Welfare drug tests 'could increase sex work, crime', peak body says

Daniel McCulloch
A peak employment group has warned some welfare recipients could turn to prostitution and crime if the federal government's drug and alcohol crackdown goes ahead.

A peak employment group has warned some welfare recipients could turn to prostitution and crime if the federal government's drug and alcohol crackdown goes ahead.

Jobs Australia has joined a long list of organisations to raise concerns about plans to drug test welfare recipients, while also tightening exemptions and reasonable excuses for drug and alcohol misuse.

Chief executive David Thompson fears people with substance abuse issues will simply stop asking for help.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter has defended a push for tighter pension requirements. Source: AAP

"It could well mean that people who have got those issues will just disappear out of the system and be further from the help they need," he told AAP after giving evidence at a Senate inquiry on Thursday.

"They'll start generating income in other ways like selling drugs, committing burglaries, and some of them will resort to selling their bodies."

While Mr Thompson is concerned the welfare drug testing regime is expensive and likely to fail, he strongly supports the introduction of a demerit point compliance system for job seekers.

Welfare recipients who persistently dodge their job-seeking obligations will face a demerit point system and escalating financial penalties under the Turnbull government plan.

Mr Thompson said the proposed system was far simpler and more workable than existing compliance measures.

A peak employment group has warned that welfare recipients could turn to crime and prostitutions if new welfare measures are brought in

"It should lead to far greater fidelity and integrity in the system," he said.

The Law Council of Australia also voiced its opposition to drug testing welfare recipients, arguing at the public hearing in Melbourne on Thursday it was neither a necessary nor proportionate response to substance abuse.

So too did the Rural Doctors Association, whose concerns are more long-term.

Chief executive Peta Rutherford is against the trials, but also worries what will happen if they prove successful.

"What we could end up with is a metropolitan-based program rolled out Australia wide," she told AAP.

Ms Rutherford says there is little to no access to appropriately trained addiction specialists in many rural, remote and regional communities.

The association is also worried a rotation of locum doctors who visit these communities would struggle to develop the trust needed to help individuals tackle substance abuse.

The government plans to roll out drug testing next year at sites including Logan, Queensland. Source: AAP

Meanwhile, Australia's ethnic communities are urging senators to reject plans to make migrants wait up to 15 years before receiving aged or disability pensions, and slashing pension supplements after six weeks overseas.

The Department of Social Services argued the aged and disability pensions were long-term payments, and it was reasonable to expect recipients to demonstrate significant periods of contribution and residence.

The measure will affect about 2400 people annually, or two per cent of future pensioners.

The department said the pension supplement was introduced to compensate for the GST, and there was no reason to pay it while people were overseas and not paying the tax.

Tightening the pension residency requirements and supplement payments are expected to save about $267 million over four years.