Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

ADJOURNMENT - Mr Jeff Cheverton

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (21:07): My friend Jeff Cheverton died on 2 March this year. When the news was shared around the many networks who had had the privilege of knowing this remarkable and wonderful man there was a sense of disbelief, shock and sadness, but there was also laughter. When we shared our memories of Jeff Cheverton, you could not help but laugh because you knew he was with you. When I knew I had to say something about Jeff in this place, the person I wanted to talk to was Jeff, because he would have a lot of information on how I could best describe him and highlight a lot of the adjectives. So I thought I would start by putting a lot of adjectives together, because these are the words that were spoken and shouted about him when we were talking about our loss. Jeff was outrageous, strategic, compassionate, unpredictable, committed, mischievous, analytical, loving and very loved, egotistical, driven, vivacious, funny, loyal, honest, so competitive, charming and, indeed, an all round ripper of a bloke. I have really tried hard not to use the word 'passionate' but Jeff was passionate about many things, particularly social justice-for giving a voice to those who were vulnerable and often silenced.

Jeff Cheverton was Brisbane boy, the youngest and, I think, very spoilt seventh child of a strong, loving family. Jeff had a special gift of connection. He genuinely liked people and wanted to know about you and, naturally, he shared a whole lot about himself at the same time. It was said that when Jeff was in a room things always became exciting and interesting. I first met Jeff Cheverton when he was the editor of the University of Queensland newspaper Semper. This was in the late eighties, during a particularly difficult political period, both in the wider Queensland community and on the campus, because this was towards the end of the Bjelke-Petersen era and, on the University of Queensland campus at that time, there was a particularly vicious battle for the control of the student union. This happens quite a lot, but during this period it reached a new height, or perhaps low.

Rarely does campus politics make media comment in the wider world, but the work of Jeff and his team, as they produced cutting-edge copy, challenged thought, made people think always and actually caused real commentary about what was happening politically and personally at the time. This was at the same time as the university campus radio station 4ZZZ was engaged in a really tough battle with the then student leadership. The University of Queensland at that time bristled with music, outrageous behaviour, journalism and energy, as well as a whole lot of extraordinarily great parties. Also at this time, we had the chance to learn more about how student politics operated. Whilst I was not a student politician then-it was after my time-I did have the exciting experience of working with this generation of people and seeing their knowledge and passion at work on campus. Jeff was one of the many of that group who took this passion into his work after leaving university.

Around the same time, Jeff was a member of the very first lesbian and gay Pride in June 1990. He explained later that Pride started because people were angry and impatient for change. Mr Acting Deputy President, you would remember that at this time sex between men was still illegal in Queensland and lesbianism was denied or just made invisible. The term 'pride' at the time had a political and militant focus. Jeff said:

we set out to create spaces where lesbian and gay men could be out and proud in spite of Queensland's history of repression and violence against alternative sexuality. We didn't beg acceptance; we simply demanded rights.

Unlike other gay organisations at the time, Pride wasn't interested in backroom deals or a softly, softly approach to law reform. Pride took the view that lesbians and gay men have a right to express our sexuality and be treated as equal to-

and typically Jeff-

(if somewhat more glamorous than) heterosexuals.

Pride sought to provide opportunities for lesbians and gay men to publicly challenge homophobic attitudes and heterosexual privilege. The public sphere became the focus of our activities.

Jeff always made sure that people were involved and engaged. He did not want to take over. He did not want to exclude.

I got to know Jeff much more openly when I worked with him in the area of mental health, where he was a genuine activist. Jeff worked for many years with the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health, which is the peak body representing the mental health sector in Queensland, supporting members, the wider mental health community and individuals with a lived mental health experience. During his time at Alliance, Jeff worked very closely with people with a lived mental illness experience, their families, their carers and the wider community to ensure that they could share their experience so that there was no longer an isolation or an ignorance about the impact of mental illness. He was dedicated to values-based leadership, and his teams were based on working together openly, and boards were based on respect and open communication. In his 2007 essay in the Australian Journal of Social Issues, Jeff argued that it was the importance of values that made the organisation strong, and that if you had a strong values-based leadership you would have a strong organisation. I remember talking with him many times when he was leading the Alliance and one of his favoured projects was to ensure that people with a lived mental health experience would be able to have the skills development that would allow them to tell their own stories. He developed a panel of speakers who understood the challenges of living with a mental illness, who were then able to tell their own stories rather than be used as an example.

At that stage, across a range of community organisations in Queensland, public sector departments and also political groups, we were able to share with people who understood the real issues of mental illness and had that knowledge based on real life rather than just some kind of theory. I clearly remember the pride with which Jeff spoke about the team, and ensuring that they would have the experience to take into their lives after they had worked with the Queensland Alliance for Mental Health.

The passion Jeff had for ensuring that people would not live in seclusion or face stigma was the topic of his Churchill Fellowship in 2007. That Churchill Fellowship was based particularly on trying to remove the stigma of mental illness. He developed recommendations around the need for a mental health social inclusion campaign in Australia. He worked very closely with organisations in the UK and the US to ensure that a campaign would have a high-profile national social marketing which presents positive and normalising images of people with mental illness and that it would include a diverse range of grassroots community projects, providing opportunities for people to have direct contact with people with lived experience at the local level. To make sure that the leadership of the social inclusion campaign would come from consumers, people who understood and had lived with mental illness, the whole process was based on the values of the consumer network, which states-and we say it proudly-'Nothing about us without us.' He also looked at the issue that in any of these processes there needed to be strong evaluation research components to ensure development and growth over time.

There has been no stronger work in this area than in Jeff's paper in 2007. As a result of the work he had with the Churchill Fellowship, he went into the community, providing information on this issue. At that time we were involved here with the Senate Select Committee on Mental Health. Jeff was a submitter to that particular inquiry. He also gave us the opportunity to learn more about the Churchill Fellowship project. Out of his work with Alliance, he became involved with the Mental Health Council of Australia, where he had worked for many years, and in a range of important conferences and discussions around the issue of mental health. You may remember that there was a strong injection of funding around this time into mental health, and it was important that we had people like Jeff there challenging the standard beliefs, pushing us forward and, most particularly, ensuring that the voices of those who are often silenced were there in the development of programs and policies-again, 'Nothing about us without us.'

It is interesting that Jeff's passion and engagement in these issues around value-based leadership and the engagement with people who most know their subject continue into the Medicare Local network and the Primary Health Networks which we now have. After he left the Queensland Alliance, Jeff moved to work in these networks. In 2016, he was involved in a paper that talked about the Partners in Recovery program, which is an incredibly important element of the mental health journey at the moment in Australian policy. In a paper that he wrote only last year, Jeff talked about the need in the Australian government's Partners in Recovery program to establish a new form of mental health intervention aimed to better support people with severe and persistent mental illness with complex needs, and their carers and families, always ensuring that the person and their families and carers are able to be considered with respect and engaged in development of policy.

He then talked about a program called co-creation, which is a process of leadership and team building which he valued very deeply. He talked about this both in discussion and in a paper that was published in the Medical Journal of Australia, where he said:

Co-creation entails a new vision of value creation through a shift in thinking about the co-creators of value, the value networks, and the entire value of ecosystems. It involves redefining the way an organisation engages with individuals, partners and stakeholders by bringing them into a process of value creation and engaging them in enriched experiences throughout the journey, in order to design new products and services, transform management systems, and increase innovation, productivity and returns on investment.

Always, Jeff brought his intellectual knowledge, the years of study that he had done after that time at the University of Queensland, where he not only was involved in student politics and the editing of Semper Floreat but gained a Bachelor of Arts degree with double majors in law and French. He also went on to study social planning and certificates in business and was studying for a Diploma in Health Economics at Monash. He brought knowledge, experience and professionalism into his work and in that way ensured that the incredible importance of working effectively in the area of mental health and public health would ensure that we would make a difference and that there would not be stigma and ignorance. One of the speakers at one of the celebrations of Jeff's life talked about the fact that he wanted people to know; he wanted to ensure that there was genuine knowledge. He was also very clear that he rejected bigotry in any way on any topic. He felt that the ignorance of bigotry stopped learning and growth.

I am not sure whether there has been a world record put in place for people singing Shirley Bassey's Love Story in a public space. But in remembering Jeff Cheverton a couple of weeks ago in Brisbane at Orleigh Park, West End, where there had been many a fine party over the last few years in which Jeff was involved, there was an outpouring of love and respect for this wonderful man. As our voices were raised with some skill and a lot of enthusiasm as we sang Love Story, we could not begin to understand what a difference this man had made in our lives and also the lives of so many.

Jeff's partner of over 25 years, Rod Goodbun, was always with Jeff, making him stronger and making them stronger as a partnership. Rod was able to speak about his experiences with Jeff a number of times over the last few weeks. Rod, on behalf of so many people, I thank you for sharing Jeff Cheverton with us. You together, and Jeff as an individual, have changed lives and, most importantly, will continue to change lives. The processes, passion and professionalism which Jeff brought to his work will continue to enrich the lives of many people who desperately deserved that enrichment. Jeff was indeed a ripper of a bloke and he will never be forgotten.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator O'Sullivan ): Thank you, Senator Moore, a fine tribute.