This is the first of a weekly blog about Parliamentary Business. This week: Social Security Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill, Senate Committee Inquiry and a Petition against Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients.
Every week, I will discuss selected Bills, Petitions and Committee Inquiries. Where appropriate, I will discuss Matters of Public Importance raised in Parliament. Through this weekly blog, I also hope to create awareness about the APH website and encourage active interaction.
Please note: this section is a discussion, therefore it is from my own point of view. Please read the official Explanatory Note because this will explain the information as tabled.
It appears the Government’s aim is to punish as many welfare recipients as possible. Even those with a reasonable excuse.
The bereaved, widowed and incapacitated due to illness are all now “Jobseekers” under this Bill.
Even those genuinely incapacitated will need to participate in jobsearch.
These individuals will be scooped up into the same nauseating bucket the Liberals carry around at their sides filled with condemnation and labelled “Bludgers.”
Since at least the 1990’s Governments have changed access to the Widow’s pension and Wife’s pension. These pensions are primarily the domain of women, because they are now unable to rely on a husband’s income due to his illness or death. This is another move to completely cancel these payments. Hence, my view is that they should be revisited and reinstated – not abolished
These recipients, mainly women, are not bludgers. They are often active in family life and the community. Individual case managers should support Mature-Aged jobseekers in a voluntary program. A 20-year-old at a counter telling them that they haven’t done enough, should not exist. They should not live in fear they will be ‘cut off’ because they are the mercy of the system.
Mature-aged jobseekers are currently able to participate in voluntary work. This will no longer be the case. Are the Liberals suspicious this is a ‘loophole’ to avoid paid work? That is how The explanatory note reads to me. The vile deep bucket labelled “Bludgers” now includes volunteers.
The Liberal Party does not value the contribution of volunteers (particularly women). Many mature aged women and men, who have not worked, would have a history of active participation in the community and schools. In addition, they often perform caring duties for grandchildren, because formal childcare is difficult to access and punishment is ludicrous, because this is a valuable contribution to society.
Mature Aged Jobseekers, seek employment, often because of illness, death and/or bereavement of a loved one and therefore should participate in voluntary jobsearch. Jobsearch can have an emotional toll on a mature aged individual, therefore, specialised case managers who understand this demographic need to support this group.This is because the sudden requirement for jobsearch can be a shock and furthermore is a huge disruption to their regular routine.
The nature and extent of jobseeker compliance is harsher in terms of punishment and wider in the scope of recipients it is proposed to encompass.
I would describe the widening and intensity of financial penalties as ‘welfare punishment creep.’
This term describes the growing number of welfare recipients financial penalties apply to and the increasing lack of consideration and reasoning for which penalties are applied.
This new Bill recommends a financial penalty to all jobseekers, with no consideration for a reasonable excuse, it appears.
This Bill proposes:
This section in the explanatory memorandum reads as if the Liberal Party has the assumption that ‘every welfare recipient is trying to rip off the system, and they will find any excuse to get out of working‘. Do the Liberals see all welfare recipients as underhanded and dishonest? Did you really think they would stop at cheezel eating X-Box players?
Welfare recipients are required to agree with participation in drug testing:
The Government is implementing these drug trials under the premise that drug tests will show that jobseekers are not willing and able to participate in jobsearch.
A one off drug test may not show any indication of long-term or chronic drug use. Drug tests may not indicate the individual is unable to participate in jobsearch. In addition, as different tests test within the limitation of different time frames, this will not always ensure natural justice.
Urinary Drug Testing
This picks up drugs in a person’s system 3-4 days prior. This does not indicate chronic drug use or the inability to jobsearch or indicate impairment to work.
This will only show drugs used at least four weeks prior.
This means that not only are the most recent three to four weeks invisible, but so too are drugs used prior to the growing time of the hair tested. This approach approximately samples from a month prior to hair collection back as far as four months prior to hair collection depending on the length of the hair sample.
This means that a jobseeker is penalised, even if they are in a period of cessation.
..if the cessation of drug use does not extend back to further than four months prior to sample collection, the subject may argue that any drug found reflects use prior to the time of cessation
The other concern is that chronic drug users will simply shift to drugs because they are not detected in hair testing or urine testing. Especially relevant is one such drug is GBH (liquid ecstasy).
GBH is the drug that saw 21 people hospitalised earlier this year.
Testing requires rigorous standards. Otherwise, contamination can occur. The NATA information paper also indicates that false negatives and false positives can occur.
It is vital that welfare recipients experience compassion and fairness
Another concern is jobseekers who are on psychiatric medication can return a false positive (see linked article above). Statistics also show that many individuals who are drug dependent have a comorbidity of mental illness.
The Australian Government’s own Department of Health and Aging reports that:
Comorbidity or the co-occurrence of mental disorders and substance use disorders is common.
The DMS-5 classifies Drug and Alcohol Abuse as a disorder.
“substance use disorder describes a problematic pattern of using alcohol or another substance that results in impairment in daily life or noticeable distress.”
Therefore, individuals are at greater risk if they have a psychiatric disorder, with a co-morbidity of drug addiction, or have a substance abuse disorder.
In addition, it is this specific group who are most likely to not have the self-efficacy to use the complaints system.
Fairness is an issue. When we are dealing with the most vulnerable in society, this is a major concern.
If the Government is concerned about substance abuse, they should invest in prevention and support services and not punitive welfare.
Please see the petition below and sign it!
These types of measures of consolidating payments is in line with the approach of the UK Conservative Party. This was largely rejected by the Social Welfare Sector in the UK.
The Sickness that is the UK Conservative Party is on display right now. That is thanks to Jeremy Corbyn. No credit to the former UKLabour party given. Do we really want to vote for a Government that follows suit? We are the country of the fair go. Not a country of abject poverty.
The Social Security Amendment (Welfare Reform) Bill has concluded it’s second reading and is now referred to the Senate Standing Committees on Community Affairs. This committee covers Health, Social Services and Human Services.
Individuals and organisations can submit their opinions or proposals to the committee for consideration. Here is the information on how to write and submit a submission.
Submissions should be received by 4 August 2017. The reporting date is 4 September 2017.
There is not a lot of time to participate in feedback on this Bill, therefore, if you are against these changes, I would encourage you to write a submission as a direct protest.
Signing change.org petitions and sharing memes have their purpose; however, a submission is a direct voice to the Committee considering the Bill.
Many people regularly sign online petitions using platforms such as change.org, however, I would like to raise awareness that there are always petitions online in Federal and State Parliaments.
In fact, The House can only accept e-petitions that have been submitted via its e-petitions website. Signatures from other electronic or paper petitions cannot be added to your petition.
The petitions page is worth bookmarking. Submitting petitions to parliament (State and Federal) and supporting official petitions submitted to Parliament is also critical in the stand against an issue.
To support a Petition: Click on the Petition Link. Complete your details, tick the terms and conditions box, go to your email and confirm your signature.
Standing up for progress – Achievement Unlocked!
To the Hon. Speaker of the House of Representatives and Members of the House of Representatives
Certain citizens of Australia
The petitioners request that the House reject the Government’s proposed trial of drug testing for welfare recipients.
The petitioners request that the House reject the Government’s proposed trial of drug testing for welfare recipients. The suggested “random” selection of subjects by profiling people thought to be high risk will lead to discriminatory selection, while income quarantine and compulsory treatment are ineffective measures that will further marginalise the vulnerable. Rather than supporting people into employment, this will force those with substance abuse problems to disengage with the system and seek other means to support themselves. This reflects the experience of other jurisdictions, where mandatory testing has proven expensive and ineffective. Such resources would be better targeted towards supporting our overburdened treatment sector, as metropolitan and regional service providers continue to be understaffed and underfunded.
We ask that the House reject the Government’s proposed trial, preventing the invasive and stigmatising practice of mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients.
I hope you enjoyed this first weekly review of Parliamentary Business. Until next week….
This is a follow on from my previous blog post Drug Testing and the LNP’s ongoing stigmatization of the poor. After quite a large ongoing debate on Twitter and in comments yesterday, I wanted to clarify some points.
Here is the link to the news story relating to the previous blog post. Now we have mandatory drug testing being flagged for people in receipt of unemployment benefits. For those who haven’t caught up yet.
There were many comments following my last blog post, including quite a debate on Twitter. I am writing to clarify some comments and also the reason I have concerns with this move by the Government.
To answer some of the questions – Have I been drug tested? Who cares? No one’s business. What is my personal experience with drugs? Who cares? No one’s business. Why are you “Pro-Drugs?” Um… I’m not.
I have found these Questions on twitter and in comments a bit weird. I’ve copped some odd questions in the past 24 hours, from those who support the drug testing of recipients of unemployment benefits.
Amongst other reasons, my passion for writing this story comes from two incidents when I worked in recruitment years ago. As we know many sites do pre-employment drug testing. There were a few times where people failed and they gave heads up prior to the test. When you do work in recruitment, you learn not to judge people as the most unlikely stereotypes have come back with a negative screen. This is what the Government is trying to do. Maintain a discourse and public perception of stereotypes – negative stereotypes.
Two incidents remain with me. One was a young lad who was on injections for a psych disability. He was well managed and was already working and was looking for a better job. He was a suitable applicant and the employer liked him and asked for the pre-employment testing to be done. He said he had trouble before with tests and had a letter from the hospital. He came back positive for three drugs (one was not THC, which is the most common negative screen). I remember one was amphetamines. The employer refused to take him (although he did have a letter) and the biggest one of all was the tester at the lab (the head tester, as I’d asked to go to the top) specified there was no way of knowing if he was on illicit drugs as well as injections and medications for psych illness. So no support from the lab to give to the employer. The employer said, even if he could, it would never get through head office. He was not hired. He left dejected, but understood as he was already used to misconceptions about who he was and had already experienced this before.
The other incident was another person who returned positive for THC (marijuana) . He and his wife were in tears insisting they were good people and had never ever taken any drugs. They were visibly shocked. He said that the night before he had gone to a club and his friends were smoking in the toilets. He said he was not. He said he didn’t even have a drink as he was designated driver (there was a lot of anxiety going on at this time – as I said he was nearly in tears, his wife was in tears). Once again the employer wouldn’t take him. Once again, I approached the tester and once again the head tester and they said passive intake is like a million to one. Highly unlikely. I approached my manager. She told me not to be so naive and had a laugh. I had a gut feeling this man was telling the truth, but my hands were tied. I convinced the employer to allow him to take a follow up test. I think it was the next day or the day after, he come back with a negative screen and got the job. He was there for longer than I was at the recruitment company and feedback was always good. (I also followed up and asked my own doctor about this and my doctor did not agree with the lab tester and said that passive inhalation for a positive screen can occur.)
The reason why I am passionate about this, as I have worked across all types of recruitment, private labour hire, Government Job Search and disability employment. I have worked with all different types of employers and all different types of job seekers, and I have seen inequity and unfairness in recruitment & selection, including drug testing. As you can see in both examples given, the testers only look at the screen and don’t support any other reasoning for why. It doesn’t measure frequency. THC can show up for up to two weeks to a month for regular user of marijuana. People will have their income revoked if the same thing happens to them. People will have their income revoked, even if they didn’t purchase said drug, but participated in a ‘recreational’ or ‘experimental’ activity for the first time. They will have a record as a ‘drug addict’
My previous blog post isn’t about drugs. My blog post is about the Government setting down rules that are ideal to them of what is good behaviour and deviant behaviour from their viewpoint.
For those that missed the message of my previous blog post, let me clarify:
For those who say false positives hardly ever happen. This is why my previous blog post, addresses false positives. They may not happen every time, but there is an abundance of research in this area to support that they do happen. My two examples show that false positives affect real people, affecting real lives. In one town, in Australia, over a period of six months. Imagine this occurring on a wider scale.
We can clearly see from this agenda is that there is a risk of innocent people being taken off income, unfairly. We can see that there will be people stigmatized through this testing. We can see that there will be people who do not have the self efficacy to use the complaints process (example 1) and some that do (example 2). We can see that the person who did not have the self efficacy to use the complaints process had a co-morbidity of mental illness. There will be people without a co-morbidity of a mental illness, who also will not have the self efficacy to use the complaints process. Especially those who have had negative experiences in the past with raising complaints and some who feel it is too complicated or may be fearful it may hurt them in the future.
For those that say that “most people I know on welfare are on drugs” or “They sell drugs outside centrelink.” There are also many who do not take drugs and need benefits to survive. There may be drug dealers outside your centrelink, but I haven’t heard of that in my town. However, I was approached in the laundromat once. Maybe people who need to wash their king sized doona at the laundromat are all drug users….not!
Australian statistics show that of illicit drug users 24% cite unemployed as their labour force status. 76% of drug users take up the other labour force status groups. More interesting is the stats on socio economic status, which have for the most recent illicit drug users is 15% average across all groups. This clearly states that the highest socio economic status has exactly the same use experience as those in the lowest and middle socio economic groups. So for those already convinced that nearly all those on welfare are all on drugs. The facts do not support your delusions.
The biggest frustration I have found in the last 24 hours within this debate, was that ‘people are off Tony’, ‘the Liberals are on the nose’ but so many still do not get what this party is about. They still do not ‘get’ the agenda of this Government.
Things I predict we can look forward to, if this gets through:
and most importantly
Before you think this is just about controlling drug use for people on welfare, or to stop people on welfare wasting tax payer dollars; please consider the above points as part of a whole agenda.
That is it from me, but feel free to add any more. I hope this clarifies that I am not ‘Pro-Drugs’ I am “Anti-Stigmatization” “Anti-Neo-Liberalism” and “Pro-Fairness” and “Pro-Support”.
The message that the Abbott Government is sending Australians and the world, is that Australian people in receipt of welfare are lazy, drug addled parasitic bludgers who have the only aim in life of ripping off the tax payer. The constant use of ‘welfare recipient’ and ‘unemployed’ rather than the use of the positive ‘job seeker’; the punitive measures such as cancelling of benefits as a prime punishment; forced labour not supported by workplace health and safety protections, nor minimum wage all serve to create a negative stereotype of welfare recipients. Now we have mandatory drug testing being flagged for people in receipt of unemployment benefits.
Mandatory drug testing was flagged whilst LNP were in opposition, particularly pushed by the born to rule, privileged class of the Young Liberals. The group who have the highest likelihood of being able to be supported by their parents as unemployed adults; being afforded the privilege of gaining employment with their parents or their parents friends and being afforded the privilege access to many other social benefits, such as never going hungry and never being homeless.
The underlying argument for drug testing of welfare recipients, is that people on welfare are drug takers and associate with drug addled groups of friends and they should not use tax payers money to do so. The fact is, people across all levels of society can take drugs, so if the Government was so concerned about the use of tax payers money to purchase illegal substances then the following groups should also be tested.
If the concern is about drugs and not about stigmatising welfare; then testing of these groups can be supported by studies in the United States indicate that rates of drug and alcohol problems in welfare recipients were no greater than the general population, or non-recipients of welfare.
Some of the answers against testing all of these groups, would be the cost to the tax payer. However, so does the drug testing of welfare recipients. In fact, studies show that of States in the USA who have drug tested welfare recipients, only a very small percentage showed positive, as compared to the general population. This will be a counter productive exercise which will in fact cost the tax payer a lot more than any recouping of welfare dollars.
The only real answer against testing the above groups, is that they do not make the list of groups that the Abbott Government has an agenda to stigmatize.
One of the biggest concerns cited within the literature surrounding random workplace drug testing, is that of a false positive. A false positive is where the drug test shows a positive result, but the recipient of the test is not an active user of illicit drugs. The other concern within the literature is unfair dismissal, where it is too difficult to determine the length of time a drug has been in a person’s system and there is no measure of impairment and the result would not impact on the safety of the tasks performed.
Another concern, is that there is no way of detecting how it was administered. This includes being in the same vicinity of someone engaged in the smoking of cannabis (passive inhalation) or the biggest concern, pharmaceutical and prescribed medications and the ingestion of some foods.
To put this list quite simply – the following common substances can return a false positive:
This is quite a complex area and I have tried to be as brief as possible to hold the readers attention.
I would urge everyone who is concerned with this, to push this to the wider media and also to politicians to seek answers on this new “Government Initiative of Stigmatising the Poor.”