Senate debates

Wednesday, 6 September 2017


Anthoney, Miss Dainere Monique, R U OK? Day

7:20 pm

Photo of Zed SeseljaZed Seselja (ACT, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Dainere Anthoney was a very special young lady. Earlier today I was pleased to have the opportunity to launch Dainere's 'rainbow' bus outside Parliament House. I have spoken in this House before about Dainere's story and the amazing work her family have done to continue her legacy and to bring some hope and progress in the wake of her tragic passing four years ago. I am grateful that today's bus launch gives me the opportunity to once again share her story and highlight the need for more brain tumour research.

Dainere Anthoney was a bright young girl who lived her whole life in Canberra. In 2009, she was diagnosed with high-risk medulloblastoma. I was fortunate to meet Dainere not long after her diagnosis in 2010 at the launch of her book You Have to Go Through a Storm to Get to a Rainbow. While high-dose radiation and chemotherapy helped her for a brief time, in February 2012 she suffered an inoperable and incurable recurrence of the disease in her spine, with palliative care the only option. On 24 June 2013, Dainere passed away at the age of 15. Dainere's family decided to honour her by creating the Dainere's Rainbow Brain Tumour Research Fund, which assists the research team led by Dr David Ziegler, Dainere's oncologist, in their work to improve treatment and to find a cure for this shocking disease. Their research is vital because each year more than 950 children and adolescents are diagnosed with brain cancer. The sad truth is that no significant improvement has been made in survival rates in almost three decades.

Dainere's bus is a Qcity Transit bus that will have her foundation's design and branding for the next five years, a very generous donation from Qcity buses. The bus will do regular routes in Queanbeyan and Canberra, spreading awareness of Dainere's foundation. The bus has been launched in September, commemorating Go Gold month, which also helps to raise awareness of brain tumours in young people and the need for more research. I would encourage everyone to wear a gold ribbon or share Dainere's story on social media to encourage this great cause.

Before I finish, I would also like to take a moment to thank John Mikita for all the work he does for Dainere's foundation and Steve Bushby and Qcity buses for their generous support for the foundation, as well as the other businesses that have jumped on board to help out, specifically Screenmakers Pty Ltd and TransitGraphics. Finally I would like to acknowledge Dainere's family—her parents, Stephen and Yvonne, her brother, Jarrett, and her sister, Nalani, for their tireless work in continuing her legacy.

Last week I had the privilege of supporting another great cause—and that was R U OK? Day—by attending an afternoon tea as part of the R U OK? conversation convoy which has been traversing Australia in the lead-up to R U OK? Day next week. The afternoon tea was generously hosted by His Excellency Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Cosgrove, at Government House. To have it take place in such an illustrious setting shows the success R U OK? Day has had in quite literally changing the conversation around suicide. It also of course goes to the great work that our Governor-General and Lady Cosgrove do for so many organisations.

It is likely that every single one of us in this place has been affected in one way or another by suicide and mental illness in our lives and the lives of those close to us. In so many of those situations, how often were we not even aware that a family member or friend was doing it tough? It is that silence about mental health that R U OK? Day seeks to directly address. It is a day when we can look out for each other and ask that simple question: are you okay?

Sometimes when someone is struggling they just need a friend, a family member, a work colleague—anyone—to notice them and listen to them. I have been grateful to work with R U OK's CEO, Brendon Maher, over the years on events and initiatives that help get the message out even further than it already has. I want to acknowledge other members of the R U OK Day board, who have worked so hard on this worthy cause, including Michael Connaghan, Graeme Cowan, Barry Du Bois, Kathryn Howard, Jack Singleton, Mark Soulos, Helen Christensen, David Liddiard, Janina Nearn and, last but not least, Aya Larkin and the entire Larkin family, for their dedication to helping others and making sure that Gavin's legacy was strong and had a positive impact in our community.

So next week, on 14 September, I would encourage everyone here, anyone listening and anyone reading Hansard to take part in R U OK Day, not only by helping raise awareness about the day and about breaking the silence on mental health but also by being a good friend, neighbour, member of the community and colleague, and ask those around you if they are okay.

As part of my duties as Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs, I have the great opportunity to visit and meet with a whole range of diverse communities around Australia and to take part in some of their important celebrations. One of those unique opportunities took place on 12 August, when I was invited to be a guest at the St Alexander Nevsky Russian School debutante ball in Sydney. The school, in Homebush in Sydney, is the largest Russian school in Australia, with 185 students and 25 teachers. The school was founded in 1971 and teaches students from pre-kindergarten through to year 10, who attend their ordinary school during the week and take classes in the St Alexander Nevsky Russian School on Saturdays. Since 1973, the New South Wales government have supported the school through their use of the premises of Homebush Public School.

The school is focused on maintaining their Russian traditions and Orthodox faith through teaching the Russian language and history, studying the fundamentals of Orthodox scripture and teaching Russian singing, dancing and art classes. The debutante ball is the school's main fundraiser and community event, and it's a chance for the students who are soon to move on from the school to be presented to the Russian-Australian community and to celebrate their impending entry into adulthood. It is also a great chance for the students to honour their heritage, their families and their community and to celebrate their place in Australia as one of the great multicultural societies in the world.

I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the debutantes. I won't name them all, but I would say that they were outstanding in the way they presented themselves and the way they represented their school and their community. The dancing was extraordinary. They were just amazing young people. Debutante balls are one of those older traditions, of course, but this is something that is very important to this community, something they have done over many years, and it was certainly wonderful to join with them in that. I was joined by Russian ambassador to Australia, and also my predecessor as multicultural affairs minister and local member, Craig Laundy, and a couple of our good local New South Wales representatives in Victor Dominello and John Sidoti.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank head teacher Galina Harrison and president of the parents' committee, Nicholas Maksymow, for the work they do at the school. I was really taken by their commitment to the school and the great commitment that so many people put in. This Russian school is one of many of these language schools that we have right around the country. They are so often staffed by volunteers, people who want to keep that connection to the country of their parents, grandparents or great-grandparents. I think it's a wonderful thing. It is one of the things that make Australia the great multicultural nation that it is, that people can come to Australia and feel very much that they are part of Australia. They can integrate into Australia, but they can also hold onto the language and culture from where they have come and from where their ancestors have come. I congratulate all involved in the event and thank them very much for the great hospitality that was shown to me.