Labor to reject drug test bill

James Riley
Editorial Director

The Opposition will vote against the government’s welfare drug testing legislation, leaving the future of the controversial scheme in serious doubt.

A Labor caucus meeting on Monday decided to oppose the government’s plans to drug test 5,000 new welfare recipients in three trial locations from next year.

The proposed scheme raises important and unresolved issues about the use of citizen data and the delivery of government services.

Dark Clouds: The drug testing proposal puts a spotlight on unresolved concerns data usage

“We have carefully listened to the serious concerns of health experts, addiction medicine specialists and community organisations. Health experts and community organisations have said clearly that they oppose the Turnbull government’s ill-conceived drug testing trial,” social services shadow minister Jenny Macklin said in a statement.

“The government has simply been unable to provide any evidence to support the establishment of this trial, nor have they revealed the cost. Drug testing of income support recipients has been tried in several countries and there is no evidence to suggest it is effective.”

With the Greens publicly opposing the idea four months ago, the government will be left to seek the support of the remaining crossbench, with a focus on the Xenophon Team, for the legislation to pass.

Nick Xenophon told news site Buzzfeed yesterday that he was open to considering the drug testing scheme.

“Open to proposal, subject to seeing details and safeguards and of course discussion with colleagues,” Mr Xenophon said.

Labor’s opposition to the bill places further doubt over the CSIRO’s planned involvement with the politically-charged program.

The plan to drug test welfare recipients was the most controversial element of this year’s federal budget.

In the days following the announcement, Social Services Minister Christian Porter seemingly prematurely announced that the CSIRO’s data unit Data61 would be assisting with the development of a “data-driven profiling tool” to select the three trial locations.

But months after this announcement, the CSIRO is still yet to officially sign the contract on the deal, revealed last week.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showed that the CSIRO received the full contract more than two months ago, but is still yet to sign it. Most of the correspondence and contract was redacted, meaning the organisation’s role in the scheme is still hidden from the public.

The CSIRO was sent the contract for a “prediction system” from the Department of Social Services on May 23.

While the contract is still yet to be signed, the government has confirmed that Data61 has conducted “preliminary technical analysis” of de-identified data provided by the department to help “determine the design of the full project”.


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