The anti-suicide Yellow Ribbon Trust is closing, saying it cannot continue without Government support.

Trust chairman Marco Marinkovich said last night that the trust's 13 staff would lose their jobs on March 11 when it wound up.

About 1000 young "ambassadors" who worked in more than 100 high schools last year will be free to carry on giving emotional support to their schoolmates, but schools and regional groups will have to find new funders.

Mr Marinkovich said the trust cut its links with the fundraising boxing event Fight for Life in 2003 because of the Government's view that the boxing encouraged bullying, which encouraged suicide.

But it could not get enough money from other sources to cover its costs of $1.6 million a year.

"Community initiatives, no matter how well intentioned, cannot survive without funding and the support and goodwill of Government," he said.

He praised the Government's youth suicide prevention co-ordinator, Sue van Daatselaar, but said her predecessor, Debbie Edwards, asked Fight for Life organiser Dean Lonergan not to fund Yellow Ribbon and asked Youthline to take its phone number off Yellow Ribbon's "It's okay to ask for help" cards.

Ms Edwards was "a different kettle of fish and, like most fish, go off," he said in written notes for the Herald.

Mr Lonergan and Youthline both refused to break their links with Yellow Ribbon, but Mr Marinkovich said Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton remained "at loggerheads" with the trust after that because he believed it might encourage suicide by drawing attention to it.

Mr Anderton confirmed last night that officials advised him to be cautious of the trust.

"The literature is very clear - if you raise the profile of youth suicide you get a higher rate of suicide," he said.

"That's why the media briefings are on the basis that we don't want the method of death being publicised."

He said he never doubted the sincerity of the Yellow Ribbon trustees, many of whom had children who had committed suicide. But the Government had taken a different approach.

"You don't need grandstanding. You don't need to try to raise the profile. You almost have to go down under the radar screen and just be careful," Mr Anderton said.

Ms Edwards, who now co-ordinates the Health Ministry's problem gambling programme, said Mr Marinkovich's comments about her were untrue and outrageous.

She confirmed that she talked with Mr Lonergan and Youthline about how to make the Fight for Life "safe", but denied that she had asked either group to cut their link with Yellow Ribbon.

She said Mr Lonergan made changes to the second and third Fights for Life in line with her suggestions.

The original Youth Suicide Awareness Trust, which created "Yellow Ribbon" as a brand name, was formed in 1998 by two parents who had lost sons to suicide, Thelma French and Peter Quinn, and three of their friends - Mr Marinkovich, Patrick Greene and former Race Relations Conciliator Gregory Fortuin.

It raised net profits from the Fight for Life events of $600,000 in 2001, $1 million in 2002 and $400,000 in 2003, before bowing to pressure to sever its links with Mr Lonergan.

Mr Marinkovich last night defended Mr Lonergan, despite revelations that his event company took management fees and expenses totalling $858,500 from the 2003 event and paid only $400,000 to Yellow Ribbon.

In 2002, the company netted $411,000.

"Out of that he paid tax, overheads, vehicles, staff to cover the first two years. Over the two years he netted $120,000," Mr Marinkovich said.

Since dropping Fight for Life, he said, Yellow Ribbon had been funded mainly by trusts that ran gaming machines. But it was not sustainable for the organisation.

He said the trust would make its training manual and other materials available for people to download free from its website.

The trust


* Started in 1998 to raise awareness of the youth suicide problem.

* Appointed high school students as "ambassadors" to help schoolmates under stress.

* Distributed "It's okay to ask for help" cards with phone numbers for young people to call.

* Government believed its high profile might have actually encouraged youth suicides.