Tuesday, 18 March 2014
Last Saturday morning I jumped out of a plane. I began a speech exactly 12 months ago with that exact same statement—Senator Birmingham, I think you may have been in the chamber then; I am pretty sure you were. I said last year that, having done it once, I was going to give it another go. The reason was that I had an offer I could not refuse from a young man called Josh Burton in Queensland. Josh, with many other young people, is a member of the juvenile diabetes ambassador group. I think most people in this place have had the exceptional honour of meeting some of these kids and their families and hearing what it is like to live every day with juvenile diabetes and of their hopes for the future. They know that some day, with a lot of work, a lot of money and a lot of scientific knowledge, we will be able to find a cure for this disease that dominates their lives and the lives of their families.
I enjoy 80 per cent of jumping out of a plane—but the first 20 per cent, I have to admit, is not my favourite time. You would understand that I had to appear as though it was totally cool; I was having a really good time; and it is what everyone should do. I admit that I grew very close this year to a boy called Jason who was able to assure me he had jumped out of a plane at least 6½ thousand times—which made my second attempt seem not quite so important. On this day, there were 40 people jumping at the Ramblers organisation on the Sunshine Coast, a group jumping on the Gold Coast and a few in Cairns. They were working together on the Jump to Cure Diabetes day in Queensland to raise funds for diabetes research. We were hoping that the combined fundraising would reach around $75,000. I assure you that, if we could be sure that that money would be raised, many of us would go back over and over again. If what we are doing can raise awareness in the wider community and ensure that kids like Josh and others working and living with diabetes can have their hopes that there will be a cure fulfilled, then it is 'jumps well done'.
Last year I spoke little bit about Josh's own experiences and how he talked with me about what it was like to be told that he could expect to be injecting several times a day for the rest of his life—at the moment it is insulin, but there is work being done to see whether we could have any variations into the future. It is a constant monitoring process. Often there is pain, headaches and fatigue. They will also know that the likelihood of other diseases coming into their families over future years is very high. So it is not just the issue of diabetes.
One of the things we need to understand is that diabetes is a serious condition. I think many of us have become complacent because diabetes has been known in our community for many years; there has been great research; and we have proven methods of working with the disease—though no cure. Diabetes has almost been shrugged off as we learn more about other kinds of health conditions and research. People think: 'Diabetes is fine; we've got it under control.' Well, we haven't. And those of us who are not living with the condition every day have no right to dismiss the importance of working in this area.
We know that there are two types of diabetes: diabetes 1, which people are born with, and diabetes 2, which people acquire. There are all kinds of discussions around what causes someone to have the condition or not. Too often there is a level of complacent judgement when we talk about the issue—that somehow it is to do with lifestyle and diet and that, to an extent, people who acquire diabetes have brought it upon themselves. That is so judgemental, and there is so much that it does not understand about our medical knowledge and what we need to know about the impact on lives.
I spoke earlier about the juvenile diabetes ambassadors. These kids do an extraordinary job talking to parliamentarians, to community groups and among their peers to make sure people understand this disease and how we hope for a cure. Those of us who have been involved with Kids in the House in this place understand the significance of the issue and also the passion many people share to work to find a cure. When I was talking with Josh I remembered the first Kids in the House that I attended in this place, which was in about 2004. A friend of mine, a good mate from Perth, had come across as one of the parents in that group with his daughter Emma. Emma was then 12 years old and a wonderful kid. I am not going to say how old she is now, but it is not too hard to do the maths. Emma is now an extraordinary young woman who is working in Perth. She has grown into the kind of young woman that we all hope we could be. This was her statement in 2004:
Many times I wish that I could just close my eyes and it would go away. I want to know what it is like to lead a normal life so that I can eat what I want, when I want, and not worry about my blood sugar levels getting too low or too high. My biggest worry is about getting too low. Most people have blood sugar levels between five and eight, and their bodies automatically release insulin to keep their sugar levels constant. When you have diabetes this just does not happen. You have to try to add insulin by injecting it to balance the food that you eat. There is a lot of guess work involved and your blood sugars go up and down like a roller-coaster. So many lives are ruined by diabetes. My story is just one of them. I am a youth ambassador for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and we are desperately seeking support for getting us a cure. My parents and I help fundraise and I talk at workplaces about what it is like to have diabetes. People are usually very kind. Please talk to your colleagues about diabetes and help us find a cure.
Emma, you asked me to do that several years ago. I hope that over the years many of us have been able to talk to our colleagues and raise money in the hope of finding a cure. Last Saturday people were gathered together. One of the families that were jumping together was Josh, his mum, Chez, and his younger brother, Caelan. We were able to talk together and we had the opportunity to talk with local media at the Sunshine Coast. There was a genuine interest.
That is the reason that things like jumping out of a plane are important. Just maybe, by having that hook to get people involved and interested—and with the wonderful help of people who have been so generous to donate to the cause—we will be able to get more knowledge out into the wider community about the issues around diabetes so that it will not be dismissed. We will not judge people who identify that they have that condition, but we can work a little bit harder to understand what it is like to be told that you have a condition that is going to be with you for life. We can learn a little bit more about what it is like not to be like every other kid. It is so important for people to understand that.
I do not know whether, in 12 months time, I will be standing here talking about my extraordinary experience of being a long-term jumper from planes. I hope that, at least in this area, we will have people who say, when they hear about the issues of diabetes or some fundraising activity that is going on or some community gathering, 'Yes, I want to be involved in that.'
Young people like Josh and Emma rely on us, because we are the people they meet, and they know we are the people who are in positions in a political party or in a parliament who can ensure that this message is never lost. We can look at putting in place processes to donate to organisations. In this country we can continue to lead the world in extraordinary scientific knowledge. We heard, at the recent international diabetes convention in Melbourne, Australian scientists and Australian researchers being honoured for the work that they have done. Diabetes is an issue not just in Australia but internationally. We must raise the issue and be true to the expectations that people like Emma and Josh have placed on us.