has recently announced that a new amendment to social security legislation will be put before parliament in a fourth attempt (in recent years) to legislate drug testing for welfare recipients.

The Coalition claims its purpose in doing so is to identify welfare recipients who are taking certain drugs and provide treatment programs as part of their job plan, while curbing their access to cash to spend on things Mr Morrison believes to be inappropriate. This has been trotted out by the LNP in 2014, 2017 and 2018. So now, it's Mr Morrison's turn to crank the wheel.

After all, with the LNP's shocking financial management performance, pressure to raise the Newstart rate and the water crisis, it needs something the people can focus all their frustration on (other than the government). Plus, those experiencing unemployment are ripe for the picking. Aren't they always?

Social Services Minister Christian Porter quoted the AIHW National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016 - stating that people experiencing unemployment are three times more likely to use illicit drugs - as the driving force for this amendment. But the thing about statistics is they are often used selectively.

The same report also said the paid workforce had a higher rate of lifetime drug use (51 per cent of users) than people experiencing unemployment (43 per cent).

Forty five per cent of employed people have admitted to using cannabis in their lifetime, compared to 39 per cent of people not in paid work.

Here's another fun fact: while drug use is distributed across socioeconomic divides, the most advantaged have a higher lifetime use rate of 44 per cent compared to 39 per cent for the socially disadvantaged. This paints a slightly different picture of the stereotypical drug user, no?

What's more, unemployment isn't the only risk factor for drug use. Living in a remote/very remote area (24.8 per cent), being indigenous (27 per cent) and LGBTQI+ status (41.7 per cent) all increase the risk of drug use.

Furthermore, drug use is not the only barrier to unemployment people experience and the above factors are often associated with employment stresses as well, thus a highly complex picture starts to emerge.

Job Active providers tell me that recognising when there is a drug problem and supporting their clients through overcoming this and other barriers is in their job description.

Why do we need a test for this if it's not meant to be punitive? Especially when drug testing won't create the half a million jobs they still need to bridge the unemployment gap.

When forced drug treatment is well established to be questionably effective - and healthcare providers and organisations like the Australian Council of Social Service have stated that the impact of such a practice on welfare recipients would be damaging and distracting from the urgent need to increase Newstart - the purpose for drug testing them can only be considered punitive, despite Senator Anne Ruston's insistence that the trial is about identifying people who "need our help" and not punishing them.

However, regardless of the driving force, people experiencing unemployment are still citizens and the government needs to establish grounds for invading these citizens' privacy.

When drug testing the employed is tightly regulated and only permissible under the OHS Act, the government's insistence on just wanting to help them doesn't fly, especially when the systems in place are already designed to do exactly that and the larger problem of there simply not being enough jobs to go around remains untouched by this measure.

The ends don't justify the means. They don't even solve the problem.

If you like stats, here's a number for you: 4.62. University of Melbourne Research indicates that men experiencing unemployment are 4.62 times more likely to commit suicide than men who are employed.

How can the government state it is committed to addressing suicide then turn around and put more pressure on one of the greatest hotbeds for suicide ideation in this country? Is it all an act?

I'm not surprised. I wish I was. But I'm not. This is what I've come to expect from Mr Morrison's government.

Those experiencing unemployment are living with enough psychological angst in their lives, without being made to feel even more worthless by those in a position to both know better and do better.

Our leaders are stewards of our country, responsible for the welfare of our people, and they are failing in their stewardship.

I'm not surprised. But I remain continually disappointed.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au

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