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beyondblue Chair Julia Gillard delivers 2017 Annual Bob Hawke Lecture

12 October 2017

The following is a transcript of the speech beyondblue Chair The Hon. Julia Gillard AC delivered at the 2017 Annual Hawke Lecture in Adelaide:

 

In An Age of Anxiety: Learning from the Hawke Legacy

Julia Gillard

2017 Annual Hawke Lecture

Adelaide Town Hall

12 October 2017

                                                                                                                                               

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and in a spirit of reconciliation pay my respects to elders past and present.

 

It’s good to be here at the invitation of the University of South Australia. I last delivered a lecture with the Hawke Centre on a cause close to my heart, that of ensuring every child gets a great education.

I explained then how much it distressed me to know that, in today’s world, more than 260 million children are denied the chance to ever sit in a classroom.  

Millions more do go to school but the education they receive is of such poor quality they emerge unable to read or write.

In the time since I spoke on this profound challenge, the Global Partnership for Education, which I Chair, has been working hard in sixty-five developing countries to create hope by improving access to, and the quality of, school education.

I am heartened by the progress we are making.

 

So today – from a cause close to my heart, to a man close to my heart, the one and only Bob Hawke.  It is a privilege to deliver the Annual Hawke Lecture.

Today’s lecture is the 20th in the series. The catalogue of previous speakers is both impressive and daunting; meaning I have not just big – but many – shoes to fill.

On the list, there are Nobel Laureates … Australians of the Year… Indigenous leaders… international statesmen and women… High Court justices… and, of course, the great man himself.

Bob delivered the inaugural Hawke Lecture on May 12, 1998 – the year I entered the Federal Parliament.

The title of his oration was ‘A Confident Australia’. It was quintessential Hawke.

Bob took the audience on a long ride – from convict transportation to the Gold Rush to the World Wars to economic reform to Reconciliation.

He spoke of the confidence that Australia could and should have in the future… but confessed ‘a sense of foreboding’.

And he quoted the final lines of W.B. Yeats’ poem, ‘The Second Coming’,

And what rough beast, its hour come around at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Remember, this was 1998: the interregnum between the fall of the Iron Curtain and the destruction of the World Trade Centre.

This was a time when – in some circles – people were predicting the ‘end of history' because the West had won the Cold War and democracy could now prevail.

But Bob knew better. He knew history never ends. There is always a new chapter to write. And, so …

Three years later we had 9/11,

Five years later we had the Second Gulf War;

Nine years later we had the Global Financial Crisis; and

Today waking up to reports of a new act of terrorism or another missile test seems distressingly routine.

These geopolitical and economic upheavals have converged with a triumvirate of social, environmental and technological changes, ranging from …

Baby Boomers becoming grey nomads,

Climate change becoming undeniable in any reasonable mind, and

Digital disruption becoming the revolution of our age.

All this before you even think about something Bob has personally studied in great detail – namely China’s return as a global power.

 

‘Consensus Leadership’

Delivering this lecture 20 years ago, Bob could not have foreseen all these changes. No one could.

But Bob was thoroughly credentialed to give a master class in how to show leadership in times of great change, because that’s exactly what his Government did in the 1980s, when it opened up and modernised the Australian economy.

This project was courageous and controversial.

Courageous, because it went against the protectionism that had dominated Federal politics since Federation;

Controversial, because there were no easy answers in that time of social and economic uncertainty.

 

Remember, Australia spent most of the 1970s riding a rollercoaster of inflation, unemployment and recession – and Bob led the Government that took us out of the cycle of boom and bust; and he did it not by crashing or crashing through, but by consensus.

This was a new style of leadership and it was apparent as soon as he took office.

As the man himself said during his inaugural Hawke Lecture:

‘Believing that shared knowledge is the basis of shared endeavour I called a National Summit within a month of forming government…

‘Representatives from Federal, State and municipal governments, business and trade unions, farmers, social welfare organisations and the churches met in … Parliament House.

‘All the information available to us about the economy was made available to the participants who themselves presented their own papers and opinions.

‘At the conclusion of the Summit the ninety-eight delegates and nineteen observers rose unanimously – with the exception of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen – to applaud the final communique pledging all organisations to work together for the recovery and reconstruction of Australia.’

 

Having served as a leader, I am in awe of what Bob achieved at that National Summit and in the years following.

And I am admiring not just of his political skills but of his values.

Through all that change, Bob demonstrated an unwavering belief in one certainty – that our nation needs to stand together and we need to look out for each other.  

If you want to translate that into the Australian vernacular you could call it the ‘fair go’.

Bob’s belief in, indeed embodiment of, this uniquely Aussie spirit of mateship, explains why he has been such an enduring figure in Australia’s public life.

 

Driving reform, valuing fairness, that’s why the Government Bob led was the lodestar for the Government I led.

And whenever I needed counsel or support along the way, Bob was always available. Always supportive.

However, I must confess it is a little surreal to take advice from Bob Hawke.

Surreal because I had been taught to revere him since I was a teenager.

My father, John Gillard – who was born in 1929, the same year as Bob – idolised the man … as did I.

I remember the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government in 1975.

Gough and Bob came to Adelaide to hold a public rally with Don Dunstan – and Dad took me to the protest.

I was just 14 and will never forget the passion of the crowd – nor the charisma of Gough, Bob and Don.

Don’t tell Paul Keating, but the three of them up there were the political equivalent of the Three Tenors.

Dad often discussed Labor politics at home – instilling the importance of the fair go.

But Dad broadened my horizons in other ways, too.

 

‘One Gun and One Bullet’

You see, my parents migrated to Australia from Wales seeking a better life for my sister Alison and I – and worked incredibly hard to realise their ambitions for us.

Mum – Moira Gillard – worked as a cook at Sunset Lodge, an aged care facility for women run by the Salvos.

My first part-time job was at Sunset Lodge – setting the tables, serving the meals and, on Saturdays, peeling vegetables.

Many of the women at Sunset Lodge became my substitute grandmothers.

Those women taught me many life lessons.

As for Dad, he worked first at a cheese factory and then as an overnight security guard for the Savings Bank of South Australia head office in King William Street.

The bank gave him one gun and one bullet.

Dad joked that if he was confronted by a gang of bank robbers he’d shoot his bullet at one of them, throw his gun at the other one, then run for it.

Dad left the Bank after he saw an advertisement for people looking to be either prison guards or psychiatric nurses.

He applied and ended up working at Glenside Hospital for decades as a psychiatric nurse.

Glenside was what we’d now call a mental health facility.

It was more than that, though.

Before deinstitutionalisation, Glenside held people who lived with all sorts of mental health conditions. 

I use the word ‘held’ intentionally, because when Dad started at Glenside it was very regimented.

Doors were locked and Dad’s uniform was a suit and tie.

The colour of the tie Dad wore had to change whenever he passed another level of training as a nurse.

By the time he left Glenside, though, Dad no longer wore a coloured tie – just casual pants and a T-shirt.

Times had changed. The uniforms were gone, the locks were gone, and it was impossible to look at how someone was dressed and work out if they were a nurse, a doctor or a patient.

Looking back, I realise Dad’s time at Glenside was a blessing for me, and not just because it provided our family with the benefits that come from stable and secure employment.

Rather, it was a blessing because it gave me opportunities as a child to get to know people who live with a disability or a mental health condition as people first.

That’s not to say Glenside was all good.

The history of an institution founded in 1836 – which catered for criminals deemed insane, those with syphilis induced dementia, prostitutes and many others who couldn’t or wouldn’t conform – was never going to make for pretty reading.

 

That reality was brought home to me by my father – who once found a pair of thumbscrews in the back of old cupboard, a horrifying curio that was added to the museum display.

We rightly shudder at the memories of that grim past. 

But while the thumb screws date from a long-ago era, the attitude that mental illness was best never spoken of, that people should be shut away, out of sight and out of mind, was alive and well while my father worked at Glenside.

As a woman, who has just turned 56, I have been witness to the contemporary history in which our nation has decided that we no longer believe in isolating the mentally ill behind high fences… and we need to have the conversation in our homes, workplaces, community groups and political parties about what mental health is really all about and how we can tackle this challenge together.

 

‘I Have Always Respected Jeff’s Courage’

That contemporary history didn’t just write itself.

Much of it was driven by Jeff Kennett, a man always noted for having the courage of his convictions.

Bob Hawke himself noted this about Jeff in 1998, when delivering a warning about the dangers of racial vilification during the first coming of Pauline Hanson.

During his address, Bob congratulated the Liberal Party, in general, for dis-endorsing Senator Hanson in 1996 – and Liberal Premier Jeff Kennett, in particular, for speaking out against the dangers of ignorance and intolerance.

Speaking out is typical of Jeff.

That’s why it was no surprise that Jeff spoke out about the need to change community attitudes towards mental illness.

What was both surprising and deeply impressive is the extent to which Jeff backed up his words with action.

It’s hard to imagine our community reaching its current views about mental health without beyondblue, and it is impossible to imagine beyondblue without Jeff Kennett.

 

Not only did Jeff found beyondblue in 2000, he took it from a small not-for-profit to a national organisation that is synonymous with mental health awareness and stigma reduction.

And he worked tirelessly for 17 years to help his fellow citizens live full lives despite their mental health issues.

beyondblue has become – like its founder – a force to be reckoned with.

And, along the way, its fiercely bipartisan approach has won admirers from across the political spectrum.

I was – and remain – one of those admirers.

I admire beyondblue because it reminds me of my Dad’s work at Glenside – and how much progress his generation saw.

And I admire beyondblue because it is an organisation that never ceases to wonder how much more progress our generation, and future generations, can achieve; how many more lives we can change for the better.

 

That’s why I was delighted and honoured when Jeff asked me back in 2014 to, first, join him on the Board of beyondblue, then, become the new Chair.

Delighted, because I saw beyondblue as an opportunity to carry on in the family business of mental health care;

Honoured, because I know how precious beyondblue is, both to Jeff and the countless Australians who rely on its voice and services.

In the beginning, as an NGO-startup, beyondblue focused on raising awareness and reducing the stigma of depression.

As the organisation grew it broadened its vision – focusing on anxiety and suicide prevention as well.

beyondblue is now ranked as the third most reputable charity in Australia, behind only the Royal Flying Doctor Service and St John Ambulance.

We are the top ranked not-for-profit in the 2017 Financial Review’s list of the most innovative Australian companies.

We are the best known and most contacted mental health organisation in Australia: there were 7 million contacts to our support services and websites last year alone. 

Our advocacy and research help shape public policy and service design.

And we are also becoming known for developing innovative new service models that challenge the status quo – giving people earlier access to more affordable support that is centred on the needs of the individual and backed with evidence.

For instance,

Around six million Australians can now seek life-changing help through New Access – our early intervention service for people with the early signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety which is now being commissioned by primary health networks around Australia;

Our Way Back Support Service – which works with people following a suicide attempt – is currently saving lives in four sites, with more regions to come online this year;

Our Support Service – which is staffed by mental health professionals – provides free counselling, advice and referral to over 150,000 people a year, 24/7;

And we are planning to launch, with Commonwealth support, a new national program for all Australian schools and early learning services next year.

 

That new program for children and adolescents has the potential to be a game changer – because it’s a unique opportunity for us to work with educators to improve the mental health and wellbeing of the next generation before they leave school.

 

As I said, I am delighted and honoured to be following in Jeff’s footsteps.

The path ahead is clear for us.

We will equip Australians with the knowledge and skills they need to enhance their mental health.

We will give people the confidence to support their friends, family and work colleagues – making anxiety, depression and suicide prevention a part of everyday conversations.

We will tackle stigma, prejudice and discrimination wherever we see it.

We will be there for everyone in Australia whenever they need us.

And we will remain fiercely bipartisan.

 

‘Depression Doesn’t Discriminate’

Depression, of course, remains a core focus.

It’s easy to see why.

In any one year around one million Australian adults have depression.

And one-in-six people will experience depression at some stage of their lives.

Depression doesn’t discriminate.

Just ask Bob Hawke.

Bob has written about how the struggles of his daughter triggered his own depression.

One of the revelations of Bob’s memoir was that he broke down during official talks with the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr Mahathir, …

.. and that Dr Mahathir was ‘gently understanding’.

What does that story tell us?

This: if depression can strike one of our most successful and loved Prime Ministers it can strike anyone.

 

‘A National Emergency That Needs Many Hands on Deck’

While continuing to raise awareness of depression, encouraging those at risk and those living with depression to take positive steps to better their mental health, and developing and advocating for new treatment models, beyondblue is also redoubling its efforts to combat the scourge of suicide.

In 2016, 2,866 [two-thousand eight hundred and sixty six] Australians took their own lives – that’s just under eight a day.

And 75 per cent of those Australians were male – that’s six men a day:

Brothers and sons, …

Uncles and mates, …

Fathers and grandfathers.

To put that in context:

In Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 45, with men aged 85 and over the group most likely to take their own lives.

 

The data for 2016, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics just a couple of weeks ago, brought some relief – suicide rates have fallen slightly after a decade of little change and increases in the years before. 

It’s important to understand that the data for 2016 is preliminary and will be revised during the year as coronial findings are finalised.

But even as the numbers are refined, we know there is no room for complacency.

Suicide prevention must remain a national priority and it is incumbent on all of us to look for new ways of making a difference. 

 

At beyondblue, we aim to leverage our unique abilities in community awareness raising, and play more of a role in combatting suicide. 

We intend to do so alongside and with many wonderful organisations, including revered names like Lifeline.

Our share approach to suicide prevention must be adept to causes that can range from economic stress to chronic pain to loneliness to pre-existing mental health conditions.

That’s because suicide is as personal, individual and unique as every person in this room.

With suicide prevention, you could not get a clearer case of a challenge that can only be addressed by sharing information and working together – a very Bob Hawke style approach. 

This is a national emergency that needs many hands on deck.

 

‘Age of Anxiety’

As beyondblue continues our vital work on depression and suicide prevention, we are also determined to lead a nation-wide conversation and plan of action on the most common mental health condition – anxiety.

In doing so, we are fully conscious that the word ‘anxiety’ has many meanings.

 

All of us have moments of anxiety. 

Facing an examination, a performance appraisal at work, even giving a major lecture, are all likely to spark anxiety.

In the same way, we become anxious in the face of the unexpected – when a loved one due home doesn’t arrive on time, when there are rumours at work about redundancies, when travel plans are thrown into chaos by cancelled flights.

Indeed, the list of what causes day-to-day anxiety are endless.

The word ‘anxiety’ is also used about whole communities and nations. 

It is commonplace now to analyse contemporary politics as being shaped by high degrees of community anxiety.

Many speeches, articles and books are now devoted to trying to unpack the many implications – positive and negative – of our world of fast change.

Certainly, events like Brexit and the election of President Trump show that there is a backlash, that those hit and hurt by change want to lash out.

Think of the circumstances of unskilled or semi-skilled Western white men.

Challenged by economic change, the gender revolution and the migration of people, culture and ideas, every reality they thought they could rely on has given way underneath them.

Anxiety is an understandable response.

For many, the answer to that anxiety is to reject the mainstream political class, who preach about the inevitability of globalisation, the need for more modernisation, the requirement to respect diversity, all while leading seemingly pampered lives.

How easy is it to conclude that these be-suited men and women are out of touch?

Anxiety, then, can be fueled by – and fuel – feelings of disenfranchisement, even anger.

Then all this is turbo charged by the new ways in which we get our news and engage in political activism.

 

Speed is now everything, and there is much to celebrate about the fact that important information reaches us so quickly.

But at whatever pace events are happening, even on the slowest of news days, huge volumes of content have to be generated quickly, which means inaccuracy abounds, the material is quick rather than deep, and both puff pieces and bilious words of criticism proliferate.

People respond by clicking quickly, skimming not studying.

Add to this the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ and the ability of individuals to exist in self-reinforcing bubbles of opinion divorced from facts, and it all is a recipe for even more anxiety – not to mention anger.

As fascinating as all this is to the political analysts amongst us, me included, this is not the kind of anxiety that beyondblue is interested in either.

Our focus is not on everyday stressors or explanations for political convulsions. 

Rather, our focus is on the chronic, debilitating anxiety that stays with you even on your best days – and makes it difficult to cope with daily life.

The kind of anxiety that means you might:

Feel worried most of the time,

Feel constantly tense, on edge and unable to calm down,

Be hit by surges of intense panic,

Be unable to turn off a racing mind,

Find yourself avoiding situations or things that make you anxious – such as social events or crowded spaces,

Or experience nightmares or flashbacks about a traumatic event.

 

Let me give you a real-world example of this kind of anxiety.

Let me tell you about Bianca.

For Bianca – and, yes, she is a real person – anxiety came out of nowhere.

It started with jitteriness, a loss of appetite, constant sweaty palms and an elevated heart rate.

Then she started throwing up in the morning at the thought of going to work.

Then the panic attacks started.

 

Bianca’s heart would without any trigger speed up to 180 beats per minute - sending her into a spiral. 

After her second panic attack, Bianca ended up in the Emergency Department.

She became terrified of panic attacks.

She quit her job, because she was scared she’d have another attack while driving.

Six months after her second panic attack, Bianca’s anxiety had taken away her career, her health, many of her friendships – and her independence.

She started drinking to relax.

It seemed to work. So she kept drinking.

Within three years, Bianca’s marriage was over – and so, too, were most of her relationships.

 

Two million Australians a year are hit by this kind of debilitating anxiety.

Statistically, one-in-four of the people in this room will experience this kind of anxiety during their lifetime – with women more likely than men to be affected.

Anxiety like that is a serious health issue – but less than 40 per cent of people with anxiety seek professional help.

The good news is that anxiety is highly treatable.

People can manage anxiety and live a full life.

 

Let’s return to Bianca.

Bianca finally saw a GP, who recognised her problems were caused by anxiety.

She started therapy.

She learned about anxiety, how to manage her panic attacks, and how to break her dependence on alcohol.

Ten years on, and Bianca’s life is back on track.

She has a new partner, a beautiful son, and new friends.

She’s worked through the tough times, learned coping skills and is managing her anxiety and getting on with her life.

 

But currently it can take years for people to reach out and seek help for anxiety – and the biggest cause of that delay is not recognising that what they’re experiencing needs to be named and acted upon.

That’s why beyondblue has launched a new Anxiety campaign: “Know when anxiety is talking.”

Our aim is to help people recognise chronic anxiety and separate it from life’s normal ups and downs. 

For example, the beyondblue anxiety checklist …

takes a snapshot of your anxiety levels,

directs you to relevant information about the signs and symptoms of anxiety, and the different types of anxiety and their causes,

and lets you hear the stories of other people who experience anxiety and have recovered and are managing their condition. 

Then, if there is an issue, we provide guidance about how and where to get help.

Help is available face-to-face, through your GP.

Or you can get help through beyondblue.

You can email us. You can chat with us online. You can post to one of our online forums. Or you can call us.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your circumstances, you don’t have to try to tough this out on your own.

Some will hear the word ‘anxiety’, see our campaign material and wonder if beyondblue is medicalising an ordinary human experience.

We’re not.

There’s nothing ordinary about debilitating anxiety.

Some might say this is a second-order issue compared with suicide or depression.

It isn’t.

Anxiety can be debilitating in its own right.

 

Not only that, untreated anxiety can lead to depression, substance abuse, self-harm and suicide.

In other words, anxiety, depression and suicide are connected.

 

Intervening early on anxiety helps cut that connection.

To cut that connection we need community education.

Basic understanding of the signs of anxiety is low in the general community, with …

only 43 per cent of Australians able to nominate a single sign or symptom of anxiety,

and only 38 per cent of people with anxiety conditions seeking professional treatment, compared to 59 per cent for depression.

There is significant room for improvement.

That’s why we launched our new anxiety campaign.

 

‘Learn From the Hawke Legacy’

Let me, before I conclude, come back to the Bob Hawke I know and his Government.

One of the most impressive things about Bob, something I came to understand and value when I sought his counsel as Prime Minister, is that he does not live in the past.

Of course, he is rightly proud of the government he led and is an able and gifted teller of its history.

But Bob has always looked forward. 

He has kept applying his quick mind to new challenges.

 

So, in a conversation with Bob, you are as likely to find yourself talking about what the world of the 2050s will be like as what the world of the 1980s was like.

He knows and demonstrates by his own restless intellectual energy that we must go forward and… keep innovating,… keep improving,… keep progressing.

But in doing so, we can learn from the Hawke legacy.

We can learn about…

The determination needed to tackle hard problems, ...

The outreach required to bring people together around shared understandings and agreed solutions, ...

And the sense of purpose and progress that comes in unlocking the power of a reform.

 

We need to keep the Hawke example before us as we strive to reform mental health and prevent suicide in Australia. 

We need to be prepared to change anything and everything to make inroads into the rates of anxiety, depression and suicide.

Yes, we have come a long way since 2000, the year beyondblue was born.

We have reduced the stigma of mental illness.

We have changed opinions and behaviour in response to depression.

We are putting anxiety on the radar.

 

But we have not reduced in a lasting way suicide rates.

And – directly and indirectly – mental illness now costs Australia $40 billion a year.

Indeed our system for dealing with mental health and suicide prevention is not even really a system.

As the Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan says, we have a patchwork of programs that are often uncoordinated and incoherent.

Consequently, the ‘system’ – such as it is – often only works if people go above and beyond the call of duty to make it work.

That’s not a sustainable approach.

Instead of just focusing on acute care, we need to find new ways to help people before a problem becomes a crisis.

That means improving preventative mental health care – and early intervention.

That means educating ourselves so that we can identify the early signs and symptoms of mental health conditions in our friends, family and workmates, as well as ourselves.

That means changing the way we think and talk about mental health, mental illness and suicide.

 

Put it this way: if half of the population can expect to experience a mental health issue in their lifetime that’s one-in-two of the people in this room.

 

That’s either you or the person next to you.

If this person were you, how would you wish to be treated?

Would you want to feel free to talk about mental health without stigma or fear of discrimination?

Would you want to know more about the symptoms, so you can get help before a problem becomes a crisis?

Would you want to have the support you need to keep going and live your life to the full?

If you answered yes to any one of those questions, you want mental health reform.

This can and should be an evolving, bipartisan national project for change.

 

In conclusion, let me come back to that first Hawke Lecture.

Bob said something I’d like to share with you.

He said:

‘There is no intrinsic reason why Australians should now lose confidence in Australia or in one another.

‘We do live in a world of rapid change unparalleled in history and this has inevitably produced in our country, as in others, feelings of insecurity.

‘Throughout history, communities which have been frightened and perplexed by a changing environment have created scapegoats and have been tempted to listen to false prophets who offer superficial analyses and glib solutions.

‘This is not the way for Australia … it is not the way of confidence – it is the dark way to a paranoid Australia.’

Many of the scapegoats Bob named then remain scapegoats today.

If anything – the feelings of insecurity – of collective anxiety – are greater now than they were in 1998.

And for too many of our fellow citizens this anxiety is personal and crippling – and, for some, unbearable.

Bob was right.

Now more than ever, we must not lose confidence in each other or our ability to do the big things together, including enabling every Australian to realise their best mental health.

I thank Bob for being a continuing inspiration to all of us who strive for major change.

And I thank you for your kind attention.