Australia

Jacqui Lambie backs controversial cashless welfare card expansion

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The Morrison government will have another crack at rolling out drug testing for Newstart recipients when parliament meets after the long winter break.

Key crossbench senator Jacqui Lambie has backed the government's plans to expand cashless welfare card trials, but will only back drug testing of welfare recipients if politicians "grow a spine" and submit to the same screening.  

The Morrison government will reintroduce two lapsed pieces of legislation targeting Newstart and Youth Allowance recipients when parliament sits this week, its first gathering after the long winter break.

Senator Lambie, who is likely to hold the deciding vote, said she had visited areas where the cashless welfare cards had already been rolled out and believed it was working. 

Jacqui Lambie Network Senator Jacqui Lambie during debate on the Marriage Equality plebiscite in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, August 9, 2017. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING
Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie says cashless welfare cards had delivered results.
AAP

"I've always been a big supporter of the cashless welfare cards - I've seen the results that has had," Senator Lambie told reporters in Canberra on Sunday. 

"I will say this, though, get those algorithms right because quite frankly it's taking you way too long, get it moving."

But if the government wants her support to pass legislation to trial drug-testing for welfare recipients, the Tasmanian independent expects politicians to face the same checks. 

"I want to see the politicians up there grow a spine and you don’t go and put something on someone else that you don’t expect to put on yourself," Senator Lambie said. 

"If you’ve got nothing to hide up there in that big white house then it’s now your turn to go and do that random drug and alcohol test. What’s wrong with you people, might miss a few wines after 8 o’clock at night will we? That’ll keep the backbenchers in line."

While the government would invest $10 million into rehabilitation services, Senator Lambie said she would vote against the bill because there wasn't enough support services.  

"No, I won’t be supporting it unless the services are there, I can see the rehab services and the services that these people need to kick their habit are actually set up which I am yet to see,” Senator Lambie said on Monday. 

The divisive idea has already been rejected twice by the previous parliament.

Labor has slammed the idea of drug testing welfare recipients as humiliating and punitive, but Finance Minister Mathias Cormann is defiant.

"We want to support and encourage Australians to deal with any barriers they are facing in terms of getting back into the workforce," Senator Cormann told the ABC.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann at a press conference in Melbourne.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann wants to get welfare recipients with drug addictions into treatment.
AAP

"That is, of course, why we believe that through this drug testing trial, that we should assess whether there's better ways to channel Australians into treatment."

The two-year drug testing trial would be rolled out in three locations - Logan in Queensland, Canterbury-Bankstown in NSW and Mandurah in WA.

'Bloody meathead' Setka ultimatum

Senator Jacqui Lambie was also talking tough on construction union boss John Setka, declaring she will vote for legislation cracking down on unions if Mr Setka does not step down.

"I'm going to stay very solid on this - John Setka needs to resign," Senator Lambie told the Nine newspapers on Monday. 

A file image of John Setka
Jacqui Lambie says the CFMEU's John Setka is being a "bloody meathead".
AAP

"Either he resigns now or these rules will come into place and he won't be able to stay on the line and he's going to go down anyway. Is it worth taking 1.4 million union members down with him?" 

Labor Leader Anthony Albanese is trying to expel Mr Setka from the party after he was convicted of harassing his wife in June, and also accused of making disparaging remarks about anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty. 

But Mr Setka is fighting to retain his position as head of Victoria's construction union. 

"Instead of being such a bloody meathead, he needs to wake up to himself and he needs to resign because doing a hell of a lot of damage," Senator Lambie said. 

The government's "Ensuring Integrity" bill, would make it easier to deregister rogue unions and ban union officials who repeatedly break the law. 

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