Former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard will head up one of Australia’s best known mental health organisations, beyondblue, when Jeff Kennett steps down on July 1.
Ms Gillard was elected unopposed by the Board of Directors as the new Chair of beyondblue, a not-for-profit organisation that Mr Kennett, a former Liberal Victorian Premier, launched in 2000.
Interestingly, it is the first time a former PM has led a not-for-profit organisation since Malcolm Fraser set up international aid charity CARE in 1987.
Mr Kennett established beyondblue after the death of two of his daughters’ male friends in car crashes, both of which were later found out to be suicides, and built beyondblue into a world leader in depression, anxiety and suicide prevention, with a focus on men’s mental health.
Mr Kennett said that beyondblue was part of his DNA but that it was time to leave.
He has spoken in the past about feeling depleted and worn down by his public role as the face of beyondblue, often counselling people who are concerned about a loved one considering suicide and comforting those whose loved ones had succeeded in doing so.
“Outside my family, it has been my most important role,” Mr Kennett said. “I’ll miss it, but I’ll miss it less knowing that in Julia’s hands the organisation will go from strength to strength.”
He said Julia Gillard’s warmth and ‘commitment to the cause’ made her the perfect successor.
“In her we have found a person who is emotionally committed to the cause and has the ability to cut through the clutter and drive change for the wellbeing of all Australians,” Mr Kennett said.
He said her appointment showed the organisation’s ‘fierce bipartisanship’.
“beyondblue’s work is motivated by something bigger than politics; it’s about a bipartisan commitment to enhancing the welfare of others and that is an extraordinarily powerful force.
“Nobody owns beyondblue. It is owned by the community, in particular those living with mental health conditions, their families, friends and colleagues.”
Ms Gillard said her father’s job was a psychiatric nurse when she was growing up had given an awareness and commitment to mental health causes.
“I’m absolutely delighted that Jeff and the Board have the confidence in me to take over as Chair of an organisation that has made such a difference in the lives of so many Australians, but there is only ever going to be one founder and without Jeff Kennett there would not be a beyondblue at all.”
Ms Gillard has largely avoided the media spotlight since losing to Kevin Rudd in a leadership spill in 2013.
She has written a memoir, spent time travelling overseas and was appointed chair of the Global Partnership for Education in 2014, when she also joined the board of beyondblue.
Shadow Minister for Aged Care and Mental Health Julie Collins said that Ms Gillard would be a champion for people living with mental illness and cement mental health as a national priority.
“Ms Gillard brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her role as Chair given the commitment she made to driving mental health reform during her time as Prime Minister,” Ms Collins said.
“Mr Kennett has been a strong advocate for Australians living with mental illness and the work he has achieved around service delivery and diminishing stigma will be a lasting legacy of his time as Chair.”
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