Opinion

Welfare system does not need drug testing

By Ashlea Witoslawski

Living in filth and squalor while proudly showcasing his crack pipe, Adrian’s story on Channel 9’s A Current Affair (Monday, September 16) did nothing to set the record straight on Australia’s welfare crisis.

Unapologetic about his government-funded lifestyle, Adrian proudly told the camera about his wonderful budgeting skills, always taking care of his rent, tobacco and food expenses, before spending the remainder on ice and cannabis.

Although Adrian seemed to have no problems digging his own hole in regards to any future benefits, Prime Minister Scott Morrison weighed in on the argument, pushing the Coalition's proposal for random drug testing has created polarising debate by targeting the taxpayer’s hip pocket.

TV such as Adrian does nothing to enlighten those who don’t know as much about the welfare system as they think.

According to the Federal Government’s 19/20 budget, more than $500 billion will be spent on welfare this financial year, including age pensions, disability and carer pensions, parenting payments, income support and unemployment benefits and indigenous payments.

Of this total budget, only $10.8 billion is allocated to those who need the income boost or who are unemployed.

So why is this group being targeted so ferociously?

As a previous Newstart Allowance recipient, I have been through the soul-destroying grinder that is Centrelink and the welfare system.

I used Newstart for exactly what the title suggests and to think I could have been labelled as a drug cheat for doing so is appalling. 

Although I cannot speak for all who have been through the system, it is not a path the vast majority would choose if they had an option.

At the time I was in Melbourne and had made the decision to start taking my career more seriously, to become a journalist.

Having quit my full-time job, I had become unemployed for the first time since I was 15.

Adding to the pressure, I was living out of home in a trendy inner suburban apartment enjoying the stereotypical Melbourne lifestyle.

After months filling forms and attending monthly meetings to appease faceless bureaucrats, my confidence was well and truly eroded and I felt deflated, still unable to secure a job.

I remember the day I was able to call my case worker to say goodbye – I’ve got a job.

So traumatised by my experiences in the system, I still recall asking her: “Are you sure after this call I won’t be contacted by Centrelink ever again”?

If these new laws were passed, I could have been subject to random drug testing simply for making the decision to invest wholeheartedly in working on my career.

We cannot paint all who are stuck in the welfare system with the same brush.

Unlike Adrian, my story was different; however in Mr Morrison’s eyes and those of his comrades, we are the same.

I think Senator Jackie Lambie put it best when she suggested government MPs should also be subjected to those same random drug tests.

I have no doubt pollies have much more taxpayer-funded disposable income to spend on that kind of recreation than I did on my little slice of taxpayer-funded welfare payments.