'No one wants to be an addict' - Federal government plan to introduce drug tests for welfare recipients blasted by support services

Bendigo Salvation Army Major Kaye Viney (left) and federal member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters believe the federal government's plan to drug test welfare recipients is the wrong approach.

Bendigo Salvation Army Major Kaye Viney (left) and federal member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters believe the federal government's plan to drug test welfare recipients is the wrong approach.

“Addiction is not a choice. People often turn to drugs and alcohol because of the pain in their life and then it becomes an addiction, no one wants to be an addict.”

Bendigo Salvation Army Major Kaye Viney added a local voice to the debate surrounding the federal government’s plan to drug test welfare recipients through the welfare reform bill.

“I don’t think it (drug testing) is a good option at all,” she said.  

Bendigo Salvation Army Captain Craig Wood said the organisation, which supports up to 60 families a week who are unable to pay bills or feed themselves, “strongly opposed” the measures, which are currently before the senate. 

Related: Drug-testing welfare recipients will 'increase crime and drive social division'

“Some families have as little as $17.80 a day left after rent, and other accommodation costs,” he said.

Federal member for Bendigo Lisa Chesters said the “draconian” government measure was the wrong approach. 

“We don’t have enough detox beds available for those seeking help – it’s not fair to kick people off benefits if we don’t support services for them to go to,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Bendigo Advertiser reported public drug and alcohol services were bursting at the seams, with some patients waiting up to a year for extensive support.

The city has 19 rehabilitation beds, ranging from detox facilities to short-term recovery centres, but the region needed more, Ms Chesters said.

“I’ve heard two to three years (wait for rehabilitation services) and families driving their young ones to Queensland to access services.”

Related: Local bemons lack of rehabiliation beds

She said if elected, Labor would reinstate funding cut from Bendigo Health from 2014 and urged federal crossbenchers to meet with local welfare agencies to understand the potential impact of the welfare reform bill.

“Beating up on people who are just trying to find work, it’s the wrong approach,” Ms Chesters said.

The federal government has been contacted for comment.