Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Government hellbent on demonising welfare recipients

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Plans to drug test welfare recipients are back on the agenda after the Coalition party room endorsed new proposed laws.

The Turnbull government had originally hoped to drug test 5000 Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients across three trial sites in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia from January. But the plan was scrapped in December, after the Senate rejected it.

They are now back with another push designed to demonise welfare recipients.

Under the trial, those who fail a drug test will be placed on income management, with 80% of their welfare payment allocated to a Basics card. If a recipient fails the test a second time, they will be referred to treatment, regardless of whether they are a casual user or struggle with substance abuse.

Jobseekers who refuse a drug test will have their payments cancelled and they’ll be barred from reapplying for four weeks.

The government has said that it will establish a treatment fund of up to $10 million to help access drug and alcohol treatment support across the three sites, but there is no reason why this funding should be linked to the drug testing regime.

The motivation for this program is supposedly about “finding new and better ways of identifying these jobseekers and ensuring they are referred to the support and treatment they need” as well as to “reassure taxpayers their money isn’t being used to subsidise drug dealers”.

Unfortunately, the government have no such concern for those suffering from substance abuse.

A Senate committee is hearing from experts on the legislation with many already coming out and saying that drug testing welfare recipients should be opposed. Doctors and community groups have responded with deeply critical opinions of the drug tests, arguing they would prove an expensive and potentially damaging waste of time.

The Australian Council of Social Services argues that the money would be better spent on extra treatment services for addicts. This echoes the statements of leading experts on the prevention of infectious disease, drug and alcohol experts, as well as the community organisation St Vincent de Paul.

The main concerns about drug testing welfare recipients is that it will do nothing to address the causes of drug addiction and instead will perpetuate issues of marginalisation and poor mental health, and ultimately harm local communities. Forcing people onto the Basics card has been proven to be a social disaster, and is now opposed in those communities that have been subjected to it.

The proposal also risks pushing people onto more dangerous synthetic drugs, which cannot be identified in tests.

Testing would likely drive people away from support services and the social security system, forcing them to find other ways to support their addiction. Testing welfare recipients ultimately punishes the most vulnerable, driving them further away from the support services they need.

Similar trials internationally have not been successful. In New Zealand, only 0.27% of tests were positive. Positive drug tests only show evidence of some drug use, and do not give information for example on where the person is in a treatment process, their personal history or clinical wellness.

Given that there is huge demand for drug and alcohol services, focusing on more services and putting more money into effective job creation would have much stronger outcomes.

Rather than punitive measures, funding would be much better spent supporting victims of addiction. At the moment, those seeking drug rehabilitation currently wait months before getting a placement.

This policy is designed to blame welfare recipients for their unemployment and health problems rather than employers and the capitalist system. Socialists outright oppose these attacks on welfare recipients and ask when was the last time a boss receiving a corporate handout was tested for drugs?

Doesn’t the community deserve to be assured that their tax money is not being used by the corporate elite “to subsidise drug dealers”? It’s a rotten set of double standards.

The blame for unemployment and drug addiction lies with the capitalist system, which puts profits before all else and does not provide ample opportunities for people. Drug testing welfare recipients will do nothing to create the jobs we need.

If the government was focused on providing affordable homes and the social services that we need thousands of jobs would be created, reducing the need for so many to be on welfare in the first place.

By Amy Neve


The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare many of the problems with capitalism. The Socialist strives to explain the systemic causes of this crisis, and reports about the issues that are important to working people. We also help to organise struggles against the powers that be.

We don’t receive a cent from big business or governments. Our work is fully funded by our supporters. Even if half the people who read our website every month donated a few dollars each we would raise thousands to help our work!

We need organisations of struggle now more than ever, so if you support what we do please consider making a donation.

One-off or regular donations can be made securely HERE.