R U OK? Day

(8.30am 15 September 2011, Gloria Jean's Coffee House, 501 George Street)

Thank you, Stu McGregor, MC, and good morning, everyone. I would like firstly to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, and to pay my respects to the Elders, both past and present.

Last year two million Australians did something quite straightforward: they asked a friend, a colleague, a family member the simple question, "Are you okay?"

Too many things hold us back from that simple reaching out: we're too busy; we're too reticent to intrude, or maybe we don't want to hear the answer because we might have to deal with another's sorrow or pain.

Yet those three words have the power to change lives.

Unsaid, they can change lives - irrevocably.

Suicide has been called "the forever decision" and each year in Australia it robs us of over 2000 lives - 2000 of our fellow citizens with all their dreams and hopes, the ideas and the laughter, all that they have to contribute to our city, our country.

With the recent 10th anniversary of the World Trade Centre attacks, we have all been plunged back into that catastrophe, with all its attendant grief and pain.

Almost three thousand people died there, and in Washington and the Pennsylvania airliner crash.

And yet two-thirds of that number die in our midst each year, unremarked except by their families and friends. And three times as many people as that have attempted suicide.

Every one of those deaths, every one of those attempts, creates pain, its own lasting damage to those who are left behind.

R U OK? was founded in response to one of those unnecessary deaths - that, in 1995, of Barry Larkin.

It recognises that sometimes the simplest of gestures - a hug, a question - "Are you okay?" - can make the difference. It can pull someone in pain back from the brink. It can be a lifeline, a way out of the dark.

Cities, for some people, can be hostile and difficult places. But remote country areas, too, can be hard for people.

What matters is the quality of community that is engendered. I always say when we talk about community - and I believe it's a significant part of our job to help build communities across the City - that community is us.

It's you and me; it's your neighbours as well as your friends.

Yes, the Council can provide community centres; it can provide support services and look out for the most vulnerable in our society.

But this is only a framework, a skeleton. The living, breathing community is you and me and all of us in this room. It's the street sleepers in Woolloomooloo as much as the baristas in Surry Hills.

Every time you reach out to someone, you make our city community a reality, you make us - as a city and a country - that little bit stronger. So on this national action day, make sure you reach out to someone and ask, "Are you okay?" You'll be building that living community.

And you might just save a life.