Bunbury in firing line of controversial plan to drug-test welfare recipients

Phoebe WearneThe West Australian
VideoBut there are fears it could drive them to crime.

Bunbury has emerged a frontrunner for trials targeting welfare-fuelled substance abuse, with the Turnbull Government to select three unemployment hotspots where wastewater testing has detected high levels of illegal drug use.

The city has seen a rise in methamphetamine addiction, with wastewater test results last year earning it the dubious title of WA’s “meth capital”, while the unemployment rate has reached 6.4 per cent.

Under the plan announced in Tuesday’s Budget, 5000 new Newstart or Youth allowance recipients will be drug tested at random and, if they test positive, forced onto income management or referred for treatment.

The law-and-order approach to drug use has clearly failed. It needs to be treated as the health problem that it is.

WA Greens senator Rachel Siewert

Arguing the testing regime is about “changing behaviour” and removing substance abuse as a barrier to work, Social Services Minister Christian Porter said drug use could have a devastating impact on a person’s chances of employment.

He said mining and transport companies tested employees, so drug use before an interview could cost jobseekers a job.

“There are places in my home state of WA where the use of crystal methamphetamine - so ice - is 76 doses per 1000 per day. So one in 13 people are using ice per day,” Mr Porter said.

“Now, imagine what that does to the job chances and employment-finding chances of those people.”

WA Greens senator Rachel Siewert said the trials demonised those struggling with addiction and she was concerned drug testing would be imposed on vulnerable people trying to access income support in Bunbury, which was a “clear frontrunner” to be a trial site.

“Bunbury needs assistance to help people to address issues with addiction, they need more funding and supports to provide a health-based approach,” senator Siewert said.

“The law-and-order approach to drug use has clearly failed. It needs to be treated as the health problem that it is.”

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