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Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Page: 10133


Mr LEESER (Berowra) (16:04): September is the time of year when Australians place a greater focus on suicide prevention. I regard suicide prevention as one of the key issues that I want to work on during my time in this place. One of the organisations I have interacted with repeatedly has been Lifeline. Founded by Sir Alan Walker in 1963, Lifeline is Australia's major crisis-counselling service, saving countless lives every year. Nine years ago, through my friend Patricia Barnett, I became a volunteer at the Lifeline Harbour to Hawkesbury book fairs. I quietly joined the volunteers, stacking and sorting books, helping customers and packing down furniture. Some people were bereaved by suicide; others just wanted to lend a hand to support this great cause.

My wife, Joanna, whose best friend, a gifted anaesthetist, took her own life several years ago, has been a dedicated Lifeline counsellor for seven years. Recently, with the member for North Sydney and a number of our state and local government colleagues, we worked with Lifeline to undertake a safeTALK program, to ensure that community leaders are better able to recognise the signs and know what to do if someone in our community is contemplating suicide. Lifeline Harbour to Hawkesbury is run by the outstanding Wendy Carver.

On Saturday night I was pleased to attend Lifeline's gala ball, which raised well over $200,000. The keynote speaker was the remarkable Kathy Kelly, who told the tragic story of her eldest son, Thomas, who was murdered when king-hit in King's Cross. His younger brother, Stuart, had been particularly affected by Thomas's death and we heard Stuart's speech at a tribute function for Thomas. Sadly, Stuart took his own life a couple of years later. Kathy, like me and others bereaved by suicide, believes in the work of Lifeline and the need to reach out to those who are struggling and ask the difficult questions 'Are you okay?' and, more directly, 'Are you contemplating suicide?' because, if we ask those difficult questions, we have the best chance of saving lives.

Lifeline's national chief executive, Peter Shmigel, recently announced he was stepping down from his role, and I want to put on record my very deep gratitude to Peter. Peter has a deep humanity and provided extraordinary support to me and my office in ensuring not only that I was using appropriate language in my maiden speech but also that the office was properly supported to deal with queries which came after that speech about mental health and suicide prevention. Peter's been a constant source of advice and good counsel as I have been navigating this policy space.

Not only has Peter been a successful CEO and thought leader who's helped expand and modernise the services at Lifeline but he remains himself a volunteer telephone counsellor and a great advocate for suicide prevention. On the many occasions in which I practised my maiden speech I managed to never dissolve into tears, except on one occasion when Peter himself was present. There is something about the humanity that Peter brings to this space. In 2017, during world suicide prevention month, it's appropriate to acknowledge Lifeline and Peter Shmigel's very significant work in this policy space.