House debates

Wednesday, 3 July 2024


Health, Aged Care and Sport Committee; Report

6:38 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport, I present the committee's report entitled The state of diabetes mellitus in Australia in 2024 together with the minutes of proceedings.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

by leave—Australia's a wealthy country that has enjoyed a gradual and persistent increase in life expectancy for many generations.

Today, however, we face a series of challenges presented by a rising tide of chronic illnesses. Foremost amongst these is diabetes mellitus. With the aim of identifying strategies that we as a nation might pursue to combat this disease, just over a year ago the House Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport commenced an inquiry into diabetes mellitus in Australia in all its forms, and I thank the health minister for allowing us to do this.

Across the country, approximately 1½ million people are known to live with diabetes. Even worse, there is overwhelming evidence that this number will continue to rise. The nation faces what was throughout the inquiry described as a diabetes epidemic.

In undertaking this inquiry, the committee focused on opportunities for strengthening our approach to preventing, diagnosing and treating all forms of diabetes.

The evidence gathered by the committee makes it clear that diabetes does not impact all Australians equally. Members of communities with lower socioeconomic status are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes for a whole range of factors, and we must try and turn this ship around.

Current rates of type 2 diabetes are especially alarming amongst Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities. Not only do these communities experience high levels of diabetes; the disease often develops at a younger age and its course is more rapid.

Having completed its inquiry, the committee formed the view that prevention should be the primary aim of diabetes management wherever possible. Public health campaigns that raise awareness of the risk of diabetes in obesity should be prioritised, and we should strive to develop a healthcare workforce with deep expertise in the prevention and management of these conditions.

We must also address the fact that the environments we live in promote unhealthy habits. We need to restrict the availability and marketing of unhealthy food and beverages, especially to children. More also needs to be done to ensure that all Australian communities have access to healthy food.

As such, while prevention is good at tackling the diabetes epidemic, the cultivation of sophisticated research ecosystem and deep national expertise in the medications and technologies that can assist in the treatment of diabetes are just as important.

There are 23 main recommendations in the report, and there are other recommendations in the body of the report.

I wish to thank the federal and state government departments and agencies, industry groups, peak bodies, think tanks, academics, health practicians, medical research organisations, pharmaceutical and health companies and members of the general public who all provided invaluable input into this inquiry.

Specifically, I'd like to thank those with lived experience of diabetes in all its forms for their evidence to the committee. Some of their evidence was deeply harrowing and very emotional, and we're very grateful for the efforts they have made. In conducting the inquiry, the committee travelled throughout Australia to hear firsthand experience, and it was very important.

I'd like to thank the committee secretariat, and I'd like to mention them all by name—Andrew Bray, Iva Glisic, Kate Morris, Clare Anderson, Kate Portus and April Stephenson—for the work they did in the inquiry.

Their dedication and commitment to the committee are fine reflections on the Australian Public Service of the highest standard, and I cannot thank them enough for all their efforts.

I'd like to thank also my fellow committee members for their participation, as all members contributed very strongly through the committee report.

I'd particularly like to thank the deputy chairs Melissa McIntosh and later Julian Leeser for their hard work, their spirit of cooperation, intelligence during the inquiry and their willingness and empathy to work with all members of the committee.

I'd like to thank my friends and colleagues David Simmons and Helen Woodward for always allowing me to call at any hour to question them and get their sage advice about critical issues in diabetes management.

I'd like to thank the health minister once again for all of his support.

I commend the report to the House.

6:42 pm

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—Over the past year the committee heard almost 500 written submissions and conducted 15 public hearings across Australia, heading from advocacy groups, international renowned health experts and many people who live with diabetes every day. To those who shared their stories with us, I say thank you.

Even before becoming a member of this committee, I knew something of the experience of people living with diabetes and their families. In my electorate, there's an active group of children and families living with type 1 diabetes who support the JDRF who've some to see me, and I've watched the progress of a number of those children, and many of their families have become friends. Because of my constituents, I've been an advocate for research into diabetes and, in particular, greater access to CGMs. And I want to put on record my thanks to Greg Hunt, the health minister in the Morrison government, for extending access and supporting research.

At the outset, I would like to acknowledge and thank the chair of the committee, the member for Macarthur, Dr Mike Freelander. It's been an absolute pleasure to work with him. The member for Macarthur's professionalism in conducting the inquiry, his deep passion on the issue of diabetes, his expertise developed over many decades as a paediatrician and his collegiate approach are very much appreciated by all members of the committee, particularly on our side of the House.

I also want to mention the former deputy chair of the committee, the member for Lindsay. The member for Lindsay was the deputy chair for most of this inquiry and contributed much. She's the mother of Byron, who I understand is in the parliament today, and he lives with type 1 diabetes. She brought the perspective of a parent dealing with type 1 diabetes to the inquiry, and I'm grateful to her for all of her assistance, including in the final stages of the inquiry.

With one exception, the recommendations of the final report into diabetes enjoy bipartisan support. For instance, the report contains recommendations about the need for greater analysis; increased screening; the development of a best practice framework to tackle obesogenic environments in coordination with state and territory governments; and broader public awareness information about healthy lifestyle choices. These are steps that would build on the work of many previous governments.

All members of the committee were struck by evidence that most Australians are not meeting their required levels of physical activity and of the need to participate in sport throughout the school years to develop a foundation for lifelong healthy living. We agree with the recommendations about better and simpler food labelling to make consumer choices of healthy food easier. Coalition members of the committee agreed with recommendations to expand subsidies for access to CGMs. The CGM scheme was established in 2017 by the coalition and, once established, further enhancements and investments were made to the scheme. And we agree that equitable access to health care for people living with all forms of diabetes is crucial to effective management.

Over the course of the inquiry, the committee heard from groups in regional, rural and remote communities, and their evidence about the difficulties they face in managing diabetes. A person's ability to manage diabetes should not be determined by postcode. Coalition members of the committee also agreed with the need to investigate mechanisms for priority access to GLP1 receptor agonists for disadvantaged and remote communities of high need, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We strongly support a review into the limits for accessing juvenile mental health and diabetes services, with a view to enabling young people to continue receiving support for longer. And coalition members agreed with the need to investigate measures to lower the cost of treatment.

As I said, while there are many areas of agreement, coalition members dissent from recommendation 4, which recommends a sugar tax. We believe that the case for a levy on sugar-sweetened beverages has not been made. Australia is in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis which shows no sign of abating. People are doing it tough, struggling to pay bills and put food on the table. We believe this new tax proposal would cause financial harm disproportionately to those who can least afford it. There's also a real issue about whether a sugar tax would change behaviour. Finally, it's worth noting that an existing tax is applied to discretionary foods, such as confectionary and sugary drinks, and that's by way of the goods and services tax. But the GST does not apply to a range of healthy foods like fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and bottled water.

As I said, with the exception of this recommendation, coalition members support all other recommendations in the report, and we encourage the government to give those recommendations serious consideration and implementation. Once again, I thank the chair, my parliamentary colleagues and the committee staff for their efforts in the inquiry. I hope those living with diabetes recognise the genuine goodwill and deep thinking about diabetes management and prevention that have gone into the report. I commend the report to the House.

6:47 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the House take note of the report.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The debate is adjourned and resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.