By Alex Tarrant
Should the unemployed all be drug tested before being allowed to receive a benefit?
That offhand question from Finance Minister Bill English drew a round of applause from Federated Farmers delegates at the group's AGM in Auckland on Thursday.
Having been asked why New Zealand was bringing in migrants for agricultural work while there were unemployed Kiwi youth on benefits, English responded by saying from his experience, many of the unemployed youth in his Clutha/Southland electorate could get jobs at the freezing works or in forestry if only they could pass a drugs test.
"Which makes you wonder whether we should have a drugs test for putting people on [the] benefit," he said.
This wasn't the first time this had been raised with English, although it was the first time (that I've seen) where he raised it himself.
In a post Budget speech in Silverstream, Wellington, on May 29, English was asked why that wasn't commonplace, especially as many employers had to drug test their workers. He was asked by someone who ran a construction company.
English said it was a serious question.
"Because we're saying to people, you have to be available for work. We know there are now a number of industries where drug testing is pretty much compulsory - at home, you can't get a job in the freezing works without passing a drug test. In fact, the local freezing works reckons it could employ all the young people in South Otago who are unemployed, if any of them would pass a drug test," English told the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce.
"That's a fair enough question. At the moment we don't have that requirement, but we are moving into a world where there will be more requirements on people. Those requirements should, over time, match up more with the requirements of the workplace where they can be available for work, because not all the people on welfare can [work]," he said.
"There are quite a lot of people on welfare who just can't work - we know that, but there are ones who can.
"It's a good question. I'll go away and have a think about that," he said.