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Woodridge parish priest says drug testing welfare recipients not practical

Unhappy residents: “The addictions of drugs and alcohol need psychological and social work intervention, not compulsion,” Fr David Batey, priest at St Paul’s parish, Woodridge, in the heart of Logan, said. 

A PARISH priest in Logan, one of the sites proposed to trial drug testing for welfare recipients, says the experiment does not make practical sense.

“The addictions of drugs and alcohol need psychological and social work intervention, not compulsion,” Fr David Batey, priest at St Paul’s parish, Woodridge, in the heart of Logan, said. 

A Senate committee has heard reams of evidence from frontline drug and alcohol abuse support workers warning against the proposal.

And yet, legislation underpinning the Federal Government’s drug testing of Australians on welfare passed the lower house last week and a bill is headed to the Senate.

Government minister Karen Andrews described the proposal as a “unique and innovative approach” to helping people with substance abuse.

The two-year trials would occur in Logan in south-east Queensland, Sydney’s Canterbury-Bankstown area, and Mandurah in Western Australia.

Up to 5000 people on either Newstart or Youth Allowance would have their saliva, urine or hair tested for drugs.

Refusal to co-operate with testing would mean immediate cancellation of welfare payments.

Anyone testing positive to drug use would be immediately placed on income management, meaning they will get the same amount of welfare but 80 per cent of it would be quarantined to pay for food and essential services.

With less discretionary spending, the Government believes it would be harder to pay for drugs.

Anyone failing a drug test twice would be offered drug counselling.

The Government is yet to finalise exactly how the trial would operate, but it is likely the list of drugs being tested for, would include methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine.

With a hands-on pastoral role in Logan, Fr Batey said the Federal Government intervention was already too late.

“Compulsion will not work in Logan, or elsewhere for that matter, when insightless and motivationless drug-dependent individuals are expected to comply,” he said.

“Education from childhood as to the debilitating effects of drug use could start at home, school and their medical doctor’s practice would be a start. 

“It’s too late now for the Federal Government’s intervention.”

 When the Government introduced the drug-test proposal in 2017-18, it said Logan was chosen because statistics pointed to serious and growing drug problems. 

In Logan, the number of welfare recipients seeking exemption from attending job interviews because they were too drug-dependent had increased by 162 per cent in two years, the proportion of drug and alcohol abuse in Logan was higher than the national average; and the five-year trend of incidents linked to drug offences was up 77 per cent.                  

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