Drug testing welfare recipients would be expensive and inefficient, a University of Wollongong academic says.
The government has proposed a two-year trial that would see 5000 Newstart recipients drug tested. Those who fail the drug test would have 80 per cent of their income quarantined on a Basics card.
Ben Mostyn is a law and drug policy lecturer. He says there is no evidence to suggest drug testing people on Newstart will reduce addiction or increase employment - and that the proposed trial may breach human rights.
"This would be a new trial in Australia," he said.
"As academics, we have very strict rules about what kind of tests we can do on human subjects, and if this is going to be a trial involving human subjects it should conform to those same principles."
They're having their privacy invaded to prove their innocenceDr Ben Mostyn
Newstart recipients selected for the trial, who refused to undertake the test, would be stripped of welfare payments. Dr Mostyn said the inability to opt out of the trial may be a breach of human rights.
"That is very concerning - it effectively makes the test compulsory, and there are human rights concerns around compulsory medical testing," he said.
"In Victoria and the ACT that is a clear right, that people cannot be forced into health care. It seems to me that this would be in breach of those [rights]."
He said tests for welfare recipients were more physically intrusive than drug and alcohol tests for drivers.
"You can choose not to drive - and unlike failing an RBT, if you fail the welfare test you are compelled into treatment whether you have a drug problem or not," he said.
Dr Mostyn said data suggests that 90 per cent - or more - of people tested will pass.
"They're having their privacy invaded to prove their innocence," he said.
"[It] suggests that welfare recipients are less deserving of basic human rights.
"Basic human rights have to be extended to everyone, and it's probably more important they're extended to the most vulnerable and least popular members of society."
... just because you catch people using drugs, it does not necessarily mean they have a drug problemDr Ben Mostyn
Additionally, medications containing amphetamines, opioids and cannabis are sometimes prescribed by doctors in Australia to treat a variety of health problems, and could cause people to fail a drug test.
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said Newstart recipients who had a prescription and tested positive would not be affected, however, Dr Mostyn said it was not so simple.
"In this area of law there is always difficulty distinguishing between legitimately and illegitimately used drugs," he said.
"We get an artificial divide between medical and recreational use, which a single drug test cannot determine.
"And just because you catch people using drugs, it does not necessarily mean they have a drug problem."
Dr Mostyn said another question was whether people on welfare, with a drug habit, had already been let down by the state.
"A lot of people who have a drug problem, and a lot of people on welfare have been victims of significant crime," he said.
"We are targeting people who the state has failed to protect in the past."
Dr Mostyn said he believed the government was motivated by a sincere desire to help - but drug testing people on welfare was not the answer.
"It's going to be a very expensive program, and it isn't an efficient way of identifying at-risk people," he said.
"We are criminalising people with mental health problems. A holistic mental health program would be more helpful that targeting drug users."