Minister Ruston transcript - Drug Testing Legislation, Cashless Debit Card - 891 ABC Adelaide

E&OE…

ALI CLARKE:
But now we are joined by Senator Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services, and Manager of the Government Business in the Senate. Good morning.

MINISTER RUSTON:
Good morning.

DAVID BEVAN:
Can you explain, Minister, your proposals to drug test welfare recipients?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Okay. What the proposal is a small trial in three sites around Australia where we are going to test over the period of two years 5000 new recipients, or people who are applying for Newstart or Youth Allowance (other), to test them to identify whether people actually do have substance abuse issues. And if say, we do find after subsequent positive tests that they are continuing to use illegal substances, we want to give them the help that they need to deal with that addiction.

DAVID BEVAN:
Will their welfare benefits be cut if it's discovered they have drugs in their system?

MINISTER RUSTON:
No they won't be. In fact, not one cent will be taken from their welfare payments if they're identified or test positive to either the first test or the second test. If they identify positive on the first test, we will seek to quarantine 80 per cent of their welfare payments so that they can only access it for things - well, they can't access it for cash. So they won't be able to use it to buy alcohol, and they won't be able to get cash because we know that the currency of drug dealers is cash. But they will be able to use their card for all intents and purposes the same way that you or I would use a debit or credit card.

ALI CLARKE:
If an addict, someone who's addicted to this stuff , can't get the money, I mean, I don't know. Do you see an increase in crime as a possibility?

MINISTER RUSTON:
One of the concerns that was expressed when we rolled out the cashless debit trial in Queensland, in Hervey Bay and Bundaberg was that there was, they were bracing themselves because they thought they might get an incidence of the kind of crimes that would be related with people, you know, breaking, you know, stealing to get money or access to be able to get their drugs. In fact, the opposite was the case. The early signs in discussions with the police and services in that area are saying that they had seen no increase in that kind of crime. They'd seen no increase in crime. In fact, they're suggesting that they may actually even be a decrease. So we're reasonably confident from early signs that that's not going to be the case, but importantly, we're making sure that we're providing all of the services or the finance to be able to support all of the services so that somebody who is identified as having a problem, that we'll be able to give them the services and the help that they need.

DAVID BEVAN:
Now it's not hard to find people criticising this project in the media by saying, look, we haven't got enough services for the drug addicts who are coming forward and saying I've got a problem and now you're going to be testing people to see if they're taking drugs. Are you going to commit more services, more money to services for the people who are identified with drug problems?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Yes. Yes, we are, we've dedicated a particular sum of money, which we believe is more than adequate. But obviously, we hope we don't see a lot of people come out of this trial. But we've made sure that if we do see a significant increase in the number of people who have identified as having substance abuse issues that we need to work with, we've put aside money for three things. One, to make sure that we support the individual, because every case will be different and will require a different level of assistance and support. We've also put aside an amount of money so that the services within the trial areas that currently exist will be able to increase their capacity to be able to meet any increase in demand that gets identified by this process. And thirdly, we've got another sort of bucket of money that we've put aside that if we do actually receive a significantly higher number of people than we were expecting, and the services within these areas are not adequate, that we will be able to bring in new services, including training new people to make sure that we are meeting the demand.

ALI CLARKE:
How often will people be tested, Anne Ruston?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Initially, there will be a random sample of 5000 in these particular areas of people who are applying for Newstart or Youth Allowance. So they'll be tested once; anybody who's tested on the first occasion who comes up with a positive test will then be required over the subsequent 25 days to take a second test to see whether they, because obviously there's a difference between somebody who may be a very rare recreational user that's got caught up in this, as opposed to somebody who has got an entrenched long term problem with an addiction to something like ice. So there are two, it's a two test trial, and obviously, we want it over a period of two years so we can actually base it against the control group to see whether we are actually making a difference in the lives of these people.

ALI CLARKE:
So in this, are you saying the Government has an understanding that there is a difference and people can take drugs and it not be a problem for them, as opposed to addicts who it seems that you are testing, or you are targeting?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Not at all. We don't think that anybody should be taking an illegal substance because we understand it has a significant impact on their capacity to be able to function, and obviously get a job, which is very, very important to their health and well-being. But what we are saying is that hopefully people who maybe just meddling around the edges of taking drugs, that this might give them a bit of a wakeup call to say this really isn't a smart thing to be doing and hopefully prevent them from going forward and taking more drugs and creating it into a long term problem. So, particularly because we think that many of the people we'll be testing will be younger people, because of course we are only testing those that are coming, making application to come onto Newstart or Youth Allowance, we're hoping that we can get people that might be heading off down the path of drug addiction and stop it before it starts.

DAVID BEVAN:
We're talking to Anne Ruston, South Australian Federal MP. She's the Minister for Families and Social Services, very much doing the heavy lifting for the Prime Minister on this issue of welfare reform. And if you've just joined us, what we're talking about is drug testing people who are applying for Newstart, applying for welfare. How much drug would you have to have in your system to trigger this new arrangement? Would it be any trace of marijuana or any other drug?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well the process that we will be using to test is the same process that is currently being used in the workforce in many industries that already use drug testing. As we already know, that you know, the military, transport, aviation, many heavy manufacturing, the mining industry, and I mean even some government agencies currently test their people in the workplace for drugs. So we will be seeking to have our drug testing meet Australian standards and so it'll be in accordance with normal practice for drug testing in the workplace.

DAVID BEVAN:
Is this being driven by a simple belief that taxpayers don't want to fund drug taking?

MINISTER RUSTON:
No, not at all. I mean, I think you're right. I think taxpayers do have a view about spending the money that they pay in their taxes to and having people use it and spend it on drugs and alcohol. But that's not the purpose behind this. The main purpose behind this is that we believe that if somebody has a substance abuse or a drug addiction they are very, very likely not to be able to be ready to be able to take on a job. And we want to make sure that we get anybody and everybody job ready, because the most important thing we can do for the Australian community, the Australian economy, and the individual is to make sure that people are ready to have a job so we can get them into work.

DAVID BEVAN:
Can you point to anywhere in the world where this is been introduced and it's been effective?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well certainly there is, there have been trials done elsewhere in the world, but one of the things that we do need to realise in Australia is we have a particular type of system, we have a very comprehensive welfare system where people, anybody who is, requires welfare is able to access it. So we have a completely different system than other systems in the world. But what we are particularly keen to do, and this is quite a small trial, is to trial this and see whether it works, because at the moment we've got lots of people making commentary around whether it's going to work or whether it's not going to work, but we actually haven't trialled it to see whether the real, on the ground, real-life evidence points towards success or otherwise.

DAVID BEVAN:
So can you point to anywhere in the world which is comparable to the Australian welfare system where they have tried something like this?

MINISTER RUSTON:
There is really nowhere in the world that's got a comparable welfare system to Australia.

DAVID BEVAN:
What, really? What, nowhere in the world pays welfare like we do?

MINISTER RUSTON:
No. Australian welfare system is actually quite unique in the sense that anybody and everybody can get access to it. Many places that, other places in the world that have got welfare systems, they're working on insurance type activities. You know, they're by employers…

DAVID BEVAN:
What, are you saying Scandinavian countries, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, none of those countries have anything like our welfare system?

MINISTER RUSTON:
I said they don't have the same or comparable welfare systems. No they don't.

DAVID BEVAN:
Okay. Well, you're the minister.

ALI CLARKE:
Is though, if we're talking about welfare, and as you mentioned a couple of times everybody can get welfare if they need it in this country, is this entire drug testing welfare recipients just a distraction by the government from the fact that Newstart is just too low?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Look, not at all. This particular measure has been, we have been trying to convince the crossbench and the Labor Party of the value of assisting people with drug addiction through this measure for two or three years now. So this is not something new, not something that's been put on the table in the last little while. But we absolutely are committed to helping people through barriers to employment and this is one of them. Drug addiction is one of them, and we will continue to work and to put our case forward because we actually believe that this is in the best interests of Australians who currently are struggling with this particular barrier to employment and that is drug addiction. And we will continue to try and put our case forward in the hope that eventually people will see that there is an absolute benefit to people getting off drugs. And we want to trial this particular measure to see if it works.

DAVID BEVAN:
Will it be trialled in South Australia?

MINISTER RUSTON:
At the moment the three trial sites is in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. We actually have a trial site for the Cashless Debit Card in South Australia, as you'd be well aware of, over in Ceduna way. But once we had the opportunity to test this, hopefully we'll get it through the Parliament there - if it works, then of course we'd be open to talking to South Australian communities about it.

DAVID BEVAN:
Now Minister, before you leave us, as an SA MP how do you read efforts by Western Australia to take the major submarine maintenance work?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well, I haven't seen anything at all to suggest that there's been any change in the allocation of activities in relation to shipbuilding in South Australia. So unless you've seen something that I haven't seen…

DAVID BEVAN:
Well the, well the WA press are reporting today that Scott Morrison has been warned there will be political pain if WA doesn't get a fair go. And I'm not sure what a fair go is code for, but WA federal MPs are being urged by their state government to lobby over this issue and lobby intensively coming up to Christmas.

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well, it will be interesting given that the Western Australian Government is a Labor government, it will be interesting to see what they've been saying to their South Australian Labor colleagues that are over here about what they should be doing in South Australia. But you know you heard earlier from Steven Marshall, you know, South Australia fought very hard to get the funding and the allocation of this major shipbuilding investment via the federal government. Now, South Australia is the home of shipbuilding. I see no reason why it will not remain the home of shipbuilding going forward. But as I said, I have heard nothing to suggest that any decision has been made to move anything from South Australia to anywhere else. So that's my understanding of the situation as I see it here today.

ALI CLARKE:
So from you, steady as she goes? So you're not sending similar warnings to Scott Morrison that if it does move to WA there'll be political pain from here?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well, I can assure you I'm a Senator for South Australia first and foremost and I will be sticking up for South Australia on whatever issue I needed to stick up for South Australia.

DAVID BEVAN:
Alright, and as a Riverland resident are you bracing for a shocking summer along the Murray Darling?

MINISTER RUSTON:
Well look, you know, the tragedy that we've seen unfold in the northern part of Australia which is impacting the southern part of Australia, obviously, with the kind of storages in the northern basin, many of them are empty. You know, we have a tough time and our farmers out there are doing it really tough, and some parts of South Australia are in drought as well. But I suppose the good news for South Australia and my community up in the Riverland is that we have a 74 per cent allocation already on our irrigation water. I mean, the good management in South Australia over successive governments, it's not just the government that I'm a member of but previous governments in South Australia and, you know, Steven Marshall and the government before him, have put South Australia in a really strong position. But we cannot overlook the fact that, you know, there is a real issue with the amount of inflow in the basin and storages over the last, well, over the last three years and we need it to rain.

ALI CLARKE:
Senator Anne Ruston, Minister for Families and Social Services, thanks for your time.