A FEDERAL Government decision to choose Logan as a site for a national drug testing trial for welfare recipients has missed something crucial – the human element.
That’s the view of Catholics who work on the pastoral and welfare frontline of Queensland’s rapidly-growing city, southeast of Brisbane.
“At a human level, it can be heartless. At a practical level it could be something… but it probably needs more sociological consideration of what happens to people,” St Paul’s, Woodridge, parish priest Fr David Batey said.
“It seems like one more thing that is going to make people who are poor, even poorer.”
Logan Rosies co-ordinator Margaret Harvey said choosing the city for a national drug testing trial site would fuel Logan’s reputation as a drug hub.
“What it’s doing is increasing the stigma,” Ms Harvey said.
“I don’t think it’s (the drug problem) any different in Logan to on the Gold Coast or in Brisbane.
“It’s targeting Logan because it’s a low socioeconomic area.”
Under the welfare drug-testing trial, which is due to start early next year, the Federal Government will drug test 5000 new Centrelink entrants – on Youth Allowance and Newstart – for marijuana, ecstasy and ice.
Anyone who tests positive will be forced on to cashless welfare cards with their payments quarantined, while those who fail more than once will be referred to medical professionals for assessment and treatment.
A $10 million fund has been set up to assist jobseekers in the trial to access treatment.
Logan, Canterbury Bankstown in Sydney, and one other location yet to be announced, will host the trial with Logan expected to provide “more than half” the people to be randomly drug tested, according to Social Services Minister Christian Porter.
The targeting of Logan has infuriated Logan mayor Luke Smith.
While he agreed accountability was needed for those on welfare payments, he criticised the Federal Government picking his city for the trial, and failing to consult with council before announcing it on August 24.
“I certainly have concerns around the stigma a trial like this attaches, especially when across our city crime rates have been trending downwards for the past decade, unemployment is down and our median house prices and university enrolments are up,” Mr Smith said.
“Drugs are a nation-wide problem … but I do think singling out Logan is an interesting choice by the Federal Government, without consultation with the council and the human services sector who are on the ground, day in and day out.”
The Australian Medical Association labelled the singling out of Logan as “mean” and “not evidence based”.
Sydney’s St Vincent Hospital Drug and Alcohol Service clinical director Dr Nadine Ezard said the drug trial could be counterproductive.
“What it can do is actually make people’s social circumstances even more precarious and perhaps tip people into even more dangerous ways of living,” she recently told ABC television’s 7.30.
She has written to the Social Services Minister urging him to reconsider the proposal.
Mr Porter has forged ahead.
Announcing the trial in Logan, he said a national survey of sewerage waste material indicated the Queensland city had a high incidence of drug use.
He said the drug testing trial had two aims – to help people get off drugs and secondly to make them more employable.
Fr Batey questioned whether the trial would hit the mark or cause community division in Logan.
“In the eyes of their own family and the eyes of the local area word will pass around very quickly that someone’s lost their income through drug use,” Fr Batey said.
“And an awful lot of people will say, well so they should, but the inhumanity of it all – someone’s got to provide food for the family and children can’t afford to suffer as they always do because of someone’s malfeasance of getting into drugs.
“And if you do get in to drugs surely education has to start somewhere. If you are going to spend money spend it on education not taking away food from the table.”
The St Vincent de Paul Society has also condemned the Federal Government’s proposal to drug test income support recipients as a punitive, ideologically-driven measure that would demean and marginalise people who were already struggling.
“Drug testing people who receive income support is designed to humiliate and harass people, not help them,” St Vincent de Paul Society National Council chief executive officer Dr John Falzon said.
“We are yet to see a single piece of expert evidence or medical advice to the contrary.”
“Those battling addiction need support services and counselling, not humiliation and poverty.
“The proposed trial will stigmatise those who are relying on social security and drive those with addictions into further poverty.”
The Society said the proposed trial, which was yet to be approved by the Senate, would demonise people on low incomes and do little to address the underlying causes and effects of drug addiction.
“Evidence and experience shows that you can’t punish people who are addicted into recovery, and pushing them further into poverty only undermines the prospects of successful rehabilitation and treatment,” Dr Falzon said.
“You don’t build people up by putting them down.
“You don’t create jobs by punishing people experiencing unemployment and exclusion.
“For those relying on income support, this is an ideological distraction from the real issue, which is lack of decent paid work available.
“This is where the government should be focusing their efforts.”