Welfare drug testing will push vulnerable further from help: Mayor

Crime and desperation could be the unintended fallout of mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients, Eurobodalla Mayor Liz Innes fears.

Mayor Liz Innes.

Mayor Liz Innes.

Councillor Innes fears the tough measure announced in the May 9 Federal Budget could drive vulnerable people underground, further from desperately needed help.

“I was really distressed the other night to hear in our Federal Budget that we are looking at implementing drug testing for welfare recipients,” Councillor Innes told a Batemans Bay Country Women’s Association mental health forum on May 12.

Five thousand people claiming Newstart and Youth Allowance would be tested in a trial from January 2018. Those returning a positive test would have their payments quarantined (limiting how they spent allowances).

Cr Innes said the policy might sound sensible, but was “hardhearted” and likely to be counter productive.

“I am really, really concerned,” she told the forum in an emotional address.

“It might, on the surface, seem like a really popular thing to do, to say to these people, ‘well, you want our tax dollars, you are going to have to put yourself up and have these tests’.

“Okay, that is fine, go down that path, if that is how hardhearted you want to be with these people.”

Cr Innes said many families knew the heartbreak mental illness and addiction could cause.

She feared the tough policy would drive vulnerable people further from help.

“They are disconnected and isolated from family and loved ones and health workers,” she said.

“So, they are out there on there own; what do they do?

“Do they resort to stealing?

“How do they survive?”

She urged the Turnbull Government to reconsider and asked for the CWA’s support.

 “I urge the federal government to rethink its policy on this,” Cr Innes said.

“Organisations such as the CWA ladies, with your wonderful standing in our community as leaders, can really try and help us to say, ‘please, rethink what you do’.”

“The ramifications of that type of policy are far more devastating than just a quick fix that might make us feel good that these people with drug addictions are not spending our tax dollars on drugs, but - believe me – it is a better outcome than leaving them out on their own.”

Cr Innes urged everyone not “to be hard on each other”.

“We all have times when we struggle with what is in our bucket,” she said.

“If you are struggling with mental health issues … be kind to yourselves, don’t beat yourselves up, be gentle.

“You don’t need to be tough, you don’t need to be hard on each other.

“We are never going to get anywhere if we judge each other and ourselves harshly.”