If you’re going to drug test, start with pollies

An element in Tuesday’s federal budget that has everyone talking is the proposal to trial drug-testing of unemployed people. Those caught with drugs in their system will have their benefits quarantined to ensure they are spent on the basics such as food, shelter and clothing. 

On talkback radio, the proposal got considerable support. Truck drivers and machinery operators were quick to point out they had mandatory drug and alcohol tests because the nature of their work required it. Under the influence of drugs and alcohol, they put the wider community at risk. 

Others callers made the point they worked hard to contribute via tax to government coffers and they didn’t want to see that money spent frivolously on drugs.

Both these arguments could be equally applied to politicians.

There is no machinery heavier than that of government. The risks posed by politicians with blurred judgment have the potential to affect every single one of us. How many times have we tuned into Question Time to see backbenchers on the nod? How many times have we seen them bellowing unintelligibly across the dispatch box, looking more like brawlers in a pub carpark than adults possessed of their wits?

Are they affected by that glass or three of shiraz they consumed at lunch? Prescription drugs perhaps? Opioids with warnings not to operate heavy machinery?

Like those on welfare, politicians are paid for out of the public purse. They are paid a heck of lot more than those struggling to get by on Newstart. Us taxpayers stump for their wages just the same way we pay the benefits of the unemployed. So there’s a strong argument for the same – if not more rigorous – random drug testing to apply to politicians. 

We’re not suggesting for one minute the walrus colony that is the House of Representatives is full of drug and booze-addled layabouts. If they’re not affected by alcohol and drugs that might affect their judgment, they should have nothing to fear. Indeed, they should welcome the opportunity to prove to all they are right on their game.

Of course, it’s unlikely they’d submit to such tests. Critics of the this trial announced on Tuesday night say it’s little more than a populist political statement designed to appeal to prejudice against some of the most vulnerable people in the community. 

To prove that it’s not, the people proposing it should line up for urine tests right away. The logic cuts both ways.