Strangers R Us: Why Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Is Bitter, Stupid And Counter-Productive


If you think our society is ‘too soft’ on the vulnerable, you probably need to find another society, writes Sue Stevenson.

It’s apparently easy to persuade lots of people to be cool with their government treating others like criminals. All you need to do is wedge yourself in underneath the bitterness of their life, and then use it as a lever to fling them really hard into the idea that other people are getting an easy ride.

That’s often all it takes for some people. Because geez, if there’s anything we don’t want in Australia, it’s anyone else having an easy ride.

In the name of our hardness, some of us are fine with our government’s plan to drug test people on welfare. Not addressing the things that may be exacerbating the drug problem, like the lack of jobs, the nagging threat of the automation of future jobs, the way our society is falling apart, the way that all the things that are beautiful have been somehow sidelined for homo economicus so that you’re tempted to find beauty and peace artificially.

No addressing the rampant mental illness that comes from all that. Nah. That’s too soft (and anyway, for the government it’s virtually impossible because then they would also need to address the very foundations of capitalism itself, and no one wants to go there).


And so the government, in its unrelenting desire to treat poorer Australians like they’re in a penal colony, will give this stupid drug testing idea a shot, even though we know from New Zealand’s attempt at the same program that it’s a waste of time and money. But some Australians will still be okay with it anyway.

I tend to think that people who cry “too soft” carry around a bunch of pain and hurt they have never been able to deal with.

We don’t have good ways to deal with our pain at this point in our society. It’s something we will need to start factoring into the way we live again, once the rampant over-bloated body of capitalism finally decomposes and we take ourselves back.

We deserve a nurturing, kind society. It’s not soft to have one. Nor is it soft to treat with kindness the people who are the inevitable fuck-ups of having to live in a society that was co-opted 40 years ago into a corporatocracy.

I went snooping on an ex-boyfriend’s Facebook page earlier, while I was thinking about all of this. When we were together in my teenage years he stole cars, drank, did lots of “burgs”, did “mushies”, shot up speed, went to jail and spent a lot of time on the dole.

Now, 30 years later, he’s married, has a couple of kids, works hard in the mines to support his family and a few years ago posted a meme about how all people on welfare should be drug tested.

It reeked of hypocrisy to me. But then, maybe he’d attribute his new hard-line stance to some sort of character development. A reflection of the responsibility he now takes and which all others should take too. Maybe some bullshit about how he should have been treated tougher as a teenager (as if being phone-booked by the cops – when telephone books were still a thing – didn’t do him any harm). That if he’d been drug tested for the dole that would somehow have made things better for him, not worse.

All it sounds like to me is middle-aged self-righteousness borne out of becoming a dad, working a 40-hour week and paying taxes, via the hard-core bitterness that was there even when I knew him.

He friended me on Facebook a few years ago. I don’t know how long it lasted but then he unfriended me again. I wasn’t surprised.


I could tell by the political things that he posted that his love for humanity ended at the people who comprise his circle of family and friends, and that his understanding of systems and society ends with Margaret Thatcher.

Maybe he was dismayed at the way I’d changed, from someone who was once happy to call First Nations people foul names to this weak, insipid, soft-centred sipper of coffee beverages.

Well, I dunno. I guess I have changed. I would have wanted to – my ideas at the end of my teens were forming and growing and adapting as I learned new things and stopped being such a judgmental cow (at least in some ways).

It took me another good 12 years to start even beginning to explore all of that dreary stuff – politics, economics – that was completely foreign to me as a teenager. But, as I started learning a little of how it all fits together, I realised it has a profound effect on what life I get to have.

The idea of giving a shit about people being treated like criminals isn’t soft-centred and wishy-washy so much as being … well, ultimately, if you follow it all the way down, about myself, if me-and-mine is the only way he can look at it. A selfishness because me, and those who are in my inner circle, are affected by those who are not. Because the society strangers live in is the same one that I do, and that that society makes us all feel like shit because that’s what living in the corporatocracy does for you.

And so no, I don’t buy all of that tough love bullshit that’s really just a cover-up for misanthropy. I esteem humanity highly, despite our horrors. I have no desire to see strangers treated harshly when Strangers R Us.

Sue Stevenson is an unironical hugger of trees. She can just about smell the next version of doing things differently.