Medical professionals have warned that the Federal Government’s plan to drug test people on welfare could increase crime.
Nearly 1,000 doctors, nurses, and health care workers from organisations such as the Australian Medical Association, Uniting Care and St Vincent’s Health have written an open letter to Federal MPs calling on them to reject the proposal.
“This bill is not only going to fail, it will increase crime in the community and that should be a major concern for all Australians,” said Matt Noffs from drug rehabilitation service the Ted Noffs Foundation.
“Are you so foolish that you think simply quarantining someone’s money will stop them from using drugs?
“They will score drugs in other ways. They might sell drugs, they might start to deal, they might start to break into houses.”
If passed by Parliament, 5,000 new welfare recipients across three sites — Mandurah in Western Australia, Logan in Queensland, and Canterbury-Bankstown in New South Wales — will be tested in January next year.
If recipients test positive for drugs, 80 per cent of their payments will be put onto a cashless debit card.
Government’s plan ‘won’t work’
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended the proposed trial and said it would protect vulnerable Australians.
However Dr Marianne Jauncey, from the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs, disputed that.
“At a time when we desperately need money for frontline services, it’s being spent in a way all the available evidence tells us won’t work,” she said.
“Doctors don’t necessarily speak with a united voice — we’re a very varied group of specialists and people with different backgrounds across the country, so when you do hear doctors speaking with a united voice I think people should listen.”
The letter said the policy would push people facing drug problems further into the margins.
Michael White, from the South Australian Network of Drug and Alcohol Services, said drug and alcohol dependence could often point to other problems.
“Often people who have drug and alcohol issues have considerable other issues, housing instability, trauma, family violence issues, they may have no transport no drivers license,” he said.
“The Government should be focussing on enabling them to find work through providing them access to available sufficient treatment which is not there at the minute and definitely not there in those areas of low-socio economic status.
“Putting more treatment into those places would get more people into employment than drug testing.”