A small group of Federal Liberal ministers have come up with the idea that people who are addicted to drugs can be punished into recovery. After years of trying, they have managed to get their agenda into draft legislation, and unless we stop it, it will become law.
You probably heard about the drug testing trial for welfare recipients, and that’s part of it. They also want to make it harder for an even larger group of people with substance use disorders to stay on welfare. The result will be that people who are already disadvantaged will get pushed further into poverty.
There’s probably no changing the government’s mind at this point, but we can get their legislation defeated in the Senate. The first step is to get Labor to oppose it. (The Greens are already there.)
On Monday August 7, Labor MPs will be getting together to discuss their position. There’s no doubt plenty of Labor MPs know this legislation is a terrible idea. But it’s likely that they will go with ‘community sentiment’, and right now they haven’t heard enough from people who oppose the legislation.
They need to hear from you!
Call your MP Monday morning to tell them that they shouldn’t back the Liberal’s agenda. Their cruel and chaotic plans were developed without consulting anyone with actual expertise in helping people overcome addictions.
Maximise your impact by sending an email now and following up with a phone call on Monday morning. What a great way to start the week! Let’s get those phones ringing off the hook.
If your local MP is from the Labor party, call or email their office direct. You can check what party your local MP is from and find their contact details here: http://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Members
If your local MP is from another party, call or email Labor leader Bill Shorten. His email is Bill.Shorten.MP@aph.gov.au and his Parliament House office phone number is (02) 6277 4022
It’s best if you use your own words when you call or email, and focus on making a few clear points. To get you going, there’s a quick explainer on what this group of Liberal ministers is trying to get through, and why it’s a terrible idea.
What are the government’s proposed changes?
There are three proposed changes to the Social Security Act that will impact people trying to rebuild their lives in the face of alcohol and drug problems. All three measures are based on the false premise that people can be coerced or punished into recovery.
Establishment of a two-year mandatory drug testing trial: Anyone enrolling for Newstart Allowance and jobseekers enrolling for Youth Allowance will be forced to agree to undergo drug testing as a condition of payment. 5,000 people in three selected regions of Australia will then be summoned to Centrelink offices and forced to take a drug test. Anyone who did not agree to be tested would have their income support payments cancelled immediately.
Removal of exemptions for drug or alcohol dependence: Currently, the government provides income support payments to people unable to apply for jobs or do training or study due to their status as someone suffering from severe alcohol or drug dependency. Under changes to the Welfare Reform Bill, the government would cut income support for people with alcohol or other drug dependencies unless they are able to meet prohibitive compliance requirements. The government would also cut support to people incapacitated by sickness or an accident caused by alcohol or other drug issues.
Changes to reasonable excuses: People who fail to comply with government requirements due to their status as someone suffering from alcohol or drug dependency would be offered treatment. If they refuse treatment, and did not comply with government requirements a second time, the government would suspend their income support.
What does the evidence say?
A wealth of scientific evidence and clinical experience has proved that people suffering from severe alcohol and drug problems cannot be punished into recovery. Pushing people into poverty will only undermine their chance of recovery.
Mandatory drug testing has already been trialled and abandoned in multiple countries around the world – including New Zealand, the UK and some states in the USA. These trials have found that the process is costly, counterproductive and inflicts harm on people who are already suffering.
The government failed to consult with addiction medicine specialists over the policies. They have not been given the chance to share their concerns and expertise.
Alcohol and drug issues are a serious healthcare problem – not an indication of some sort of personal failing. The policies put forward in the 2017 Budget fail to recognise this fact.
If this government genuinely wants to help people struggling with drug and alcohol problems, Parliament should redirect public funding away from harmful, expensive drug testing trials and expand referral pathways to treatment services.