CANBERRA -- The government has acknowledged that drug testing welfare clients has been a failure overseas, but says that shouldn't be a reason not to try it in Australia anyway.
The May budget outlined a trial program to drug test 5000 welfare recipients in a handful of pilot sites around the country. The tests would screen for marijuana, ecstasy and methamphetamine, with welfare clients facing the risk of being pushed onto the cashless debit card income quarantining plan after repeated positive tests
However, information has surfaced on international programs of drug testing welfare clients. Jurisdictions in Canada and the U.K. proposed then scrapped the idea, while in several states in the United States, as few as 0.01 percent of those tested actually returned positive drug tests. As revealed by HuffPost Australia, a government-funded report from 2013 found there was "no evidence" of any positive effects in drug testing welfare clients, citing social, economic, legal and ethical concerns to recommend such a scheme "ought not be considered".
During Question Time in the Senate on Tuesday, the government acknowledged that drug testing programs had not been successful overseas -- but confirmed plans to press ahead with the trial anyway.
"Just because something has been trialed elsewhere and has not worked does not mean it should not be tried again," said senator Scott Ryan, representing the Minister for Social Services.
Ryan said the details of the program were still being worked out, including selection of trial sites and the cost of the trial.
"The government is considering the selection of sites. I know that one of the criteria being considered is the availability of both the support services and, of course, the testing services," he said.
"The government will of course, I imagine, be in a position to do that [announce the costs of the trial] once various aspects of this program, as was outlined clearly at Senate estimates, have actually been settled. But at the time when we are going to tender, we are not going to expose the taxpayer to risk of the Commonwealth showing its hand."
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