politics

Liberal MP Julian Leeser devotes maiden speech to the memory of his dad, who took his own life.

Reliving the suicide of a much-loved parent is a painful private memory.

But new Liberal MP Julian Leeser has decided to devote his first speech to Parliament to the memory of his dad, who took his life 20 years ago, in the hope that speaking publicly about the experience will help others who are suffering.

The new member for Berowra, who was elected to the seat previously held by Philip Ruddock, committed to being a strong advocate on mental health issues while he remains in the Parliament.

“I want to do what I can to help pierce the loneliness, the desperation and the blackness that people who suffer depression feel,” he told the House of Representatives in his maiden speech.

Mr Leeser’s father was 55 when he went missing from the family home, and he remembers his mother’s immediate reaction.

“Seared on my mind from that night was the speed of her approach and her scream as she flung open the door of my bedroom, sobbing, ‘Dad’s gone, Dad’s gone’,” he recalled.

“There I found his pyjamas in a pile and on the glass-topped table in the hall was a note, like so many of the notes from my father, written in red pen on the back of a used envelope. It said simply: ‘I am sorry, Sylvia, I just can’t cope, love, John’.

“I felt a great emptiness ripping at my stomach.”

His father, an accountant whose parents fled Nazi Germany for a better life in Australia, was dead.

Police confirmed his body was found at the bottom of The Gap, the notorious Watson’s Bay spot where many have taken their own lives.

That night, Mr Leeser said, he became a man.

Liberal MP Julian Leeser pledges to advocate for mental health while in parliament. Image via ABC.

For years he could not bear to listen to his father's favourite music, because the memories caused too much grief.

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And looking back he said there were small signs something was awry, like longer hugs and an uncharacteristic lack of care in parking the car.

"I reflect on my own conduct the night before my father died, when he asked if I could help him polish his shoes," he said.

"I remember as a self-absorbed 20-year-old the petulance and rudeness with which I waved away the opportunity to help my father, a man who so often helped me, and not a day goes by that I don't regret it.

"Suicide, they used to say, is a victimless crime, but they never count the loved ones left behind."

Mr Leeser was 20 at the time, and said two decades later there was still much work to be done.

In his own electorate there have been 100 suicides since 2008.

"In these past 20 years, we have spent millions on mental health and suicide prevention. Every government has tried — but despite all the good will, it is a fight we are losing."

He said government money would not solve the epidemic and treating depression as a medical issue was not working.

"Rather we need to rebuild caring communities where people know and notice the signs and acknowledge the people around them.

"Where we ask 'Are you OK?', or more directly 'Are you contemplating suicide?' And we need to create the conditions where those who are thinking about suicide feel comfortable enough to ask for help."

Mr Leeser said his father was devoted to his community with hard work and diligence.

"While I don't always live up to my father's ideals, his are the fundamental values which have shaped my life."

He also gave thanks for the courage and unconditional love of his mother, Sylvia, who sustained the family through the ups and downs.

"As I grew up towards the end of the Cold War, with its threat to freedom everywhere, my mother would constantly remind me of the responsibility that comes with the freedom we enjoy in Australia — to be thankful for it, and to preserve it whenever it's threatened here — because, as she would teach me, most people at most times in most places are not free.

"There is a Jewish idea that one should bring joy, or naches, to one's parents.

"I hope that my election to this place would have brought as much naches to him as it does to my mother and the rest of my family."

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This post originally appeared on ABC News

 

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