By Stephanie Peatling
A controversial trial of drug testing welfare recipients will almost certainly be postponed after the Turnbull government conceded it was unlikely to win sufficient support from the Senate crossbench.
The trial was to have applied to new welfare recipients from January 1, 2018, but Social Services Minister Christian Porter on Wednesday indicated he was prepared to excise the trial from omnibus welfare legislation so other measures could be approved by Parliament before the end of the year.
"The sticking point, fundamentally, in the legislation has been the drug testing trials for welfare recipients. The bill is critical," Mr Porter told the National Press Club in Canberra.
"So the bulk of that bill, which reforms the compliance system, is so critical to what we are trying to achieve that I wouldn't want to sacrifice the bulk of that in terms of timeliness while we are still negotiating around drug testing."
The package of welfare changes includes the drug test trial but also seeks to replace seven payments with one, impose tougher compliance measures on working-age recipients and remove drug and alcohol abuse as valid exemptions for meeting mutual obligation requirements for payments.
Labor, the Greens and several members of the crossbench are opposed to the drug test trial.
Although the Senate will sit for another two weeks before the end of the year, one of those weeks will be devoted to debating same-sex marriage legislation, leaving only four days to deal with other legislation.
Negotiations have been further complicated by the citizenship soap opera engulfing the Parliament with another key member of the crossbench, South Australian senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore, resigning on Wednesday.
As many as 1750 young people and job seekers in western Sydney, 2500 in Logan, Queensland and 750 in Mandurah, Western Australia, would be drug tested and face strict welfare quarantining measures should the Senate approve the government's contentious welfare crackdown.
Under the two-year trial - a policy that was first unveiled in the May budget - 5000 new recipients of Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance will be drug tested for illicit substances such as ice, ecstasy and marijuana across three locations.
The trial would be accompanied by strict income management measures. People who test positive to two drug tests will have 80 per cent of their welfare payment redirected to a cashless welfare card, which quarantines the money for use on essential goods and services such as groceries.
Thumbnail: Flickr CC Eva Rinaldi