Julia Gillard has credited her father for endowing her with a lifetime passion for fighting mental illness, as she prepares to take control of the national depression initiative Beyondblue.
Ms Gillard’s father was a psychiatric nurse at Adelaide’s Glenside Hospital and she has previously described how he would sometimes take her to work with him in the 1970s. She would play with people who had been institutionalised, some since they were children.
“Through my father and his window on the world I got to know something about mental health and mental healthcare facilities,” she said yesterday.
“That was in the days when mental health wasn’t talked about, when people who were being treated were literally in big hospitals behind high walls and people didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to see what was going on behind those high walls.” She said the mental health landscape had since changed with people prepared to talk about anxiety, depression and suicide. “We are prepared to face up to the fact that so many people who need assistance don’t get the help that they require when they most need it,” she said.
Ms Gillard, Labor prime minister from 2010-13, was announced yesterday as the new chairwoman of the organisation, taking over from founder Jeff Kennett, who has led the group for 17 years.
She said that while Australians had different views about her time as prime minister, she thought the community hankered for the spirit of bipartisanship.
“There are some things where all sides of politics, people from all value sets and perspectives should come together to try and get something done and I think Jeff and I for Beyondblueare an embodiment of that spirit,” she said.
Mr Kennett, the Victorian premier from 1992-99, said the great strength of the organisation was that it has been bipartisan and existed only to serve a broader community. However, when asked about his advice for Ms Gillard on her new role, he joked “vote Liberal”.
He said having a former prime minister as the group’s leader would ensure it could continue to open doors — politically, commercially and with the community.
He said it was difficult for any organisation to get coverage in today’s cluttered news space and with Ms Gillard at the helm she would bring Beyondbluerecognition worthy of a past prime minister’s support.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Mr Kennett had done tremendous work as chairman of Beyondblueand offered his congratulations to Ms Gillard. “She will do a great job and I look forward to working with her,” he said.
Labor’s ageing and mental health spokeswoman Julie Collins said Ms Gillard brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to her new role.
This piece by Tessa Akerman was originally published on ‘The Australian’ March 22, 2017.