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Welfare drug testing– a topic of debate

With such a contentious issue, our decision-makers require up to date, credible and well referenced scientific and technical information to inform their decisions. We were very pleased when our own Scientific Director, John De Mellow, was asked to do just that at the Senate Committee in Parliament House earlier this month. 

You may have seen some recent media articles (such as THIS ) debating the pros and cons of a trial to drug test welfare recipients in Australia.

The current proposal would see a trial of 5,000 recipients of Newstart (the unemployment benefit) be randomly selected to provide a drug test to test for the presence of illicit drugs. In the event that any of these participants returned a positive confirmatory test from a NATA accredited laboratory, they would be referred to treatment or counselling options and have some limitations placed on their Newstart payments.

The initial three trial sites have been identified as:

1) Logan in South East Queensland, 2) Bankstown in New South Wales, and 3) Mandurah in Western Australia.

This is clearly a contentious area, but DASA firmly believes that our politicians and community leaders need to have up to date, credible and well referenced scientific and technical information in order to fully understand the consequences of proceeding – or not!

So we were very pleased when our own Scientific Director John De Mellow, together with colleagues from the workplace drug testing association (WDTA) appeared in person at the Senate committee in Parliament house to provide the senators with an expert view of how drug testing works in Australian workplaces. 

The WDTA is the peak industry body for workplace drug testing organisations in Australia (www.wdta.org.au). By working collaboratively, we were able to present some unique insights to the Australian parliament in regards to the workplace drug testing industry.

For example, part of the submission included the following facts:

·         Up to 3.5 million workers potentially subject to drug testing in Australia.

This number is derived from the number of workers currently employed in industries which either have a legislated requirement to test their employees, or voluntarily test their employees because of the safety concerns regarding drug use in the workplace.[1]

·         Approximately 1 million D&A tests performed annually

Industry estimate of the total volume of including pre-employment and workplace testing currently. (It is less than the above figure as many employers only test a percentage of their total workforce annually)[2]

·         Testing is performed in wide range of industries

Mining, Transport and Logistics, Rail, Maritime, Mining, Aviation, Utilities, Construction, Oil&Gas and Agriculture/Fishing and Forestry, and local government, all currently have organisations testing their workforce regularly.

·         A number of different testing methods are available including oral, urine and hair

The choice of testing matrix will affect both the rate of detection as well as the drugs that can be easily identified. Oral fluid (saliva) and urine are approximately equally used in Australian workplaces as the method of choice.

Regardless of the final outcome, it has certainly been an important time for the overall drug testing industry as well as DASA, to be called upon to provide advice to not only the very highest levels of the Australian government, but also the wider community, as the debate continues.

If you would like more information or detail on the statistics above, please contact us on (02) 8001-2535 or via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


[1] WDTA introduction

[2] Incidence of drugs of abuse within the Australian Workforce subject to random drug testing 2017 & 2018 (extract) JUNE 2019.pdf

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02 8001 2535 | info@dasa.net.au