Photo: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you very much John. Can I also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and any Elders past and present. But can I particularly acknowledge Philip, and if you’ve got one pf those, fill it out, give Philip some hope and his family some hope.
It’s very important we’re all here today, we’re here as guests of others, we’re here in our own right, bringing tables. It’s a generous community that I grew up in here in Sydney. It’s great to see so many of you here being generous here today.
But when you hear these stories, there’s only one thing we can respond in doing and that is fill this out. And I’ll make sure we’re going to keep filling them out from the Commonwealth Government’s point of view as well and I want to talk a bit more about that today.
It’s good to be here with John and John I worked together some time ago. And he used to speak, and he’ll remember this, about being ‘strong and compassionate’ and I’ve thought a lot about that as the years have passed.
It does sort of reflect the tension in public life. The need for strength, but also the need to be compassionate. And in the opportunity to work together with Lifeline I think we can do both.
And that’s certainly what John has been able to do and I want to thank him for his great service. Not only in chairing Lifeline but I think in being an advocate and being someone who demystifies and destigmatizes the issues of mental health in Australia. And so congratulations John.
Thanks you for your service John. And Lucy is great, Lucy does a great job as we know…
She does a terrific job as Chair of Australia’s Mental Health Commission and we really thank you for the work you do there.
And I was thinking of Lifeline only recently. We were announcing some funding for some support down at a spot we’re all pretty familiar with, down there near the Watson’s Bay Hotel, over near the cliff. And we were making some announcements there about how we were doing improvements to lighting and those sort of things that has been part of the programme of that area to make that less of a hot spot.
And what it reminded me of was, it was a lonely place. And people are in lonely places and they can be in dark places.
But what we have an opportunity to do through organisations like Lifeline is that we can bring light to them and it’s not just light down at the gap.
These places can be offices, they can be classrooms, they can be kitchens, they can be bedrooms, they can be shop floors, and they can even be hotel ballrooms here today.
What might seem full of light to all the rest us can be dark, it can be lonely, it can feel windswept, it can feel isolated and disconnected. And what we’re trying to do is bring light to that. An acknowledgment to those situations people find themselves in.
And Julian Leeser who is here today and other colleagues who are here today and I welcome them as well as they’ve already been acknowledged today. Julian and I were talking about the issue of suicide.
Julian is one of the great champions of suicide prevention in our national Parliament. Just like Jason and Paul and others who are here. And it doesn’t matter which side of politics you are on. When Julian speaks about these issues, people stop and they listen, and so they should.
Because as you know Julian lost his father to suicide – and we were talking about trying to see the signs of depression, the sadness and distress in others and being alert to it.
Because often we’re not. And one of the stories Julian will tell you about it is how he wished he had been able to interpret more of what those signs are.
And it’s our responsiveness to this that gives us an opportunity to intervene, to step in, R U OK Day is another great initiative that was started by a mate of mine I went to school with and who we lost some years ago. Not to mental illness, actually to another illness.
But this stop and observe each other I think is important, and that’s what we’re all here doing today.
It can be very human to miss these signs. It can be very human to try and mask the signs that you’re in fact feeling. And so picking up on these things is very important.
For people in distress in Australia, Lifeline is one of these disruptors that can actually come in and intervene in these moments.
It can be that little voice to someone in distress that says “call Lifeline” and they see it, as John said, every other day at the end of an article somewhere. It disrupts, it makes a difference.
Or it could just be the number that you see elsewhere.
For tens of thousands of people, countless Australians, it has already been an important disruptor for their own battle with mental illness or of their family or friends.
I particularly want to acknowledge today, as I know John would also, all the counsellors who are making this difference every single day – if you have been or are a Lifeline counsellor I’d like you stand in your seats right now if you’re here because we all owe you a great debt of thanks and I want to acknowledge you in this room today. If there are any counsellors here, we want to say thanks.
We don’t know and we’ll never know who these counsellors have helped. It could have been one of our siblings, or one of your children, it could have been your football or netball coach or that that of your kids’ coach, it could be your kid’s school teacher, it could be your neighbour, it could be your parent or it could even be your local member of Parliament, and it could have even been you at some point in the future.
And yes, Lifeline does so many other things that supplement their mighty phone counselling service – and I also acknowledge that good work too.
But there is one call we should all remember. It took place in fifty-five years ago in 1963.
It was a time when they had rotary dial telephones, timed STD calls and phone boxes on street corners.
And Reverend Alan Walker, took a call at his Beacon Hill home. It was from a man named Roy. He got Reverend Walker’s number out of the phone book, we all remember what they were. Some of us do.
Roy was lonely, distressed and struggling under a weight of debt and they arranged to meet. But before the meeting took place, Roy took his own life.
Now Reverend Walker was a man of deep faith. He understood the admonition that faith without deeds is dead.
And he turned his faith into action. He turned his faith into real deeds.
And along with a small band of volunteers established Lifeline as an expression of his deep faith. Because he knew there were thousands of Roys in the country.
From its inception, Lifeline understood that, at times, we all need a helping hand. And there is nothing wrong in asking for help.
Now my dad was a police officer, so was my uncle – and you didn’t think or inquire about the emotional toll of a difficult job. The same is true for nurses, paramedics, firefighters, ambulance officers, and we thank them for the wonderful job they do.
They were just expected to deal with it. Just like returning veterans. Just like our Vietnam vets, who came back and were not recognised when they came home, one of the most shameful acts in Australia’s history. They were just expected to deal with it, and many just couldn’t.
It was not and will never be the right way to do things.
That’s why when Prince Harry was here, it was so great how he talked so freely in his recent visit about it and acknowledging the challenges and the need for greater awareness of that mental illness.
And when he and I met together privately, we spoke about this, and he was so interested in the work of whether it was Lifeline or whether it was Kookaburra Kids which we talked about passionately or the work of so many wonderful organisations. Whether they be with youth, with Headspace or any of these projects.
On the Sunday I was able to introduce the Prince to John and many others who were involved in all of these projects. And when he was out in Dubbo he said, “How easy is it for you guys to talk about your mental health?” He asked the students out there in Dubbo.
It’s a great question – and the kids all looked at the floor. Like many of us do when this topic still comes up today.
The honest answer for us adults is “it is not as easy as you think” – so we all have to keep working at this.
The good news is asking for help is no longer seen as weakness, but it is seen as a strength.
Offering help is no longer seen as “not my business” but my responsibility as a family member, a friend, an employer and a neighbour.
I said a few months ago, that if you love Australia, which I know we all do passionately, all around the country, it means you love your fellow Australians. That’s what it really means to love Australia.
You can love the beaches, you can love all the great history, you can love whether it’s generations or centuries, you can love all these wonderful things about Australia. But if you really love Australia, you love your fellow Australians.
Mateship, I believe, is the Australian word for love.
“Who is my neighbour?” It’s a question as old as time.
You have answered it at Lifeline with “we are”. We all are, you are, everyone is my neighbour.
And everyone here knows the statistics. One in seven of our children four to seventeen will experience a mental health challenge in any year. For adults, it’s one in five.
There is good work happening across our country, but there is more work to do.
As a Government, yes it’s true, as John said, we have been very active in this space and I assure you with Lifeline will be more active in this space and John and I will be working through those issues now.
There was a $33 million funding boost to Lifeline – part of $72 million provided to suicide prevention initiatives that I announced in this year’s Budget. And for Lifeline, John said, that was the first significant increase to Lifeline since John Howard was in office.
Almost $200 million a year for 24/7 counselling support for veterans and their families. If you’re a veteran today, whether you’ve served one day or you’ve served decades, you get access to free mental health in this country as you should. As you should as an acknowledgement for your service and the fact that we owe a memorial not just to those who have fallen but we owe a service to the living.
110 headspace centres for our young people and extending the e-headspace service, over $50 million which we put into that and I have announced in recent weeks.
$11 million in mental health funding for drought affected areas across our drought stricken New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria. I just got a report last night from the difficulties that people are facing up there in Scone at the moment in terms of the drought.
And Lifeline will be there with our farmers and doing what they can along with the mental health counsellors who are there and working with those communities.
$102 million for mental health in aged care as people in the residential aged care facilities deal with depression and loneliness and isolation was one of the key issues that was raised with me before the last Budget about the need to ensure people in aged care were being treated for the mental illnesses that they were suffering from.
And $125 million in the “Million Minds Mental Health Research Mission” to support one million people through better prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
There is still so much more to do in this area and you’re here doing it today. And our Government, and state governments right across the country, will keep doing what we need to do.
I think this issue has transcended politics and I hope it always will. That there will be a bipartisanship, a multi-partisanship, as we all work together to try and raise awareness and support those who are in the front line like they are here at Lifeline.
But it starts with us all listening to each other, and respecting each other and caring for each other.
To look for the signs. To stand by our mates.
To treat mental health in the same way we treat physical health – free of any stigma.
So I want to thank you all for the work you do. It is a pleasure to be here advancing the good work of Lifeline and a great privilege and I thank you very much for your attention.