I'm not falling for Turnbull's diabetes bribe



Last month, Malcolm Turnbull tried to buy my vote.

Insulin injectionThe Prime Minister, facing his first election as leader of the Coalition, announced that, if reelected, his party would spend $54 million on continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) for up to 4000 Type 1 diabetics under the age of 21.

It was a rich, impressive promise, one that sounded obscure to most of his constituency but which was a lightning rod for those to whom it pertained: the children and small number of adults diagnosed each year with Type 1 diabetes (the fastest growing chronic disease among children in Australia), and their parents, who live in mortal fear that their offsprings' blood glucose levels will drop so low overnight that they will fall into a coma and die.

Type 1 diabetics — not to be confused with the far more prevalent sufferers of Type 2 diabetes — possess no insulin-producing cells in their pancreas. These islets are killed off during a random, auto-immune response which usually occurs in childhood.

Diabetics must test their blood regularly with finger pricks, and inject themselves with insulin around four times a day for the rest of their lives. Every time they eat food containing carbohydrates — bread, fruit, milk, certain high-sugar vegetables — they must calculate the carbohydrate content and determine how many units of insulin to administer so that the glucose can be catalysed, admitted into the body's cells and converted into energy.

The lifelong challenge for Type 1 diabetics lies in maintaining consistent glucose levels: too much glucose and nerve damage will occur, potentially leading to blindness, kidney disease and gangrene in the extremities; too little and they will suffer hypoglycaemia, which can lead to coma and death.

Until now, CGMs have been exempt from the Medicare rebate scheme. Tiny though they are, they cost thousands of dollars a year to operate.

The device's sensor is attached via a thin cannula through the skin on the diabetic's torso, and sends real-time glucose levels readings to their mobile phones via Bluetooth. This not only alerts them to dangerously high or low readings, but also reduces the need for finger pricks, allows for more accurate insulin administration and helps to stabilise glucose levels, thus reducing the likelihood of complications (and cost to the health system) later in life.


"It's a cruel and manipulative joke, to offer parents a safeguard for their children (and only a limited number of them, at that) in return for unquestioning loyalty."


Knowing this device is more precious than gold, Turnbull has offered it like some tantalising lolly from his bag of election goodies. If you vote for me, he is saying, I will give you something that might just save your child's life.

But the election promise comes too late for Donna Meads-Barlow, the woman who has campaigned tirelessly for government funding for CGMs, and upon whose efforts the government has finally taken action. In 2011 the Sydney mother lost her 17-year-old daughter Danii to nocturnal hypoglycaemia, or dead-in-bed syndrome, a condition that would have been detected had she been wearing a CGM. Despite the tragedy she's endured, Meads-Barlow continues to fight for recognition and medical rights on behalf of all those afflicted with the same condition her beloved daughter bore. She has become a hero to those who grapple with this condition every day.

It's too late for my own son, too, though mercifully he is still with us: he turned 21 in March, so won't qualify for the subsidy should the Coalition win the election. But even if Turnbull had pulled out the treasurer's wallet sooner — even if he was offering this revolutionary device to all those living with Type 1 diabetes in Australia — he still wouldn't be getting my vote.

For I'm not fooled by his sudden interest in an issue Meads-Barlow has been fighting to bring to the government's attention for years. Nor do I take seriously this flinging around of imaginary money with the aim of buying voters' loyalty. It's a stunt that proves our sudden usefulness to a government that has realised it's staring down the barrel of a gun. It spells out quite clearly the fact that those people in Australia battling with this life-threatening condition are worth taking notice of only on the day they get to voice their opinion, election day.

History has taught us that for the three years that stretch like a lifetime in between, we — and other voters desperate for the government to take heed of their concerns — will be treated with contempt.

It's a cruel and manipulative joke, to offer parents a safeguard for their children (and only a limited number of them, at that) in return for unquestioning loyalty. But Turnbull can put the lollies back in his goody bag. Much as I love my son, I won't be selling my soul at the ballot box.

POSTSCRIPT: Labor has countered the Coalitions's promise with an $80 million funding scheme for CMGs for Type 1 diabetics under the age of 21, those over 21 with a history of poor glucose management, and pregnant women.


Catherine MarshallCatherine Marshall is a Sydney-based journalist and travel writer.

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Existing comments

Donna and Brian have given so much to the cause Together with them I will never ever give up the fight to find a cure. Bravo to two fine Australians God Bless
susan alberti AC | 24 June 2016

Thank you Catherine for eloquently saying everything I have felt as a mum with a T1 daughter - type one should be part of a conversation on both sides of politics and not just at election time and then discounted the moment we have a new economic crisis . These people with T1 are real and they walk a tightrope every day in making basic decisions about food and excerise things the rest of us take for granted - Thank you again - best regards Penny
Penny Dedes | 24 June 2016

You call this being unbiased reporting? I expected more from you, Catherine Marshall. We are only too grateful for this promise. Now please spend your time on dissecting truly ridiculous promises for which there is no money!
Liezl | 24 June 2016

Just b/c it's free doesn't mean someone will use it. My son already has an insertion site for his pump. He refuses to have another one for a CGM.
Mimi | 25 June 2016

I can't stand politicians trying to bribe their way into office either! If Turnbull really cared for people, he would't leave desperate asylum seekers on off-shore hell-holes where they are so desperate they self-harm and even self-immolate. I will never be a proud Australian while our Government sacrifice the lives of desperate asylum seekers for their own political gain and also try to bribe their way into office.
Grant Allen | 26 June 2016


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