The Administrative Appeals Tribunal recently ruled that sex therapy should be considered a "reasonable and necessary support" for a National Disability Insurance Scheme participant. This is a good thing.
As Matthew Bowden, co-chief executive of People with Disability Australia has said, sex is "a very ordinary thing". The ACT government agrees.
Our view is that the tribunal's decision upholds human rights and is in line the fundamental objectives of the NDIS - to enable people with disability to live an "ordinary life" with choice and control over the reasonable and necessary supports to achieve their goals. We recognise that sex and intimacy are part of an "ordinary life" and reject the view that people with disability should not be entitled to enjoy this aspect of life.
In making his ruling, the deputy president of the tribunal, Brian Rayment, found that sexual release, to the extent the participant was able to achieve it, was "good for her mental wellbeing, her emotional wellbeing and her physical wellbeing". This reflects abundant research demonstrating the physical and psychological benefits of sex.
It is clear that the Commonwealth is taking a moral position, not one based on concerns about fiscal sustainability.
However, people with disability have also noted that this AAT decision is limited in its application, as it explicitly considers only the services of a sex therapist, not the use of sex workers.
Canberrans were fortunate to have Jenni and David Heckendorf in our community for many years (they moved to sunny Queensland in 2018), raising awareness about the fact that people with disabilities sometimes need the help of a sex worker to support their intimacy needs. In their case, these services have supported their lives as a married couple, but single people have sexual needs too.
Unfortunately, the National Disability Insurance Agency continues to oppose the inclusion of sex therapy in the participant's plan, and the Minister for the NDIS, Stuart Robert, has stated that the AAT decision will be appealed to the Federal Court.
Minister Robert has justified this position on the basis that "these services are not in line with community expectations of what are reasonable and necessary supports".
It is clear that the Commonwealth is taking a moral position, not one based on concerns about fiscal sustainability. Last week I wrote to Minister Robert and my state and territory counterparts to let them know the ACT government disagrees with the Commonwealth's view. I also informed Minister Robert that the ACT would not support any move to amend the NDIS rules on participant supports to preclude support for sex therapy, sex work or services aimed at sexual release. These are known as Category A rules, so changing them requires the agreement of all states and territories.
The ACT government believes that suggestions the NDIS should not support sex therapy, sex work or services aimed at sexual release reflect an outdated attitude that sees people with disability as asexual and undeserving of sexual intimacy or release.
Any move to preclude funding of such services would result in further discrimination against people with disability and work against the objective of social inclusion by reinforcing negative stereotypes. That's not happening on my watch.
- Rachel Stephen-Smith is the ACT government's Minister for Disability