The trials would be rolled out in Logan, south of Brisbane, Canterbury Bankstown in Sydney’s south-west and Mandurah, south of Perth. A $10 million fund would boost drug treatment capacity in trial sites so job seekers who tested positive could access case management services.
The measures were previously opposed by Labor and the Greens, with the government expected to need four of the six crossbench senators to pass the bill.
One Nation’s two senators and South Australian independent senator Cory Bernardi have previously supported the measures but Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie said she would back the trial only if all federal MPs were also prepared to be drug tested at work.
The government will dump its previous plan to charge job seekers who returned a positive drug test after concerns it would act as a punitive measure for those engaging with treatment.
The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found unemployed people were 3.1 times more likely to use methamphetamines and 1.5 times more likely to use cannabis than the employed.
Federal Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said the measure was not about punishing people but identifying people who needed help.
She said the trials would identify and encourage people with substance abuse issues to get treatment and rehabilitation and become job ready.
“This trial will assess the use of drug testing as a means of identifying job seekers with substance abuse issues that may be preventing them from finding a job, and support them to address these barriers,” Senator Ruston said.
“Taxpayers expect the government to ensure their money is being spent responsibly and that welfare recipients are using it to put food on the table, send the kids to schools and pay the bills rather than on drugs.”
Under the plan, welfare recipients who tested positive would be placed on income management for the duration of the trial, with a second test scheduled within 25 working days of a positive result.
If a welfare recipient tested positive for a second time, they would be referred to a medical professional for treatment options, potentially requiring them to enter ongoing treatment for substance abuse as part of their job plan.
ACOSS has previously argued drug testing welfare participants was “an extraordinary and alarming departure” from the key aim of the social security system, which was to provide a safety net for people in need.
The Australian National Council on Drugs has previously found there was no evidence that drug testing welfare beneficiaries would have any positive effect for those individuals or society.
“In addition, there would be serious ethical and legal problems in implementing such a program in Australia. Drug testing welfare beneficiaries ought not be considered,” its 2013 report said.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra