Transcript by The Hon Christian Porter MP

Logan Press Conference – Drug Testing Trial

Location: Logan, QLD


Subjects: Drug testing


I would like to start off by thanking you Bert – so we’ve been in consultation with Bert for many months about the possibility of the trial being run out in Logan.

In fact a year ago Bert van Manen secured very significant funding to open a brand new drug and alcohol centre in Beenleigh, which will be one of the centres that will be providing services for those people who happen to test positive for a second time – but no doubt Bert, you will talk about that. But your ability to communicate to us your needs and challenges in the local community have been fantastic.

We’re here announcing the second of the trial sites for drug testing welfare recipients, and this will be the largest trial site that will be run in Australia.

So of the 5000 tests that would run across Australia, just over half of those will be run out of this trial site here in Logan. Now there’s a couple of reasons why we’ve chosen a Logan trial site – first of all this is a very large catchment area for people coming into unemployment benefits into the Newstart system. So in fact, there’s about a 570 per cent higher number of people coming into the Newstart system here in Logan. So we have a very large catchment area.

It’s also the case that we’ve seen – very sadly – some figures which suggest that drug use here is at a level far more elevated than other places in Australia. That is far from a criticism of Logan and surrounding suburbs, it’s just a real challenge that we all have to face up to. But we’ve looked very carefully at a range of data and we’ve seen internal data inside the Department of Human Services which shows that a number of people in this catchment area are using drug and alcohol problems and abuse as a reason for not turning up to important appointments like job interviews – has in two years it has increased by 162 per cent.

We’ve also seen a five year trend of 77 per cent increase in the number of drug offences in Logan and surrounds.

So when we put all of that information together, it was fairly clear to us that this is a very good place to try a second of the trial sites. And you would have, through the media in the last couple of days, become very familiar with how this operates. This is meant to identify people and offer them the assistance through every lever we have in government, by having a system where the welfare payments are used as a lever to mandate treatment.

So on a first positive test the person would be placed on income management with the use of the BasicsCard, which is what Alan will be talking about today, and that card is in very high use already in the Logan area. On a second positive test, a person will be assessed by a medical professional that we will pay for and that person will deliver an assessment around what is the appropriate level and nature of treatment and then the individual who tests positive that second time and has the treatment plan is going to be required, as a continuing condition of their welfare, to engage in the treatment that’s mandated.

And, very importantly, one of the reforms amongst many that underpins this system, is that for the first time ever in the Australian welfare system, everyone who is in a drug or alcohol treatment program will be able to use the fact of their being in that treatment to count towards their efforts in terms of their job search requirements. So part of an acceptable job plan for a person who does have a problem with drugs or alcohol will be the fact that they are having treatment.

So this is all about identifying people with barriers to employment, ensuring that we use the welfare system as an important lever to get them into treatment and keep them in treatment, rather than persisting with what has been a problematic part of the welfare system, which is that cash moves out the door in a way which very often makes matters worse for people who have barriers to employment around drugs and alcohol.

Alan, you might want to say a few things about the card technology and how that works here in Logan.


Thank you very much Christian, and thank you for having us out here today.

As Christian said, if you test positive the first time you will be placed onto the BasicsCard and 80 per cent of your welfare payments will be quarantined on that card, so that it can only be used for the basics – for your rent, your electricity, your food, your transport and other essential costs – and the other 20 per cent will still be available in cash.

Now people in Logan are very familiar with this scheme because its been in operation here already for a number of years. In fact about 460 people are already on the BasicsCard in Logan. We estimate that through this trial, perhaps about 210 additional people will be placed onto the BasicsCard and have their income quarantined as such.

As Christian mentioned, if you are found positive the first time you’ll then have to be retested within 25 days. And if you are tested positive a second time then you will have to undergo drug treatment programs as a condition of your ongoing receipt of welfare payments. Now this entire scheme is designed to identify those people who may have a drug problem and to get them off drugs and back into the workforce.

Frankly, I cannot understand why the Labor Party, including Jim Chalmers here locally, is opposed to this. I don’t know why he wants to see more taxpayer dollars going towards funding someone’s drug habit rather than trying to assist someone get off drugs and back into the workforce.


Part of this program is also the fact that we are very careful to make sure that there’s going to be adequate service delivery for people who test positive a second time, and who are required to engage in ongoing treatment. One of the things we’ve done in choosing Logan is that we’ve looked very carefully at the number of service providers and the types of services they provide, particularly through the primary health network – which is the Commonwealth run network here. We’ve also set aside as part of this program $10 million dollars which will allow us to address any bottlenecks which might arise.

So that’s very important and, perhaps Bert, one of the things you might like to address is your – if I might say so – very strong efforts in making sure that there is great on the ground service delivery for people with drug and alcohol problems here in Logan.


Thank you Christian and thank you Alan as well, and welcome everyone to the electorate of Forde.

This trial is, I think, a tremendous investment in the community of Logan. Because we want to see people given a hand up to be the best that they can be. And we know the scourge of drugs and the effect that that has on people’s lives – and not just for those individuals affected, but also for their families and the broader community.

As Christian has said over the past 12 or 18 months, we have invested some $7.5 million in services locally to support people who have a drug addiction. Both with Logan House at Chambers Flat where we provided nearly $1 million to build six new family rehabilitation units, as well as $6.5 million through the Primary Health Network and the new referral centre here in Beenleigh.

So I see this trial as a tremendous addition to the range of services we’re already providing in the community of Logan to allow these people to get off drugs and to be able to lead the lives that they really want to lead. Because we know if they get off drugs, they get back into the workforce, their family lives and their finances improve, they can get their kids back into local sporting clubs, they can get reconnected with the community and that benefits not only that family but the community at large.

I’m thankful both to Christian and to Alan for the work we’ve done over the past few months in discussing this, and I’m very pleased to be here today to make that announcement.


Obviously we’re very happy to take some questions.


Minister, could you explain the mechanics of the types of testing – where and when it will happen and who’ll be targeted?


As you would all be aware, testing for drugs is a very commonplace feature of most modern workplaces. There are millions of Australians who work in environments where they can be subject on a daily basis, potentially, to drug testing.

We will contract out, and there will be a full tender process run so that the absolute final mix of tests will determine on the successful tenderer – but that will be an organisation that is experienced in workplace testing and that has to meet all of the prescribed Australian standards of workplace drug testing.

We’re fundamentally looking at three types of testing; a saliva test which is a simple swab, a urine test, which many of us would have had in different circumstances in a medical sense, and also follicle testing which has the ability to test for drugs over a much longer period.

We’ll be testing for opiates, for ecstasy, MDMA, and for cannabis, and particularly there will be a focus on amphetamine and meth-amphetamines. So what we’ve seen in communities such as Logan, and yesterday in Canterbury-Bankstown, is – and anyone that you speak to in the local community I’m sure will back up the government’s statistical research on this – there is a big problem with amphetamines. The consumption of ice, which is a highly addictive drug, is destroying individual lives, its wrecking family bonds, it’s causing havoc in communities and it creates a massive barrier to employment.

So they’re the types of drugs that we’re testing, they’re the types of tests that will likely to use. The precise mix of those tests in each individual circumstance will be determined once the full tender process has gone through.


This sounds expensive. How much is it going to cost to contract out to get all of these tests done?


We’re not releasing the full figures at the moment, because of the fact that we have to go through a full government-sanctioned procurement process.

One of the things that we don’t do is tell potential tenderers how much that we have to spend, because that tends to ruin procurement processes.

But if I might just put to you that per unit drug testing is actually not particularly high at all. When you look in workplaces that run drug testing on a regular basis, the per unit cost of saliva swabs and urine and follicle tests are not particularly high at all.


Logan’s Mayor is upset because he feels he wasn’t consulted in any way about this announcement. What response do you have?


I would hope very much that Logan’s Mayor sees what the Logan community sees in this – which is a massive opportunity for Logan.

As Bert has noted he has brought in upwards of $7 million of funding prior to this announcement for drug and alcohol rehab. There’s now going to be a $10 million pool that can be accessed by Logan for the provision of services. They are Commonwealth and State services.

Some of the consultation – and there has been a lot of consultation – occurs before the announcement, some occurs in between announcement and implementation, and we will be briefing the council. But the reality is that the local government here is not a primary health provider, and doesn’t have a direct role either in the testing process or in the delivery of services that are subsequent upon positive tests.

So there’ll be a full briefing in due course, but I’m not quite sure why the Mayor of Logan was expecting a full brief beforehand. But in any event, there will be a full brief in due course before the full implementation. And I would have thought that the Mayor of Logan would be echoing the sentiment that we’re having from the Logan community, which is this is fully and highly supported, because it represents the Government trying something new in an effort to try and solve a problem that the community feels on the ground every day.


Considering it is such an important program for Logan, surely, if he wasn’t expecting a full brief, I’m sure he would have expected some sort of heads up? Could that have been solved by just a simple phone call?


Again, there are some briefings that are given before an announcement, and the implementation of this occurs in January of next year.

Let me assure you, there will be plenty of time to sit down and have a cup of tea with the Mayor of Logan and run him through all of the detail on the implementation.

But again, the local government here doesn’t actually do anything in terms of the implementation. They don’t conduct the tests, they don’t provide the services – they’re provided by the general run of health services through the state government, but also, more specifically through health providers allied to Primary Health Care.


Are you concerned there will be a stigma attached to this area because of this?


Well look, I disagree with that entirely.

I’ve already had feedback in the office this morning from the community to say that they are very supportive of it.

There is no stigma attached to this. As I said earlier, what we are seeking to do is to say to these people – we recognise you are going through a very difficult time in your life, and we’re here to give you a hand up to help you through this difficult period. We’re going to try a different way in assisting you that we haven’t tried in the past, and I think that is a very positive aspect of what we are looking to do with this program.

And its why from the outside when I’ve had the discussions with both Christian and Alan early on in the piece, I was supportive of the concept, because we do have to try new ways of assisting people who are going through these difficult periods where the things we have done in the past have not been working – so I think we are right and proper, as a responsible government and one that cares for our community, that we take these steps to give these people the opportunity


I think for Logan particularly, and this is a great community that we are hoping to make better.

And the first step in trying to work through practical solutions to solve problems is to actually acknowledge the problem. And there is a problem in a variety of Australian communities, across Australia – many are in my home state of Western Australia – there are communities in South Australia or in Canterbury-Bankstown yesterday.

The problem exists here in Logan, and the problem is a quite elevated consumption of highly addictive and dangerous drugs likes ice. You walk down the community and talk to people in the street and ask them whether they think there’s a problem with ice in the community. And recognising the problem is not to stigmatise the community, it’s to try and take the first step to offering practical solutions to a problem that we all know exists.


If this is a trial, what is the measure of success? How will you know that it’s worked?


So we’ll run a complete evaluation alongside this trial, and we will measure many things.

Primarily we are looking to see whether all of the people who come into the Logan catchment area, into the unemployment benefits system – into the Newstart system – will they move faster and in greater numbers than have traditionally been the case in this area, into employment? So that will be the central measure – are we getting an uplift, over time, based on longitudinal data, in terms of the percentage of people moving into employment and how quickly they are moving into employment.


To get them off welfare basically?


Correct. And that is the win for the community.

It’s a win for the Australian community, but obviously it’s a win for the Logan community if you’ve got more people engaged in employment. That is a clear win for the community – so that will be the central measure of success.


I understand one of the agencies did testing of waste material around the country. where did Logan show up in terms of drug use?


That’s an internationally recognised, scientific method for testing drug consumption.

The Logan figures, I recall, were indicating that the doses of daily consumption of meth-amphetamines were 24 per 1000 people. So that’s not the highest in Australia, but it is high.

Again, if you talk to people in the local community about their perceptions and personal experiences with the way that amphetamines and ice are damaging local communities, you’ll certainly, I think, get a very, very honest response from an honest local community.

But as well as that particular waste water management study, we’ve looked at the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare responses around the taking of drugs, both in employed and unemployed groups in Australian society – across Australia an unemployed person, based on best evidence, is two and a half times more likely to consume a drug like ice than a person who is in employment, which is why it will be a huge win for the local community if we can move more people faster into employment.

And as I noted earlier, we’ve looked very carefully at the state based crime statistics, which are maintained by Queensland police – you’ve had a five year trend of 77 per cent increase in the number of drug offences in the surrounding community. Now that tells us that there is a problem here that needs to be sensibly and practically addressed and faced up to.


Regional Queensland is obviously going to play some – Rockhampton and Townsville were identified as potential trial locations – are you heading up there to announce that as a third spot possibly?


That was a very good try, to get the third announcement.

What I might say is this, and I’ll hand over to Alan in a moment, but many of the criticism’s that we’ve had from some groups, particularly expert groups – self-proclaimed experts – is that it won’t work.

Now the same experts said that linking welfare payments to vaccinations wouldn’t work, and it absolutely worked.

But what we are interested in is the local community wanting to be part of trialling something different that is meant to help people in the community on the ground.

And I think the experience which Alan might talk about in a moment with the cashless welfare card, is now very similar to the experience that we’re having with the trial sites for drug testing of welfare recipients, as we only have three, and after the first announcement the number of communities that are approaching us saying – can we be one of the trial sites – is actually something that has surprised me as a Minister.

Local communities see this as a way to try and deal with a problem, which unfortunately governments haven’t done anywhere near enough to deal with.

But, on the experience with the cashless welfare card – Alan?


So the experience there was we trialled something – there were many critics who said that it wouldn’t work.

We have done the trial in two locations, we’ve had the independent evaluation, and the evaluation showed that it works. Consequently we’ve rolled it out further.

This is very similar. We’re trialling something that has never been done before anywhere in the world. Now we have learnt from the experiences of similar things, and adapted this particular trial for this community. We want to test it, we’ll evaluate it and of course if it does work then we might look towards expanding it, in a similar way that we did with the cashless debit card.

In that instance, with the cashless welfare card – which is only in two communities at present, but we will be rolling it out further – we’ve had dramatic reductions in alcohol use, gambling usage and drug usage.

People are saying that they are better able to look after their children and save money. So we’ve had terrific outcomes on the ground as a result of those trials and now we’re going to be rolling it out further.


Minister you said earlier that you expect around half of the people being drug tested to come from Logan – is it fair then to say that Logan will, be Australia’s drug testing capital?


It will be the largest of the trial sites, certainly.

As Alan noted this is, in essence, a world first. Where drug testing has been operable, in the United States particularly, the point of the drug testing in the United States is basically to cut people’s welfare off. That is absolutely not what is happening here.

What we are trying to do is identify people who’ve got a problem with drugs, which causes a barrier to employment and direct them towards the services that they need, and indeed compel them into those services by virtue of the fact that we can use the conditionality of welfare.

When you look at international experience, there are some things that we absolutely know on the evidence. We know that unfortunately in a place like Logan and many other places in Australia, there are very high rates of consumption of drugs that do massive damage to the community. There is endless evidence about the damage that drug use does to you in terms of your prospects for employment and the barriers it creates to employment. Thirdly there is good expert evidence that shows that when you mandate treatment you can have very positive outcomes in employment.

Getting back to Alan’s point about why the Labor Party is not supporting this – we are at a loss. In fact, the Labor Party commissioned the report to their government in 2013, which report clearly said that there is good evidence to show that mandatory treatment programs, compelling people into treatment, produces better employment outcomes.

This is what we do in what are known as drug courts all around Australia, in New South Wales and Queensland and Western Australia – we compel people using the levers of the criminal justice system to get into treatment. All we are doing here is using the levers of the welfare system to similarly compel treatment for people who need it.


Just going back to the initial question as well, in relation to the extent of drug testing here.

At the end of the day it’s still a modest number of people who will be tested, compared to how many people get tested on a daily basis in the workforce or on the roads.

I mean, in so many industries today, regular drug testing is just a simple part of your employment. If you think about the construction industry, the transportation industry, the mining industry, the defence force, border protection, emergency services – you name it, you must be drug free and you’ll have regular drug testing as a part of that. So in many communities right across Australia there is regular drug testing going on. And of course you can get drug tested by driving down the highway today, you may be pulled aside.

So this is an addition, as a compliment to all of those other activities. And of course targeted at those people who are unemployment benefits – because the last thing that we want to see is welfare being used to support a drug habit


What about someone who is on another benefit? Say it’s a parenting payment or a family benefit of some description – once they bounce back on the second rehabilitation, what happens then, does that get cut off – do they get paused?


All the benefits are covered.


So all the benefits are covered. It only applies, first of all, to those people who are on unemployment benefits to start with. So that’s the first point.

But all of your welfare payments will be included in terms of the proportion which goes onto the BasicsCard.

So we’ll aggregate how much money you are getting from the government, which might consist of unemployment benefit, perhaps rent assistance, maybe some family tax benefits and other benefits, and 80 per cent in total will go onto the BasicsCard which is preserved for use for the essentials. And the other 20 per cent will still be available for cash.

You will then be required to do the second test. If you test positive then – yes, then you will have to undergo treatment, and your unemployment benefit will be conditional on you undertaking that treatment. Your other benefits will not be.


So it could be suspended, or cut off if you fail to complete that course?


The only time in which you would be suspended is failing to turn up to a drug test, and then you’re only suspended until you do turn up. But, the only set of circumstances where you might find your Newstart payment being cut off is if you refuse to take a drug test.


What happens to the people who test positive a second time, but will not go into a treatment program? What happens to their allowances, and what is being done to ensure that those people do receive the treatment?


Again, ultimately the sanction that we have to compel the treatment is the flow of welfare benefit.

So as Alan noted, only people on Newstart get tested. But if you have Newstart and Family Tax Benefit or Commonwealth Rent Assistance, then all of that is subject to the BasicsCard and to income management.

Ultimately this system relies on the fact that you can lose your Newstart welfare benefit if you refuse treatment. But we will not have any disadvantage for people who might find they are on a waiting list – we’ve set money aside to ensure that we can deal with any bottlenecks that night arise – although Bert here has done a great job to ensure good service delivery – but yes ultimately there is a sanction, at the very end of this process, that if you refuse properly devised treatment by a medical professional, you can in the normal run of assessment of your mutual obligations find that your Newstart can be ceased.

But let me just point out that Newstart, as a payment, can be ceased in a whole range of existing set of circumstances such as consistent failure to turn up to job interviews – so this is not a new thing, using the conditionality of the welfare system to require a mutual obligation .


Minister, just a question on a different matter – there are several senior politicians on both sides of politics have been caught out failing to declare free Pay TV prescriptions that amount to about $1600 a year.

Is it appropriate for politicians to be receiving these free Pay TV subscriptions at the same time that the Parliament is weighing up media reforms which have substantial financial implications for all media organisations?


You’re probably a bit ahead of me in all of the individual details of 150 members of the House of Representatives, but the answer that I would offer to you that it is obviously an individual responsibility to ensure that you disclose anything which is over the gift threshold in accordance with parliamentary rules.


Minister Tudge, if I may – could you explain to use why taxpayers should wear the cost of foreign QC’s being bought into the citizenship case in the High Court, given that there is tens of thousands of dollars for each individual?


Again, I’m not quite sure which foreign QC’s you’re speaking of.

When the Commonwealth appears before the High Court, it is regularly the case that representation might be a blend of people from the Solicitor General’s office, including the Solicitor General himself, the Australian Government solicitors, which is in effect a private organisation that we contract for services in court proceedings, and it’s not an infrequent set of circumstances where we might also bring in expertise from other jurisdictions, overseas or not, but particularly interstate jurisdictions – so matters as important as determining the qualification of Members of Parliament, which are not merely government Members, but crossbenchers and potentially others outside of that – the fact that the Commonwealth is well represented in those proceedings, I must say, is not an unusual matter.