Lambie puts spanner in drug test works

Lambie puts spanner in drug test works

Rosie Lewis — The Australian — Tuesday 10 September

The Morrison government is vowing to pump $3 million into drug and alcohol treatment services in areas where welfare recipients would be randomly drug-tested under proposed trials, as independent senator Jacqui Lambie hardens her opposition to the reform.

A day after declaring she would be “happy” to support the drug-test trials, Senator Lambie said she would not even consider voting for the legislation until rehabilitation services were up and running.

“I’ve always said there needs to be more services out there and the services aren’t there, it’s as simple as that,” Senator Lambie said.

“I’m happy to support the drug-test trials when those services are in place, and that’s not going to happen.”

In another blow to the government’s agenda, the key crossbench senator also rejected Attorney-General Christian Porter’s draft religious discrimination act, saying state laws in Tasmania were working pretty well and there were more important issues such as homelessness to address.

Senator Lambie’s vote could be crucial to the fate of both bills, with the government needing to win over four of six Senate crossbenchers to pass legislation if it does not have the support of Labor or the Greens.

The government wants to drug test one-in-three people on working-age welfare payments in Logan, Mandurah and Bankstown from April 1 for two years. The legislation to set up the trials will be introduced to the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

One Nation and Centre Alliance are still firming up their ­positions on the drug tests.

Senator Lambie has also tied her support to parliamentarians and public servants submitting to drug tests, which most politicians from Scott Morrison down have said they are open to.

Social Services Minister Ann Ruston has promised a $10m treatment fund, with $6m paying for the treatment of those who twice fail the drug tests, $1m supporting their case management and $3m going to bolstering the capacity of services in the trial sites.

Liberal senator James Paterson said the tests were not about making moral judgments but getting people the support they needed to get off drugs.

“You can’t find gainful employment if you’ve got substance abuse problems and people need help. The second thing to point out is this is just a trial. It will apply to 5000 people in three different locations,” he told ABC TV.

“It’s really important that we do test and trial things like this. There’s good reason to believe it will be successful but let’s find out.”

Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said the largest group of people on Newstart was aged over 55 as he resisted the drug tests.

“Are we seriously saying that we are going to have a situation where we take a whole series of individuals who are desperately looking for work, trying to get themselves back into the workforce but in many ways have had the deck stacked against them, and we’re going to them to urinate into a cup, have their hair plucked or get them to spit into a jar?” Mr Burke told ABC TV.

The government will on Wednesday also introduce into the House of Representatives its bill to extend the cashless welfare card to the Northern Territory and Cape York and plans to have it and the random drug testing legislation through the lower house this sitting fortnight.

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