Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the Opposition) (14:02): I join with the Prime Minister in celebrating R U OK? Day, started by his friend Gavin Larkin. Gavin was apparently a very successful advertising executive and described himself as a bit of an alpha male. But behind that success he had unhappiness. As he put it:
… I should have been feeling on top of the world and you know I felt empty, I felt black and it really scared me and I started to worry that I might do what my father did, which was take his own life.
Gavin’s father died by suicide. He explained in an interview that one thing that his father would never do was discuss with anybody his mental illness and the unhappiness that he was feeling prior to that tragedy.
It’s extraordinary. The Deputy Prime Minister and I have a long-term interest in reducing the road toll. The suicide toll is double the road toll, a quite extraordinary figure that I think most people around Australia, if you asked them cold, would not be conscious of.
Gavin did something pretty remarkable to help himself and to help others long after he was gone. He died just a few years after he initiated R U OK? Day, but his creation has lasted. His declaration of ‘a conversation can change a life’ is indeed a very positive one. This is one of Australia’s most embraced days of action. It’s embraced by young people, old people, people in pubs, people in organisations, and particularly, I think, by men—because we’re pretty hopeless with a range of health issues and with talking about our feelings from time to time. Indeed, I’m always reminded at this time of Greg Wilton, a former member for Isaacs, who took his own life, tragically, whilst he was one of our colleagues. His portrait hangs outside the parliamentary gym, a place where he was healthy and where he did enjoy spending time. As much as some of us saw that he was unhappy, I think no-one saw that coming. We were quite shocked by that. It’s a reminder that this can impact everyone, no matter how successful, their walk of life or what job they have.
In a high-pressure job like this, which is pretty tough and takes a personal toll on people from time to time, we shouldn’t be frightened of saying, ‘Are you okay?’ and joining those tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people who today will say that to their family members, to their friends and to people they don’t know all that well in the community. It doesn’t cost much to ask. I encourage people to do it today, and I congratulate all those, largely volunteers, who are associated with promoting what is indeed a great national day.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.