Liberal MP misused research to support Newstart drug-test trial, academic alleges | Australia news
A leading academic has accused the Liberal MP Jason Falinski of misusing his research after the MP cited his study on the health of Newstart recipients to argue for the controversial welfare drug-testing trial.
The research, revealed in Guardian Australia, showed people on Newstart were six times more likely to report negative health outcomes, including the finding that nearly half reported mental or behavioural problems.
Alex Collie, the lead author, said he was contacted by the parents of a Newstart recipient asking him if he supported the trial.
They had written to Falinksi asking that he reconsider his support for the trial, saying it would stigmatise people like their son, who has battled mental illness but did not have a drug problem.
The parents, who did not want to be identified, received a reply citing the Monash research paper to back the policy.
“Evidence released by the School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine at Monash University, shows that Newstart recipients have four times the relative risk of reporting alcohol and drug problems than people who are working,” the correspondence from Falinksi said.
Collie accused the MP of distorting the findings by “cherry-picking one statistic from the hundreds in the report” and told him to “cease using the findings of our research to justify the drug-testing trial”.
“This is an incorrect and misleading way to interpret the findings of the report,” he said in a letter to Falinksi.
The study, which analysed data from the 2014-15 national health survey, also included the finding that Newstart recipients were far less likely to have consumed alcohol in the past week than wage earners.
It warned against imposing additional compliance on welfare recipients, which the researchers said had the potential to further harm their mental health.
Falinksi stood by his use of the Monash research, telling Guardian Australia: “Firstly, he’s (Collie) not disputing the fact … It’s just that he’s reaching a different conclusion than the government.
“He has different approaches to what the government is pursuing. And that’s what we call public debate in Australia. We should do everything we can to help people … to help them with addiction … Alex would have a view that that’s not the best way of doing it.”
The government has introduced legislation to drug-test 5,000 Newstart recipients in Mandurah, Canterbury-Bankstown and Logan, but Guardian Australia this week reported that it will struggle to get the bill through the Senate.
The policy has been universally panned by health organisations, drug policy experts and welfare groups, who say there is no evidence it will be an effective way to help people facing drug addiction and will only put further stress on already strained services.
Falinski has previously said he would like his electorate of Mackellar in Sydney’s northern beaches to be included in a welfare drug-testing trial.
He told Guardian Australia this remained his position, but that the government had no plans to pursue this.
Asked if he supported an increase to the rate of Newstart, Falinski noted that the government had ruled it out.
But he said: “I think that’s something we should definitely look at … We are looking at it more broadly and the way different payments interact.”