The proposed 'world first' welfare drug-testing trial will not work and is not justified, say Logan City mayor and community workers.
Legislation for the $10 million trial is due to go before the Senate shortly but is opposed by Labor and the Greens, and will need crossbench support to pass.
The government hopes the controversial proposal will get a very small number of unemployed drug users in Logan - located between Brisbane and the Gold Coast - into treatment and work.
“It is a trial, designed to determine whether the welfare system can be effectively used to compel people into treatment,” federal social security minister Christian Porter told parliament on Monday after the legislation passed the House of Representatives.
“If it [the trial] does not work, of course there will be a need to try something else. If it does work, we will have improved the lives of people with those drug problems.
“The exact reason that there is no evidentiary guarantee for a trial like this, or that it will work, is that it has never been done before in the way that we are doing it.”
Five-thousand people who sign on for Youth Allowance or Newstart from January 1 next year would be targeted, with half from Logan and the rest from Canterbury-Bankstown in south-western Sydney and Mandurah, south of Perth.
Mr Porter said last month Logan was chosen because of the high number of welfare recipients, high drug usage and drug offences recorded, and because of waste water tests.
Trials based on 'flimsy statistics'
Local mayor Luke Smith has met with the minister and asked for the trial to be suspended, saying the council and local service providers were not consulted, that it would boost the local crime rate, is based on “flimsy” statistical evidence and would tarnish the area’s reputation.
“The people of Logan actually want this to work, they want to get people off drug addictions, we’re not against drug testing, what we are against is lack of consultation,” said mayor Smith in calling for a suspension of the proposed trial.
“We believe their statistics are very flimsy.”
Mr Porter and Human Services minister Alan Tudge announced the Logan trial citing departmental data, crime statistics and results of waste water testing for drugs.
Logan’s population is about 300,000 people and had 15,575 dole claimants, with and annual turnover of 8,568 in 2015/16.
Ministers highlighted a 162.5 per cent jump in job seekers claiming "temporary incapacity exemptions due to drug dependency" in the 24-months up to December last year, based on an increase from 16 to 42 people.
They also claimed a 77 per cent rise over five years in drug offences in Logan as another justification, with a rate of offending of 157 per 100,000 people.
But the last page of the ministers’ joint press release noted Logan has just two more people per 100,000 committing offences than the Queensland average.
Publicly available Queensland Police crime data shows an increase of less than half the number of drug offences, up 35 per cent over the same five-year period, and a drop in 2016/17 to below the state average.
“Drug-related crime occurs in all policing districts across Queensland and there is insufficient evidence to indicate the issue is significantly greater in the Logan Police District,” QPS said in a statement to SBS World News.
The trial’s drug-test results would not be reported to police.
The ministers also rely on the Department of Human Services "drug and alcohol vulnerability indicator" - and Logan is just above the national average of 0.7 per cent, at 0.9 per cent.
Employment statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show unemployment across the wider Logan-Beaudesert area has fallen by three per cent over the past two years to 6.1 per cent in 2016/17, and is below the five-year average.
“The federal government has an atrocious understanding of Logan,” said mayor Smith.
“We have seen unemployment reduced by 2.5 per cent, we have seen 12,800 jobs created in the last twelve months.
“Logan is booming. To have us labelled as a ‘drug testing trial site’ is only going to damage our local economy, and only going to stop people from investing here, allowing that job creation to happen here, which is what we all want.”
'Most people here are not on drugs'
Waste water test results for the Australian Crime Intelligence Commission (ACIC) released earlier this year showed rising usage of methamphetamine across 12 unnamed sites in Queensland.
“There’s nothing in them that specify the Logan area,” said mayor Smith.
Local community service providers declined to comment on the trial, some citing concerns about government funding, but local community workers were critical.
“They always seem to pick on Logan, most people here are not on drugs, and we don’t deserve the reputation,” said uncle Noel Summers, who has worked with Logan’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait people for several decades.
“It's pretty humiliating for people who come in (to Centerlink for testing) and are not on drugs,” he said.
“Nobody likes it and I can’t see it’s going to solve anything.”
A positive test for cannabis, opiates or methaphetamine will see 80 per cent of a recipient’s welfare payments, of about $265 per week, quarantined for two years on a Basics Card to pay rent, food, clothing transport and bills.
If a second test, to be taken within 25 days, is positive they will be required to undertake mandatory treatment or the benefit is cut.
“It's never going to work. They will always find another way of scoring, they will always find another way of maintaining their life style,” said Temsu Longchari.
Mr Longchari is a former drug addict who has been clean since 1994, before migrating to Australia from India, and is now a Logan community worker.
“The government approach is to take away a physical thing. You restrict them from accessing their money, and it’s not even enough to feed their habits, and when it’s removed it will make it worse for themselves, for their families and the community,” he said.
“I don’t think [drug use] is worse here than other areas, but it comes from different demographics.
“Here you can see it more prominently because of the low-income earning people, but rich people use as well.”
An estimated 210 people of the 2,500 new dole recipients in Logan are expected to fail the first drug test, and about 60 fail the second, over the course of the trial.
Ten-million dollars has been allocated for drug treatment and rehabilitation but the bill must pass the Senate before a government tender can be issued for service provision, that will be required in about 15 weeks time.
From 1 January next year, the government will tighten the “reasonable excuse” rules so alcohol and drug dependency will not be accepted as a reason not engaged in looking for a job.
“For the first time all jobseekers will be able to have drug and alcohol treatment efforts count towards their mutual obligation requirements [to receive unemployment benefit],” Mr Porter said.
It is an approach rejected by local agencies who help job seekers.
“I think if you start labelling people as drug users, you impact on the ultimate government objective and that is getting people into work,” said John Perry from Jobs Queensland.
“The language that’s been used to date [by the ministers] is to suit a purpose, and I’m advocating for a different purpose, to identify the issue and address it positively.
“What’s driving that use, is it homelessness, is it mental health, how do you deal with that, how do you provided education, skills development, how do you then get them into employment.”
The ministers have previously said the success of the trial will be judged on Logan's unemployment rate.
Mayor Smith said ministers Porter and Tudge have promised to meet with Logan community in October about the trial.
“If they’re drug testing us, I’d like to see politicians being drug tested too,” said uncle Noel Summers.
“I wonder how many of them we’d catch.”