The Australian government has outlined plans to drugs test some benefit claimants as part of a two-year trial. Under the proposals, those who test positive will have their welfare payments transferred to a card that can only be used to pay for basic items. The plans will need to be approved in parliament. PM Malcolm Turnbull says the proposal is about looking after “fellow Australians”. The government would like to trial it in an area of south-west Sydney. If approved, 15% of new jobseekers and youth allowance claimants will be forced to take a random drugs test. If the claimant fails the test, most of their payments will be loaded onto an electronic “basics card” which can only be used to buy items such as food, rent and childcare.  These cards are already in use by some welfare recipients, with the same restrictions on non-essential items, but the drugs tests are a new proposal. Money is electronically placed on the cards once a fortnight, when people receive their benefit payments. A second failed test means they would be referred for treatment. A similar system of drug testing is already being used in New Zealand, where welfare recipients are tested as a precondition for getting certain jobs. The plans have been criticized by academics, anti-poverty campaigners and charities. The social welfare charity Anglicare Australia said: “There is no evidence that this measure will change behavior, and we believe it will only serve to further marginalize, vilify and drive those battling with addiction further into poverty.” The government says the trial is aimed at helping jobseekers overcome their drug problems.

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