Stuart Robert to appeal NDIS funding for MS sufferer

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Stuart Robert's move to appeal an AAT decision, awarding an MS sufferer sexual therapy under the NDIS, reflects his own personal prejudices and not the standards of the community which he represents writes, Dr Jennifer Wilson.

THE NATIONAL DISABILITY INSURANCE AUTHORITY (NDIA), whose Minister is Stuart Robert, will be challenging an Administrative Appeals Tribunal decision to fund the sexual therapy of a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis.

The Tribunal found that the woman had the right to $10,000 per year, to be funded by the insurance scheme, for her sexual therapy.

Minister Robert said the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) does not cover “sexual services, sexual therapy or sex workers” because that is “not in line with community expectations of what are reasonable and necessary supports” for people with a disability — and that he will challenge the AAT decision.  

It’s not clear to which community Robert is referring.

Along with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his wife Jenny, Robert and his wife Chantelle are Pentecostal Christians. The Roberts worship at the Metro Church on the Gold Coast, where Mrs Robert is a paid pastor.

The expectations of the Pentecostal community are definitely not in line with those of the more general community, believing as they do in the eternal damnation in fire and brimstone of non-believers — including Christians of other persuasions. They also believe that God rewards those who worship Him with material blessings (prosperity theology) and that poverty is the consequence of a failure to have faith in that God. This latter belief is succinctly expressed in the infamous Morrison slogan, “If you have a go you get a go”.

It is difficult to imagine why the general community would object to persons with disabilities being assisted in the pursuit of a sexual life from which they are excluded because of their disabilities. And where such objections do exist, they should be sternly challenged. However, given that Pentecostals are likely to blame the disabled for being disabled, it does make sense that a Pentecostal believer would see such assistance as contrary to his community’s expectations. If you’re disabled, God didn’t intend for you to enjoy a sexual life, might be their position.

As well, it is doubtful that Pentecostal morality can permit any sexual expression other than that between abled, married, heterosexual couples, baulking at the inclusion of a third party even as a therapeutic assistant. The very idea of employing a worker to assist a disabled person to masturbate, likely causes them extreme discomfort. This bizarre morality is then transposed into “community standards”.

As with Morrison, it’s necessary to question just how much Robert’s religious beliefs influence his decisions as to what is and is not a community expectation. Given Robert’s history of flaunting community expectations of the behaviour of politicians – a history that is long and ongoing – it is even more remarkable that on the question of the sexual lives of disabled persons, he is suddenly and inexplicably concerned for the upholding of imagined community standards.

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities underpins the NDIS. Governments are obliged by the Convention to ensure people with disabilities can enjoy life to the same extent as their non-disabled peers. How Robert excludes sexuality from this obligation is thus far a mystery.

Interestingly, in July 2015, Robert and his wife attended a Pentecostal Hillsong Conference similar to that attended by the Morrisons on July 9 of this year. Robert also accompanied his Prime Minister to this most recent conference. The Minister claimed travel entitlements for himself and his wife to the 2015 event, with the justification that he was representing the Government.

Why, we might well ask, does an assistant minister represent the Government at a Pentecostal conference? Why does the Government need any representation at a Pentecostal conference? Does the Government send senior representatives to all religious conferences or, only to those of the cult to which the Prime Minister and Stuart Robert belong?

The senior pastor at the Hillsong Church since 1999 is Brian Houston. In 2018, Houston was censured by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse when he gave evidence about his response to his father Frank Houston’s sexual abuse of up to nine children. One of Houston Senior’s victims also gave evidence to the Commission, stating that he had been abused for five years — from the age of seven until he was 12. 

The Royal Commission found that Brian Houston had failed to follow his church’s own protocol regarding sexual abuse claims, had a conflict of interest as his father was the perpetrator and failed to support the victim. In 2018, police re-opened their investigation into Houston Junior’s handling of these matters.

What we see here is that the expectations of Stuart Robert, Scott Morrison, their wives and their religious community are apparently broad enough to accept that a man under police investigation for neglecting to report the five-year-long sexual abuse of a little boy has sufficient moral capacity to act as the senior pastor in the Hillsong Church. This may well offend the expectations of the wider community. It certainly offended the expectations of the Royal Commission and, apparently, the police.

The standard you walk past…

Minister Robert’s choice to appeal the decision of the AAT in the matter of sexual therapy for the woman in question –and by extension, all persons with disabilities who desire a sexual life – is despicable. It smacks of an extremely distasteful prejudice on behalf of the Minister, possibly influenced by his religious beliefs. Robert’s assumptions about community expectations, or worse, his determination to mould community expectations to mirror his own, is alarming.

If Robert is to challenge the AAT decision, he must demonstrate that his notions of community expectations are separate from those of his faith. He must provide evidence that the general community do indeed object to sexual therapy and assistance for disabled persons and that this is not merely a projection of his own religious fervour.

Since the election of the Morrison Government, we are witnessing an increasing Pentecostal creep into political discourse. Morrison’s prayers at the Hillsong conference touched on many troubling situations in Australian society and politics, indicating that he gives as much, if not more, weight to the power of prayer to resolve difficulties as he does to policy.

Robert told Niki Savva that before the final party room vote that installed Morrison as leader and turfed Malcolm Turnbull into the wilderness, he and Morrison prayed together “that righteousness would exalt the nation”. 

The separation of church and state has never seemed so tenuous in Australian politics. We are right to demand that Stuart Robert makes it absolutely clear to the Australian people that, when he speaks of community standards, he is not referring to his religious cult, whose standards most certainly do not coincide with those of the wider community.

You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog No Place for Sheep or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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