Crossbench senators and MPs should join Labor in opposing the Turnbull government's proposed drug testing of welfare recipients, according to a statement released yesterday by three Church social service agencies.
UnitingCare Australia, Catholic Social Services Australia and Anglicare praised Labor for its commitment to opposing the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill 2017, urging MPs and Senators to do the same.
“We welcome the ALP’s willingness to listen to the concerns of medical experts and community organisations like our own who every day work with the disadvantaged, including those suffering from addictions," the statement said.
“We call on the government to drop plans to implement this measure and instead focus on improved health services to support some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”
UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little said the plan was concerning on a number of fronts.
“There is no evidence that this measure will change behaviour, and we believe it will only serve to further marginalise, vilify and drive those battling with addiction further into poverty."
The leaders noted that the bill incorporates a number of positive measures including the streamlining of components of the welfare system to reduce complexity and improve accessibility.
“However, we highlight our significant concerns around several initiatives that impose unnecessarily harsh penalties for vulnerable job seekers, including the establishment of the drug testing trial,” they said.
Fr Frank Brennan, CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia, said mandatory drug test regimes which are proven failures do not respect the dignity of people afflicted with drug addiction.
“This measure will stigmatise and punish drug users by compulsory testing and changing the way their welfare payments are managed," he said.
“Dealing with the drug or alcohol addiction by itself without an understanding of the broader issues affecting the person such as mental health, housing, transport and household budget stress will not address the underlying causes and effects of the addiction."
Anglicare Australia’s Acting Executive Director Roland Manderson called on the crossbench to reject the proposal.
“With no expert support and no plans to ensure rehabilitation services, the drug testing regime will only do more harm,” Mr Manderson said.