Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Rudd & Welfare Payments for Drug Users?

Last year, ex PM John Howard said he was going to quarantine welfare payments for people convicted of drug offences. In an interview before Howard's announcement, Rudd had already said he was in favour of restricting payments of drug addicted parents. Is Rudd going to invoke Howard's harsher strategy?

With the introduction of the ‘income management debit card’ in last night’s budget, the basics have been established and the plan is to roll it our nationally starting with Aboriginal communities in NT. Can the government resist extending it too far?

An article from Blogocracy last week talks about the proposed debit card for Aboriginal parents who are negligent towards their children. It quotes an extract from an article in The Australian.

A NATIONAL welfare card that will allow the Government to control payments to negligent parents across the country will be unveiled in Tuesday’s budget.

The debit card - to be introduced in selected indigenous communities before being rolled out across Australia - will ensure half of the cardholders’ welfare payments are spent on approved goods and services, such as food and clothing for their children, rather than wasted on alcohol and drugs. The card will not carry a photograph but will be PIN-coded to prevent it being sold on the black market and abused by welfare-dependent parents.

The Government last night confirmed plans for the card, saying it would slash red tape for business and make it easier for welfare recipients to obtain goods by widening the number of outlets where quarantined welfare payments could be accepted.

It will initially be introduced into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and the Kimberley region of Western Australia, where the Government has begun quarantining welfare payments to improve standards of care for children. But the Government plans to roll the program out across the country and into white communities.

-The Australian

The article is prior to the budget so there is still some uncertainty. Nevertheless, comments started to speculate whether the welfare card should be distributed into the white community. Instinctively many started on why drug users should have their payments restricted or even stopped. There was plenty of opinions both ways but a comment from one reader put the problem in perspective:

This is a band-aid solution - it does nothing to address the real issues. I don’t think it will result in any real change at all. People aren’t going to stop problem drinking or drug use because of a card. When you make it harder, you just make people more deceptive.

-jm of adelaide

JM of Adelaide had hit the real issue. The crackdown on negligent parents was not the only problem, the use of penalties on drug addicts was. A debit card as a welfare penalty is one more issue that people with health issues like addiction have to deal with. There is an underlying health problem being ignored and applying a restriction will just create more desperate and maybe more deceptive practices to obtain money for drugs. Blogocracy content and it's readers are leagues above the usual Daily Telegraph/Herald-Sun/Courier etc. crap but many of the comments made were still ignorant of the health issue and were happy to dish out harsh penalties to those who really need help.

... if they test positive to drugs they automatically go on to the welfare debit card, if they are not already on it, and are subject to testing for the next 3 months. If they are already on the debit card they lose 10% of their cash payment, and 10% each time they test positive, after a month of no positive test they go back to normal. If they wipe out their complete cash payment Centrelink starts paying their rent and the have the debit card for food. At the end of the day though there is only so much you can do to help people.

When you drive down the street on a dole Thursday and see people passed out in the median strip there is something wrong. As the tax payers who support the system that gives them the money to do this we are responsible. The current system is not making the problem any better so we have to try something different, and anything we can do to stop them drinking themselves to death has to be an improvement.


I was interested to know how Link deducted that the “people passed out in the median strip” receive payment on “dole Thursday”. The fact is there is no set day for unemployment payments. Similar to how my brother once said that the streets were out of control on ‘methadone day’ assuming that methadone patients got dosed on the same, one day of the week. Interestingly, he said it was Thursday as well. Also, Link’s plan to penalise drug use is as ignorant as it gets. It’s a familiar argument though, where if tested positive, instead of getting help, you get punished. What if the person was given drugs for free? There’s no misspending of their welfare payment but would be penalised anyway. Moral welfare?

Why should government welfare go to supporting a drug habit(thats all drugs not just the illegal ones).Which currently they do.Should government be in the business of encouraging its citizens drug dependence.Then having to pay for the medical conditions that result from that dependence.


When it becomes mainstream for welfare, who determines who receives the card and what they can buy? If someone has a drug problem are they allowed to buy smokes or porn? What about a heroin addict on treatment, would they qualify? And if they lapse for for a few weeks, what then? Most people on treatment lapse sometimes and if they don’t have cash ... that leaves begging, borrowing or crime.

I still like the idea of drug & alcohol testing people when they get the dole. -Link

So you go out for a family diner paid by your brother, have a few glasses of red wine and tested the next day. Where does this leave you? What about pornography testing? Gambling testing? The ‘income management debit card’ cannot be used to purchase alcohol, tobacco, pornography, gambling or to withdraw cash.

There was even that favourite of the modern right, “if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide”.

If you want the money it is because you want to spend it on things the government did not provide it for.


The need to punish drug users was often outweighing the actual discussion of restricting welfare payments of those who neglect their children. It was becoming a forum for why drug users/addicts should get payment at all.

If any parents, aboriginal or otherwise, want to kill themselves with drugs and alcohol they can do it for all I care. I just don’t see why tax-payers should subsidise it, and if this card goes towards preventing that then I’m all for it.

-Banjo of Brisbane

And even this.

Yet a terrible thought crossed my mind going through this topic. Some of the worst addicted at worst might kill their children in the belief they will get more for their addictions, or at the least will blame the kids for their reduced ability to obtain drugs and alcohol and foist even more and terrible abuse on them.

-Adrian of Nowra

If the purpose of the ‘income management debit card’ is to stop purchases of alcohol, tobacco, pornography, gambling or to withdraw cash, what's to stop the government expanding the program to include workers? The current plan is targeted at a specific group but the government hasn't announced it's drug policy yet.

A lot of posters seem to assume that only welfare recipients neglect or abuse their children. What about parents who have jobs and waste their money on drugs, alcohol and gambling and neglect or abuse their children? Will the government confiscate their wages and issue them with a card?


Would you support the quarantining of payments for all Australian parents who use drugs and neglect their children? The moralists will argue feverishly for this and in today's political climate, it may be a vote winner. Somehow though, I feel the emphasis will be on the drug usage separately from the neglect of children. The one bright spot is that both Nicola Roxon and Kevin Rudd have mentioned that future drug policies need to be more individualised. An extremely important point that Howard's Zero Tolerance badly missed with it's blanket approach. Remember Howard was determined to change drug terminology and lump all drug use into one evil bucket of death.

And I’m seeking to conclude our point about child welfare to say that that policy was put out by us in July this year prior to Mr Howard making any such statement. Secondly, on the question of broader quarantining of welfare payments, we believe that the smart thing to do there is to take the advice of a combination of the police and the relevant health authorities as to what is best in individual circumstances. And I’ve tried to look at the detail of what Mr Howard has said. It’s full of holes, and I’d much rather see what concrete proposals he’s really additionally suggesting here. Our approach to this is to make sure that we’ve got a tailored approach to individual circumstances which is based on the best law enforcement advice, and the best advice of the health professionals.

-Kevin Rudd. Radio Interview ABC 774 Melbourne. November 2007

Once again we are seeing a health issue being treated with disciplinary action. I have no qualms about parents who neglect their children being scrutinised and dealt with but these new measures and the possible outcomes are also targeting drug addicts are a priority. They are not targeting drug addicts to help them as there are many other ways to help that are being ignored. Punitive actions are counter productive and do not address the core problems. I once described these actions as fighting a fire. You need to attack the base not the tips of the flame. It might dull the fire and keep it out of sight from a distance but the core fuel is burning hot as ever. Simply put, welfare quarantining for drug addicts solely because of their drug use does not fix the problem, it makes it worst. Medicine diagnosed addiction hundreds of years ago. Society just chose to treat it as a crime.


Anonymous said...

I am just amazed that Australia can get away with doing this only to the "Aboriginal communities" first! Lord, if you did that in the USA there would be a HUGE outcry of discrimination, racism, etc and they would be right.

All that aside, however, I agree with Terry's views on this--this is no solution to the problem. It merely serves as a panacea to the conservative faction, who then feel placated and go back to their lives. The problem remains.

phallacy said...

Perhaps it part of the Budget strategy in the War on Inflation that cops now price a dope plant at $5,000, up from $2K a couple of years ago, viz recent west Sydney busts of 485 plants with a value of $4.5M.
At that price, everyone & their dog would be growing a hardy, easy to tend weed that's been around since the neolithic Swiss Lake Dweller culture.

Gledwood said...

What a brilliant way of getting drug users to commit even MORE crime! Yeah: make it impossible for them to spend their dole on drugs, or make them have to buy stuff like steak and smoked salmon that they then have to sell for half or a third of the price to liberate cash for drugs... whatever more crime will occur as a result. Smart move, Mr Politician!