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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13103

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (11:48): I rise to support the motion moved by the member for Shortland. I should note that, while 100 young Australians will be visiting parliament this Thursday, they certainly will not be alone. Many staff in Parliament House and in our electorate offices around the nation live with diabetes. Even in my office, one of my staff members has lived with diabetes since he was 13 years of age.

Type 1 diabetes, often referred to as juvenile diabetes, is among the most common chronic diseases among our young people, with more than 1,800 young Australians being diagnosed with the disease each year. However, it should be remembered that children with type 1 diabetes become adults with type 1 diabetes, for this is an autoimmune disease that is with you for life. So perhaps in this motion, although we should remember all the children, we should also remember all other Australians with type 1 diabetes.

The National Diabetes Services Scheme is a government program designed to assist those with diabetes to afford the exorbitant costs associated with the ongoing medical treatments. The NDSS celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. It is a highly successful program that has evolved and expanded over its 25 years of operation. I am pleased to say it has done so with bipartisan support.

Many suffering with diabetes, especially older Australians, fondly remember the Howard government's initiative to completely subsidise insulin syringes back in the 1990s. But this is not to say that some of those costs associated with the treatment of diabetes are not still prohibitive. This is made particularly the case when new developments and technological breakthroughs are made. The costs of running an insulin pump and the associated lines of cannulas are not cheap. Even under NDSS subsidisation it is still expensive and can be a financial impost that is simply too high for some families to sustain, let alone when you look to include unsubsidised continuous monitoring technology. So we in parliament must keep an ever present eye on the developments in the treatment of diabetes to ensure that the successful scheme maintains its effectiveness. However, we should also remember that the NDSS subsidises treatment. While some in the field have described the insulin pump as a vital cure, it is not a cure. It should not be forgotten that continued research, whether it be in islet cells or in other fields, must retain our strong bipartisan support.

Finally, I am pleased to speak in this debate because it provides a further opportunity to raise a particular timely issue faced by those people who are living with diabetes. In March this year Austroads and the National Transport Commission, released the updated assessing fitness to drive regulations, which incorporated blood sugar benchmarks for the very first time. Needless to say, much concern has arisen from the inclusion of the benchmark of what would be a HbA1c result of nine, which is both arbitrary and without clinical evidence. Even more frightening is the concern that these benchmarks will be strictly enforced without due consideration to extenuating circumstances such as a particularly high stress level in the three-month period or an unrelated illness such as the flu pushing up blood glucose levels. The concern is inflamed as there are many GPs who are simply unaware that the benchmarks contained in the assessing fitness to drive regulations should be treated with discretion. This rule has put one million Australians at risk of losing their licence, even without having a strong backing of clinical evidence.

This recent case is not alone. There has been a wave of arbitrary regulations developed to target Australians living with diabetes. Work is being done on the second initiative designed to encourage diabetics not to drive with blood sugar levels under five millimoles per litre. While this benchmark, which usually packages 'above five to drive', is well-meaning, it is again arbitrary. Hypoglycaemia is a significantly more dangerous driving risk than is hyperglycaemia, especially due to the immediacy of the symptoms. However, few diabetics will suffer the effects of hypoglycaemia until they record results in the three.

I support this motion. However, in the area of diabetes we must be sure further research is done in this area before bureaucrats race in to regulate.