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Spotlight on our Government Leadership Group with Debbie Smith

November 23, 2021

Debbie Smith is a member of JDRF’s Government Leadership Group (GLG) which builds strong and on-going relationships with members of Parliament to make sure that the voices of the T1D community are heard. The GLG plays an important role in ensuring that T1D inequities are addressed by better government policy. We chatted to Debbie about what it’s like to meet with MPs and what she’s hoping the group can achieve for JDRF’s #AccessForAll campaign in the lead up to the 2022 Federal Election. Read the full story for more.

Debbie Smith pictured left.

Why did you become a leader in the Government Leadership Group?

When my son Ben was first diagnosed I felt overwhelmed with hopelessness and grief. A JDRF member contacted me and invited me for coffee. After speaking with her I came away with a different perspective and a feeling of hope and purpose. I am forever grateful for that meeting and her kind supportive words which made me feel less alone and that we would be able to manage this sudden diagnosis. Since then, I have always thought that when I can, I would like to contribute to the important work that JDRF does. I am also a medical practitioner and in my work life I have seen inequity in accessing new technologies to manage type 1 diabetes and a wide range in long term negative outcomes.  I joined the JDRF Government Leadership Group (GLG) this year because I wanted to contribute to the important work of JDRF and see this inequity addressed by better government policy.

What does it involve to be in the Government Leadership Group?

The GLG is about supporting the government objectives of JDRF by building relationships and raising awareness with members of Parliament. I have no previous experience in government advocacy, though the JDRF Government Advocacy team have taught me so much and made it very easy. They have provided such wonderful guidance and support. JDRF have also developed very powerful advocacy tools such as the recent economic analysis report that outlines the cost of T1D and the mapping of State and Federal electorate type 1 diabetes statistics, which have both been very effective to use in meetings with representatives. Membership of the GLG involves reaching out to Federal Members of Parliament and Senators to set up meetings to discuss JDRF’s government objectives, with the aim of building an ongoing relationship with them so that the voice of the T1D community is strongly heard. The GLG meets monthly to discuss outcomes and progress of Parliamentary meetings. We also have a great WhatsApp group where everyone posts what meetings they have just been to. Everyone in the GLG are very supportive and positive. It is a wonderful group to be a part of.

What kind of activity have you been undertaking for JDRF’s election ask, and what do you hope to achieve?

Since joining the GLG I have met with Ms Celia Hammond MP and Federal Senator Ben Small to discuss the JDRF #AccessForAll election ask. Ms Hammond has since spoken about JDRF’s #AccessForAll in Parliament and written to the Federal Health Minister. Senator Small will also be discussing the JDRF election ask with Minister Hunt’s office. I have further meetings coming up with other Members of Parliament and have sent out a number of requests for meetings. We have also formed a WA advocate group to provide support to each other. I hope that through government advocacy we can raise awareness in Parliamentarians about type 1 diabetes, and obtain their support to drive the policy changes required to achieve the JDRF election asks set out in the #AccessForAll campaign.

What is the most exciting thing about being in the Government Leadership Group?

It is really exciting to hear about the advocacy successes of the members in the group and I am in awe of all the incredible work they do. To see their posts or photos after they have had yet another successful meeting with an MP or Senator is inspiring and motivating. There is also a sense of being in this together and that we can achieve more if we do so as a group in a coordinated, purposeful way with a focused, consistent and clear aim. The multiplying effect of this coordinated action means a strong voice about type 1 diabetes is present in any relevant public policy making, which I think is fantastic.

What does it feel like when an MP listens and takes action following a meeting you’ve had with them?

To be given time, listened to and heard by an MP and then for some action to follow is a wonderful feeling. It is acknowledgement that the person you were talking with truly heard and understood the importance of what was discussed. When an MP I met listened and took action, I felt a mixture of validation and gratefulness but mostly it makes one feel very motivated to keep going and to do more.