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Lack Of Evidence No Barrier To Drug Trial, Government Committee Finds

"Drug trials should not proceed in the face of overwhelming opposition from addiction medicine specialists and other experts," Labor says.

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A Liberal-dominated committee ignored the "overwhelming evidence" presented by experts to recommend going ahead with the government plans to drug test young people on welfare, according to Labor and the Greens.

The majority Liberal Senate committee tabled a report on Wednesday afternoon recommending that the welfare reform bill be passed in its current form.

The report was tabled by West Australian Liberal senator Slade Brockman, who only joined the committee on 17th August, the day he was sworn into the Senate. Brockman is yet to deliver his first speech.

If approved by the Senate the trial, which prime minister Malcolm Turnbull described as being "based on love", will kick off in January next year and would see 5,000 new recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance drug tested for illicit substances such as ice and marijuana.

Mandurah in Western Australia, Logan in Queensland and Canterbury-Bankstown in New South Wales have been announced as the three locations for the trial.

If recipients test positive, 80 per cent of their payments will be put onto a cashless debit card that could only be spent on rent, child care and food. A second positive test would result in the recipient being charged for the cost of the test and being referred for treatment.

Despite been almost universally condemned by drug and alcohol experts, academics, welfare groups and called "misguided" by the prime minister's favourite charity, the legislation has been given the green light by the government-dominated committee.

The report rejected the lack of evidence to support the need for the drug trial - instead pointing to the Department of Social Services who said the trial would provide the evidence.

Last week the Senate committee investigating the trial heard half the number of Australians who want treatment for drug and alcohol addiction can't access it, because service providers can't keep up with demand.

The Department of Social Services (DSS) admitted the government did not source information regarding the current waiting time for treatment services in the trial sites, and doesn't know how long the 120 people they estimate will test positive could be waiting.

Experts have also pointed to similar trials being abandoned overseas and the possibility that young people could turn to crime or prostitution rather than risk the humiliation of testing positive.

Both Labor and the Greens have issued dissenting reports arguing that the proposed drug trials should not proceed in the face of "overwhelming opposition from addiction medicine specialists and other experts".

Labor senator Lisa Singh said she was deeply troubled that the government wasn't listening to medical professionals who say it will push people on welfare further into poverty.

"It is being politically driven by an out-of-touch Turnbull government," Singh told BuzzFeed News.

"It is attacking the human rights of some of our most vulnerable people. The letter from nearly a thousand doctors, nurses and health professionals condemning this trial must be listened to by the government."

Greens senator Rachel Siewert has accused the government of ignoring overwhelming evidence from experts that the trial will be harmful.

"The evidence to the Senate inquiry has been very clear; these measures will not work and are likely to have a detrimental effect," Siewert told BuzzFeed News.

"During the inquiry into the Bill we were told extremely clearly by medical professionals and social services providers that the drug testing income support recipients is flawed."

“The [social services] minister has disregarded this evidence despite comparable overseas measures and local experts making it crystal clear that this is going to be a costly and ineffective endeavour that just stigmatises people struggling with addiction."

Dan Peled / AAPIMAGE

The fate of the legislation is unknown, with key crossbench senator Nick Xenophon yet to confirm whether his team of three senators will give their support.

BuzzFeed News understands NXT is still in negotiations with the government and will decide its position on the controversial bill in an upcoming party room meeting.

Labor and the Greens oppose the trial, meaning the government needs NXT, One Nation and three other crossbenchers to pass the necessary legislation.

But the controversial trial appears to be a winner with a majority of voters.

Sixty-five percent of Australians agree with the two-year drug testing trial and 71% agree with the government's demerit point plan to reduce or cancel payments for welfare recipients who fail to turn up to appointments or job interviews.

DSS has indicated that a comprehensive evaluation of the drug testing trial will be conducted in parallel with the trial, not afterwards, and the department will be assessing unintended consequences "because the whole point of the trial is to have a positive outcome for those communities".

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

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