Disability

Disability advocates condemn Stuart Robert's 'crass' comments about NDIS access to 'prostitutes'

Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert during Question Time at Parliament House. Source: AAP

Stuart Robert has been condemned for making "derogatory" comments about the need to prevent NDIS participants from accessing "prostitution services".

Advocates have criticised NDIS Minister Stuart Robert for making "crass" and "offensive" comments about people with disabilities accessing sex therapy services. 

Mr Robert on Wednesday said the government would introduce legislation to prevent taxpayer money being used to access what he described as "prostitution services". 

He made the point in an interview with 2GB's Ray Hadley, where he raised his concerns over a Federal Court ruling that found a woman with a disability was legally entitled to receive funding for sex therapy.

Mr Robert told Mr Hadley during the interview: “I never thought you and I would be talking about prostitutes.”

The minister's comments have prompted backlash from disability advocacy groups, who are concerned the minister's stance is demeaning. 

"To start talking about prostitutes in this really inflammatory way to a shock-jock is something that we wouldn't expect from the minister," People with Disability Australia president Samantha O'Connor told SBS News. 

"The idea that it's funding prostitutes. We're talking about professional sex services for a wide-range of people."

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Australia has signed, says people with disabilities have a right to enjoy the highest standard of health without discrimination. 

Ms O'Connor said Mr Robert's comments were "crass" and accused him of attempting to generate "outrage" in an effort to push through the legislative change. 

"We have the same rights to an ordinary life," she added.

"People with a disability don’t have the same access to sex as other people do."

The criticism comes as state and territory ministers from across the political divide have rejected a proposal to change National Disability Insurance Scheme funding rules.

The Australia Capital Territory opposes banning sex services from the NDIS, while other states have asked for more consultation or indicated they were unlikely to support the federal government. 

Mr Robert said the failure to reach an agreement on this issue meant he has been "forced to legislate". 

"I will move to actually define what is reasonable and necessary so we can meet community standards, because I do not believe that the federal government using taxpayer’s money to pay for prostitutes meets that standard," he said. 

"If states and territories wish to fund prostitutes they can pay for it themselves." 

Mr Robert added NDIS participants were “welcome to avail themselves of anything that is lawful and they can pay for themselves” but not using taxpayer funds.

"At no stage has Minister Robert said people with disability should not be able to access such services," a spokesman said. 

"As the Minister has made clear the Commonwealth has made the determination it will not fund sex work through the NDIS as it is not in line with the intent of the scheme nor with community expectations and will legislate to that effect.

"If state and territory governments wish to fund such services for people with disability they are able to do so."

National Ethnic Disability Alliance president Margherita Coppolino said she was "shocked" and "offended" to hear Mr Robert's comments. 

"The language he used, and his comments were offensive, derogatory, and utterly unnecessary," she told SBS News. 

"Sexuality is central to the human condition and sexual rights are human rights." 

Though no details of the legislative push have been made public, Mr Robert has urged Labor and crossbench senators to support the move. 

"I hope they'll understand that no government has ever funded prostitution before ever that we can find in the history of the Commonwealth," he said.

Greens Senator Jordan Steele-John said NDIS participants should not have to "fight" against a system that was created to support them. 

"If a disabled person who is a participant of the NDIS can show that a support or a service they wish to include in their plan is reasonable or necessary, then the scheme is working as it should," he said. 

"It is the very antithesis of the scheme for the minister have the power to veto - based on his own moral beliefs - the kind of services and supports a disabled person might need in their plan."

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