Minister Ruston transcript - Drug Testing Legislation - Channel 7, Sunrise

E&OE…

NATALIE BARR:
The Coalition is reviving its plan to drug test welfare recipients. It's pushing to pass legislation next week to begin a two-year drug testing trial. Under the plan, people who tested positive would be placed on income restriction via a cashless debit card.*

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:
If it’s passed, the trial would test 5000 recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance for illicit substances, including ice, ecstasy and marijuana. And Social Services Minister Anne Ruston joins us now live from Melbourne. Minister, good morning.

MINISTER RUSTON:
Good morning.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:
There was a big push for this plan in 2017, then it was shelved. Why is the government pushing to table this next week?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well the Morrison government is absolutely committed to helping people breakdown the barriers, barriers that are stopping them from getting employment. And one of the major barriers that is very evident is that somebody who has a drug addiction or drug problem is not likely to be job ready. So we want to work with these people to get them job ready, to deal with their addiction so that they can get a job.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:
Minister, you had basically every health and community organisation, including doctors - the AMA, against this last time, telling you this won't work. That this is a health problem, that you shouldn't be taking money away from these people. What do you say to that?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well first of all, we're not taking money away from them. No person who's currently or coming onto welfare will receive any less than they would've pre-this trial being undertaken. What we're saying is that instead of giving them access to all of their money in cash, cash which only in many instances is going straight to drug dealers, we're saying let's quarantine some of it and not make it available as cash, so that these people can address their addiction. We're also applying $10 million towards making sure that we've got the appropriate services so if people do identify as having a drug problem, we can help them get over that drug problem by providing them with the appropriate services, support and counselling. So anybody who's saying that this is a reduction in any way of the amount of money that somebody is receiving, is incorrect.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:
Okay. You planning to table this legislation next week. It floundered the first time - Labor and the Greens both opposed it. Do you think they will oppose it again this time?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well look we're hoping that everybody will have a very close look at this and realise that this isn't a punitive measure, this is actually a measure that we're putting in place and offering up to help people who have a problem with drugs, a problem that's stopping them from being able to get into the workforce. So we're very hopeful in discussions with the crossbench, and hopefully the Labor Party will see the sense of this as well, that this is actually about helping people.

NATALIE BARR:
Okay.

SAMANTHA ARMYTAGE:
Minister, thank you very much for your time this morning.

MINISTER RUSTON:
My pleasure.

* Newstart recipients who test positive for drug use under the trial would be placed on income management using the BasicsCard. It would quarantine 80 per cent of their welfare payment on to the card which stops the money being used to buy drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and gambling products.