National News

Kiwi critics say drug tests unhelpful

New Zealand advocates have issued a blunt warning for the Australian government as they push ahead with legislation that would introduce drug testing for welfare recipients.

"The end result is that families and children end up going without food," said Ricardo Menendez March, from the Auckland Action Against Poverty group.

The Kiwi model is different to the Australian proposal, a trial which would randomly test recipients of Newstart and Youth Allowance.

In New Zealand, drug tests are not mandated but can be asked of jobseekers looking for employment in fields where the employee's ability to do their job can impact on the safety of others.

That includes industries like fishing, horticulture, transport and forestry, which comprise around 40 per cent of available jobs.

Those that fail tests can be cut off from benefits for up to 12 weeks.

In the year to June 2018, 47,115 Kiwis were referred to jobs that required drug tests. Only 170 people failed, a rate of less than 0.5 per cent.

The Australian government hopes to conduct two-year trials in three different sites, estimating a one per cent failure rate in 5000 tests.

Mr Menendez March said the test "disincentivises people from getting help and the financial penalty imposes more harm by making them lose income, potentially making them homeless".

"People with an addiction that lose their income will resort to cheaper, more harmful drugs and they will resort to crime to address their addiction," he said.

Others in the welfare sector have reported concerns with the policy, which was controversially launched in 2012 by the the former National government.

Opposition parties Labour, NZ First and the Greens all attacked the proposal on its introduction.

The Greens have been the strongest voice for the removal of the policy, which is being considered by the Ministry of Social Development as part of a Welfare review to conclude later this year.

Mr Menendez March said the Kiwi experience would suggest once the policy was introduced, fears of being seen as "soft on drugs" could prevent parties from rolling back drug testing.

"Once it gets implemented, no matter who speaks against, there may not be the political will to overturn the sanction as we've seen here in New Zealand," he said.

© AAP 2019