A Favourite Charity Of The Prime Minister Has Torched The Idea Of Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

    "No transformative human moment ever began with the question: 'Would you pee in this?'"

    Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and wife Lucy have been long-time supporters of the Wayside Chapel in Sydney's Kings Cross, where they have been known to help serve meals on Christmas Day.

    Dan Himbrechts / AAPIMAGE

    This week, assistant pastor at the Wayside Chapel, Jon Owen, told BuzzFeed News the prime minister's controversial drug trial for welfare recipients was "misguided" and wouldn't help to those who needed it most.

    "I'd love to see what kind of intent and budget that the government have allocated to spend on drug testing people," Owen said. "No transformative human moment ever began with the question: 'Would you pee in this?'"

    Turnbull's trial will see 5,000 new welfare recipients tested for drugs from 2018, with those that test positive put on a special card that can only be used for specific purchases.

    When asked about scientific evidence that backed the use of drug testing, Turnbull suggested the "policy was based on love".

    Dean Lewins / AAPIMAGE

    "Well, I think it's pretty obvious that welfare money should not be used to buy drugs, and if you love somebody who is addicted to drugs, if you love somebody whose life is being destroyed by drugs, don't you want to get them off drugs?" Turnbull asked.

    "This is a policy that is based on love, and a commitment to support Australians."

    Jon Owen said Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull were "generous friends" of Wayside Chapel but that governments simply "can't deliver love".

    Dan Himbrechts / AAPIMAGE

    "I don't doubt the sincerity when the prime minister says this is about love," Owen said. "But governments can't deliver love.

    "They can only form policy and services via a bureaucracy. You can't love a client. That's where the non-government sector, where Wayside comes in, people aren't problems to be solved, they are people to be met."

    Conservative MPs including Queenslanders George Christensen and Andrew Laming have praised the drug testing trial.

    Dan Himbrechts / AAPIMAGE

    Christensen said it would "stop tax dollars" from being spent on drugs.

    I advocated drug testing for dole for past 5 yrs. #budget2017 set up trial to stop tax dollars feeding drug habit. https://t.co/Q5UzMqCrln

    Laming said those who test positive and turn to crime as a result "can detox behind bars".

    Drug testing welfare recipients. Am I worried about them turning to crime? Nada. They can detox behind bars. https://t.co/gp25NT3Z8k

    The Wayside's Jon Owen said it's unedifying to watch.

    "It's a bit of chest puffing to say, 'We're being tough on the poor'," he said. "We've got to keep in perspective a politician's nightly allowance in Canberra is $280.

    "That's about the same amount of money we give to welfare recipients and we say, 'Here, you need to live on this for an entire week'."

    Mark Di Stefano is a media and politics correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

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