Brad McEwan: Thank you very much for inviting us to your office today. I believe you'd like to make a major announcement on behalf of beyondblue.
Jeff Kennett: Yes, I think it's a very important announcement. About three years ago, we started to think about succession, that is who would replace me as Chairman of the organisation. And because that organisation is Australia-wide, the search was difficult. We had to find a very special person. And I'm very pleased to announce that the Board today has unanimously supported Julia Gillard taking over from me on July the first this year. There are so many ingredients in that that are important, but Julia will become the first former Prime Minister of Australia since Malcolm Fraser headed up CARE to actually take the leadership of a major community organisation. And that, for us, is a terribly important recognition of the work beyondblue has done, but importantly, what it's going to be able to do now under Julia's leadership.
Julie Gillard: I'm just absolutely delighted that Jeff has had the confidence in me to take over being Chair of beyondblue, and that that confidence is shared by the Board of Directors and the wonderful staff that work for beyondblue. I'm very much looking forward to the challenge. I know that they're big shoes to fill, and I don't think I wear the same size as Jeff, so I'll be doing the job a little bit differently. But beyondblue is such an important organisation to the Australian community that I do feel a special sense of delight at having been selected to lead it.
Brad McEwan: beyondblue has been such a big part of your life for 17 years, you're so passionate about mental health issues, how do you feel about handing over the reins?
Jeff Kennett: I'm ready, there's no doubt about that, and I think the organisation's ready. I say that to remain in a leadership position these days it's somewhere between six and nine years and to have stayed there 17 is in one sense, too long, but it is part of my DNA. But it is time for a change, and when we started the process, as I say, three years ago, Julia joined our board in December, I think, 2014. Been a very valuable contributor since then, and in the middle of last year, I asked her whether she would consider succeeding me as the Chair. And after some thought, she accepted the challenge, which meant we had to start the process. What I was looking for and what I think the Board was looking for was firstly, a person who was committed to the area of mental health. And as you know, Julia's father was a psychiatric nurse, so she has in one sense, grown up with this part of life, with the mental health industry.
Secondly, you wanted somebody who was passionate about it and passionate about the discrimination that exists in our society for those who are suffering disabilities, be it physical or mental. And as you know when Julia was Prime Minister, she was the driving force behind the National Disability Scheme, which is so important, in giving those with disabilities greater recognition, greater care, and also extending that recognition to their carers. I think thirdly ... so we found a person who was emotionally committed, thirdly, we wanted someone who could cut through the clatter that exists in the world today. So, when we established beyondblue, a lot of people said, "Oh, well you're the appropriate person to head up beyondblue. You caused most depression here in Victoria when you were Premier."
There is so much happening in community today with commercial interests, with not-for-profits, to have someone who can rise above the ruck and give the organisation a presence is terribly important. And to have a former Prime Minister just adds weight to the work that beyondblue is doing. So, I'll miss it in one sense, but I also know that the time is right, and I will miss it less knowing that in Julia's hands, the organisation will go from strength to strength.
Brad McEwan: Julia, you've seen the great work that Jeff has done over 17 years, what was your initial reaction when Jeff asked you to be his replacement?
Julia Gillard: Well, I did have to think about it because to many Australians, and indeed for me, the name Jeff Kennett and beyondblue, they always just lie in the same sentence. And so I thought, what does it really mean to be the person who takes over from Jeff? So, I did have to think about it, and it seems to me there's only ever going to be one founder of beyondblue and that is Jeff. And being the founding Chairperson is a very special role, and if it hadn't been for Jeff's drive over more than a decade and a half now, beyondblue wouldn't be here at all, it certainly wouldn't be at the size and scale that it is now. But I understand when Jeff says it's time for him to go to other challenges, and there are many things that he's passionate about. And in the life of an organisation like beyondblue, I think there's time when you move beyond the energy and commitment of the founder, and it's an organisation that needs to find its own way.
And so, that'll be the transition at beyondblue that I will be managing as Chair. It'll be different, you know, I'm not the founding Chairperson, beyondblue wasn't my idea the way it was Jeff's, but I think I can help shape the organisation in a, you know, sustainable, long term way, which means that there'll be the founder, then there'll be me, and then over the decades and generations to come, there'll be many who Chair beyondblue and who contribute to its work.
Brad McEwan: And Jeff, over those 17 years that you've been the Chair, the attitudes towards mental health are changing. We're talking about mental health more than we ever have before, but there's still a long way to go, isn't there?
Jeff Kennett: Yes, there is. beyondblue has been one of the organisations that created the change in discussion, and so a lot of the stigma has been removed, but it's still remains in many places. But we do a lot of very valuable research, which has proved up which is now in the marketplace. Our education role is extraordinary, it's getting out to community that's important as well, so twice, now, we've had a ... what we call our blue bus that's driven all around Australia, talking to communities in outback areas. So, there is a lot of work to do, but you need to bring about change to put a different emphasis on it. The great strength of beyondblue, if I can put it that way, and it's illustrated here, today. Its strength has been that it has been bipartisan, and we've always had people of all political persuasions on the organisation. We've had professionals and we've had lay people like myself, but the bipartisanship has meant that we've been able to open doors, whether it be political doors or commercial doors.
And that bipartisanship, as I say, is reinforced with Julia's appointment, for beyondblue is owned by no one. It's owned by the community. It's not owned by a political party, it's owned by the community. And so, therefore, with this appointment, this changing ... handing over of the baton to someone who many would probably suspect, "What have those two got in common?". We have something that's much bigger than politics. We actually have the welfare of those beyondblue seeks to serve, and that is an extraordinary force.
Brad McEwan: Jeff, you're passionate about mental health issues, so many people are, and Julia, it's obvious that you are, too. Are you able to give us an insight into where that comes from?
Julia Gillard: Well, Jeff is right to say that I kind of grew up with this. You know, we migrated to Australia in the mid 1960s when I was a very young girl, and Dad tried different jobs when he was here. He'd been a Police Officer was his last job in the United Kingdom, but he ultimately ended up responding to an advertisement in the newspaper, which literally said, "Do you want to be a prison officer or a psychiatric nurse? If so, apply here." And Dad applied, and you know, met all of the entrance criteria and got asked what did he want to be, and he said he wanted to be a psychiatric nurse and went through three years of training. And that really launched a career for him of more than three decades that he absolutely loved. And so I grew up, you know, talking about Dad's work, going to Dad's work, which would sound like a very strange thing. Why on earth would you take a young girl to a psychiatric hospital?
But in those days, you know, a psychiatric hospital like Glenside that Dad worked in had everyone in there from the acutely unwell through to kids with Down Syndrome because in those days, they were just routinely institutionalised. And so, you know, we would go and have little Christmas parties and ward parties with the kids with Down Syndrome and we just ... my sister and I go and play with them. And that was our life, you know, it wasn't this, you know, big, unspoken about, no one ever said mental health. It was just what Dad did for a job. And so, I suppose across, you know, the rest of my life, it's always surprised me a bit that there's been this grand secrecy around mental health, and I've been so pleased to see it bust open and the role that beyondblue's played in that where people will now talk about their mental health, where they won't cover up a problem in the family.
You know, in the old days, if someone in your family had a mental health problem, you'd pretend they had a physical illness rather than tell the neighbours or the friends that there was actually a mental health issue in your family. Suicide was, you know, lied about. People wouldn't tell what happened to someone, they'd pretend that they died through some sort of freak accident rather than be truthful about that. And so, I think we've got to the stage where the conversation's there, it's really open, but it doesn't mean that all the stigma's gone. And so, that's, you know, the next bit of part of the work that beyondblue has to do.
Brad McEwan: So, as the incoming chair of beyondblue, what are you most looking forward to?
Julia Gillard: Well, there's a whole lot of things that I'm looking forward to, I've got to know the senior echelons of the staff at beyondblue, and they're fantastic. I've obviously got to know my Board members well. But it'll be a different relationship from here on in, and I'm looking forward to getting to know all of the staff and the work they do, all of our stakeholders and partners and friends in a more detailed way than I know them now. So, I'm really looking forward to diving into the detail of it. And then, I'll be looking forward to the advocacy piece, too.
But it will be good to have a cause where I can bring the attention the comes with being a former Prime Minister to bear and advocate for the things that beyondblue so strongly believes in and everybody who supports beyondblue so strongly believes in.
Brad McEwan: And Jeff, I've heard you say many times that it is so important that we wake up every day and have an awareness of how lucky we are. You must feel so privileged and honoured to have been involved with this wonderful organisation as chair and make the differences that you have over 17 years.
Jeff Kennett: Yes, but as I've often said, "On your own, you can't achieve a thing. You achieve with teams of people." And that's represented by the bipartisanship that I've already referred to. It refers to the staff that Julia refers to. A lot of our staff members are people who have experienced one form of mental illness or another, but all of them are absolutely committed to delivering for those we seek to serve. So, it's a most wonderful body of Board members, senior execs, staff joining together to do something that they believe in. And so many of them go well beyond what is asked of them. So, I'm terribly proud, as I've often said, this has been the most important piece of work I've done in my adult life outside of family, but that doesn't mean that the time isn't right to hand over the reins to someone else. And in handing it over to Julia gives me great confidence, And that the time is right, and secondly, that the good work of the organisation will continue and might even improve.