The Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee, which has a majority of Australian Government members, last night handed down its report on the inquiry into the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Drug Testing Trial) Bill 2019, which seeks to introduce drug testing for welfare recipients.
The majority report inexplicably recommends the Bill be passed by the Senate, despite the universal opposition expressed in submissions and evidence by those organisations working at the coalface of alcohol and other drug treatment service provision, as well as in research and related sectors. See the Drug Testing Trial Bill 2019 here.
The following national organisations have joined together to express their frustration at the outcome of the inquiry, also noting the dissenting reports from Labor and Australian Greens members of the Committee:
- Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) – the peak body for the nine state and territory peer-based drug user organisations
- State and Territory Alcohol and Other Drug Peaks Network – comprises all eight Australian state and territory peak Alcohol and other Drug (AOD) bodies
- St Vincent’s Health Australia
- Penington Institute
- Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA)
- Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM)
- Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO).
“We know from experience that people engage best with alcohol and other drug services and have far better outcomes when they are supported to access services voluntarily,” said Melanie Walker, CEO of the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL).
“The will to change has to come from within the person and not from a mandated drug test. Empowerment has been proven to be the best way of changing a person’s problematic drug use and this legislation flies in the face of the evidence we have about successful drug treatment,” Ms Walker said.
“Almost all of the submissions and evidence provided to the inquiry highlight that there is little point identifying people with drug problems if there is inadequate access to drug treatment services for those who need them,” said Carrie Fowlie, Spokesperson for the State and Territory Alcohol and Other Drug Peaks Network.
“A recent review by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre found that there is substantial unmet demand within the alcohol and other drug treatment sector across Australia, with an estimated 200,000–500,000 Australians each year unable to access treatment for problems associated with drug or alcohol use,” Ms Fowlie said.
“In short, the issue is not that people can’t see they have a drug problem and need to be coerced into seeking treatment,” said Dr Linc Thurecht, Acting Chief Executive, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association.
“In any given year there are hundreds of thousands of Australians who know they have a drug problem and are voluntarily seeking drug treatment but there are simply not enough treatment places available. It’s a devastating situation for these people and their families and some are dying while they wait.”
According to John Ryan, CEO of Penington Institute, “The most recent Australia’s Annual Overdose Report found that there were 2162 drug-induced deaths in Australia in 2017. Drug use touches every part of our community. To imply that only welfare recipients use drugs or experience harms further stigmatises an already vulnerable population.”
“We note the Government has signalled it will commit $10 million in funding across the trial locations to provide treatment services, but it’s simply not possible to start extra services overnight,” explained Associate Professor Nadine Ezard, Clinical Director, St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney’s Drug and Alcohol Service.
“Where’s the infrastructure? Where is the professional workforce coming from? While additional investment may be beneficial in these areas in the medium to long-term, we have explained that it won’t be enough to enhance system capacity immediately and will also likely displace people in those areas who are voluntarily seeking support for their drug use.”
Ms Fowlie added: “In this context, we believe that the significant costs of the drug testing, as well as the additional $10 million in related expenditure, would be better used to enhance capacity in the alcohol and other drug treatment sector in Australia more broadly for people who are already actively seeking to address issues related to their drug use.”
“We welcome the Australian Government’s renewed focus on drug treatment and reducing the harms arising from problematic drug use for individuals, families and communities,” Ms Walker said.
“It would be wonderful if this interest could be channelled into enhanced investment in cost effective prevention, treatment and harm reduction measures – such as those outlined in the National Drug Strategy – rather than those that have been proven to be ineffective.”
Jake Docker, CEO, AIVL – email firstname.lastname@example.org
Carrie Fowlie, Spokesperson, State and Territory Alcohol and Other Drug Peaks Network
Dr Linc Thurecht, Acting Chief Executive, Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association
Paul Andrews, Media Manager, St Vincent’s Health Australia
Mateo Sewillo, Senior Communications Adviser, Penington Institute
Benjamin Riley, Media & Communication Manager, Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) 0401 267 024