MP’s maiden speech tells of his father’s suicide

September 15, 2016 by Henry Benjamin
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The first Jewish Liberal from NSW to be elected to the House of Representatives in the Australian Federal parliament has used his maiden speech to highlight suicides caused by depression citing his own father’s death.

Emanuel Cohavi, Rabbi Roni Cohavi, Julian Leeser, and NSWJBD CEO Vic ALlhadeff

Emanuel Cohavi, Rabbi Roni Cohavi, Julian Leeser, and NSWJBD CEO Vic Alhadeff in the Parliament

Leeser has succeeded Philip Ruddock as member for the seat of Berowra in northern to north-east Sydney.

He said in his electorate more than 100 people had taken their lives in over the past eight years and in the last 20 years that governments have “spent on millions on mental health and suicide prevention but despite all the good will, it is a fight we are losing.”

Leeser told of the day in his own home 20 years ago when his mother came to his room to wake him  “sobbing, ‘Dad’s gone, Dad’s gone’.”

He told how his father, an accountant, had left a note “written in red pen in the back of an envelope. It said simply ‘I am sorry Sylvia, I just can’t open cope,  love John’.”

Julian Leeser, who was 20 at the time, and his mother called the police when he found his father’s car missing…and was to learn that his father’s body had been found at the bottom of the Gap at Sydney’s notorious suicide spot at Watson’s Bay.

In his speech Leeser said: “There is a point in life when you are supposed to become a man. I knew my day had come.”

He added: “Over the past twenty years I have gone back over the week leading up to father’s death too many times – and I keep thinking of the signs he was giving us.

You ask yourself, what could I have done? What should I have said?  Could I have reached out  in a way that I didn’t? Could I have said as we say now “Are you okay?’

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

Through my work in this place I want to help empower Australians to build a great sense of community by enabling stronger human relationships.

He added: “There is a role for government in fostering innovative solutions to suicide prevention, depression and mental health.”

Leeser told the parliament that his father, who died when he was 55, had a arrived with his family in 1936 escaping from the Nazis and that his mother is a fifth generation Australian.

He told the parliament: “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.”

Leeser told of the time around his tenth birthday when he did not ask “for a BMX bike or a cricket bat but for a copy of the Australian Constitution. I think the Latin term for such behaviour is Nerdus Maximus.”

He added: “The Constitution has figured prominently in my career and contributions to the public debate.”

He ended his maiden speech “As a child my mother read to me about Australia’s history and explained how our own family’s story fit into the  broader Australia story. My contribution to this story will be influenced by the combination of my father’s quiet virtues and my mother’s slightly less quiet but always deeply patriotic civic virtues.

Julian Leeser told J-Wire: ““Today is the first time I have spoken publicly about my father’s death by suicide 20 years ago.  It is a difficult but important story to tell.  Suicide has touched so many people, whether it be through family or friends.  I hope my advocacy in Parliament will help people suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts to realise that they are not alone and that this is something that affects so many people across our country.”

Julian Leeser has sat on the board of the Parramatta Synagogue for several years.

Dr Mike Freelander also presented his maiden speech in parliament this week. He is the Labor member of the seat of Macarthur in NSW.


One Response to “MP’s maiden speech tells of his father’s suicide”
  1. Professor Sid Bloch says:

    Kol Hakavod Julian Lesser. What a courageous maiden speech. As a psychiatrist with almost 50 year of experience, I can appreciate your family’s tragic loss. I have tried trying f

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