17 October 2019






This government is led by a slick salesman. This government wants us to believe that the only thing needed to treat homelessness is to put a positive spin on it and the only way to deal with the drought is to pray for rain, and it wants us to believe that drug testing social security recipients is about getting people out of drug addiction. Well, the Social Services Minister put an end to that and revealed their real motivations when she said that increasing the rate of Newstart would mean that money goes to drug dealers. That's their real motivation around this. It's not about getting people out of addiction. It's not about helping people into work. It is about demonising those who fall on hard times and end up relying on our social security safety net.

I'm probably very unusual in this House for a number of reasons, I would say. One of those reasons is that I'm probably one of the very few members who have actually had to live on Newstart and rely on the social security safety net. Having fled a violent marriage at a very young age with a three-year-old and a one-year-old, I found myself at the Centrelink offices asking for some help because I had no other means of feeding my children and keeping a roof over their heads. I know what it's like. I've felt the sting of humiliation. When people who have been through the same thing come into my office—people who are over the age of 55 and have been retrenched and cannot find another job; women who have fled violent relationships and have nothing; older women; older men; young women; young men; people of all ages who come into my office because they have found themselves on hard times; hardworking, decent, honest Australians who find themselves on hard times and who rely on a social security safety net that this country has prided itself on for so many years—I see in their eyes what I felt all those years ago when I had to walk into that Centrelink office and ask for help myself.

This legislation, the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2019, does not discriminate. It does not discriminate between those who are on drugs, who have a drug addiction or habit, and that single mother who has made the difficult decision to leave a violent husband or partner and walk into that Centrelink office. It doesn't discriminate for that older woman at the age of 60 who's worked for a company for 30 years and then is retrenched who has no other means of living, no other means of putting food on the table for herself or of keeping a roof over her head. It does not discriminate. Everyone will be caught by this. It doesn't matter if that person is meeting all the requirements, it doesn't matter if they don't have any addiction issues and it doesn't matter if they have never used drugs in their life.

The medical experts have pointed out that this simply won't work, because here's the thing: drug addiction is a health issue and it should be treated as a health issue. That's how you get people out of drug addiction, not by randomly testing people and then punishing them if they do have that medical issue. If the government were serious about drug addiction, as they have tried to sell this as, then they'd be investing more money in rehabilitation, not demonising people on social security. Between 200,000 and 500,000 Australians a year can't access the addiction services they need because those services are underfunded and unavailable.

Last term, I was on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement and, this term, I'm the deputy chair of that committee. In the last parliament, we undertook an inquiry into the use of methamphetamine or 'ice'. That inquiry used new data released through new means and new surveys—the new household survey—as well as through waste water testing to show that Western Australia has double the national average use of ice. But here's the thing: that use of ice and methamphetamines in Western Australia was not in Mandurah where this proposal is supposed to start this drug-testing trial. It was not in Mandurah, so it can't be about capturing people or finding people who are drug addicted, as the government is trying to sell this.

Recommendation 11 of that report, that is yet to be actioned by this government, also stated and made special mention of the lack of funding for rehabilitation services, particularly in Western Australia, and that recommendation said that the money that comes out of the federal funding to the National Ice Taskforce and the national ice strategy needs to be redistributed in such a way as to take account of new information and new data about the distribution and use of methamphetamine, particularly paying attention to the fact that Western Australia gets a lower amount of that federal funding because it is based on old data. So WA needs more funding for rehabilitation services, but the government is yet to action recommendation 11 of that report.

Instead of following through on the reports that are done by a parliamentary committee on the use of methamphetamines, the government comes up with an unproven strategy to target welfare recipients under the guise of doing something about drug addiction. We know it's not about drug addiction. We know that this is just part of the government's continued protracted campaign to demonise people who find themselves in hard times and relying on our social security safety net. As I've said before, that includes everyone. That includes people like me who, those many, many years ago now—I admit, it was many years ago—find themselves in a position where they have to walk into that Centrelink office and ask for help.

We know that this doesn't work. It's been tried overseas, it's been tried in New Zealand, it's been tried in the United States and it has proven to be a failure. The important point to be made here is that it's particularly proven to be a failure in the area of treating drug addiction. Once again, the slick salesman who leads this government wants us to believe that this is about helping people who are addicted to drugs. Well, that's rubbish. It is not about helping people who are addicted to drugs. You want to help people who are addicted to drugs? Listen to the medical experts. Listen to the health experts. Look at the evidence from other countries where this has been tried and has failed, particularly in that regard. But do not try to dupe the Australian people and pretend that this is about compassion for people who are addicted to drugs. Do not try and do that, because the Australian people see through it.

Labor are opposing this. We cannot let this pass. We cannot let pass the indiscriminate drug-testing of people, many of whom, as I said before, find themselves fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. We cannot let this government continue to demonise people who are on social security while refusing to raise Newstart, arguing that any raising of Newstart is going to result in more money for drug dealers. I stand here before the House as somebody who has been through this, as somebody who has felt that sting of humiliation. I stand here to speak up for every man, for every woman and for every person out there who right now finds themselves in that position and to say to them: I understand; I know how you feel; and I will, for as long as I'm in this place, speak up for you and continue to oppose the demonisation of you and of anyone else who finds themselves in your position.