Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan delivers his maiden speech in Federal Parliament this afternoon.
Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan delivers his maiden speech in Federal Parliament this afternoon.

MP calls for immediate action on Coffs’ youth unemployment

FEDERAL Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan has called on his government to immediately address Coffs Harbour's youth unemployment crisis.

Mr Conaghan made the call during a powerful maiden speech in Federal Parliament this afternoon.

"When I speak to the constituents of Cowper, the vast majority do not want a hand out, but rather a hand up," Mr Conaghan told parliament.

"I recognise that the best form of welfare is a job and I acknowledge that over 1.3 million jobs have been created since the Coalition has been in Government, however, this does not account for the 20.3% youth unemployment in Coffs Harbour, the second highest in the Country, and almost double that of Port Macquarie only 153km away.

Mr Conaghan said he had formed a committee to plan a youth employment summit in coming months and called on his government to include Coffs Harbour in the Federal roll-out of 10 Youth Employment Hubs announced during the election.

In sharing his story as the son of a country GP in Kempsey - who grew up to serve as a police officer, an undercover drug detective, a prosecutor and solicitor - Mr Conaghan wound a powerful narrative into his address reflecting on many of the difficult issues faced in his electorate and by frontline health and emergency service workers across the country.


Maiden speech: Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan.
Maiden speech: Federal Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan.

He touched on the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that emergency service workers face after dealing with societal problems including drug dependency.

He also drew parallels between drug abuse and unemployment, domestic violence.

Mr Conaghan called his 12 years in the NSW Police Force, the 'most difficult, confronting and emotionally exhausting years of my life.

But said: "They were also the best years of my working life."

"Nothing could prepare me for the experiences faced by police on a daily basis. The same can be said about all emergency services personnel around Australia. Death was far too familiar."

"In my three years in Kempsey I saw countless fatalities on the Pacific Highway and country roads or tragic accidents on farms and private property.

"So when I see projects such as the Coffs Harbour Bypass I see more than the convenience of missing 14 sets of traffic lights, I see a safer journey for the millions of Australians and tourists who will drive it each year and I commend this Government for its continued commitment for funding this vital piece of infrastructure.

"I also saw the willingness of one human to murder or inflict pain on another for little or no reason, the proliferation of child sexual assault and exploitation material, domestic violence and its ugliness, and, probably the saddest of all, mental health and suicide, particularly youth suicide. In this regard, I am again sad to say that in my electorate, youth suicide far exceeds the National average, if any average were ever acceptable."

Mr Conaghan explained how he transferred as a Detective to serve as an Undercover Operative of the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan delivers his maiden speech in Federal Parliament this afternoon.
Member for Cowper Pat Conaghan delivers his maiden speech in Federal Parliament this afternoon.

"Sporting a new persona, long hair, three earrings and a look that morphed between grunge, surfie and Eastern Suburb sect depending on the job, I spent two years away from my family, infiltrating criminal organisations and, in conjunction with other States, Territories and Federal Police, gathered information, purchased large quantities of illicit drugs, and prepared briefs of evidence to secure the arrests and successful prosecution of Criminals and organisations.

In hindsight, the significance of the work was lost on me as a 25-year-old.

"As too was the intensity and danger.

"Many left, having spent two years living in, or on the periphery, of the criminal underworld, to re-enter mainstream policing with a confused caution toward police in what could be described as a pseudo Stockholm syndrome. I certainly fell into this category.

"However, through the support of good mates, I again found my centre, and continued in an investigative capacity while, at the same time studying law.

"I later transferred to the Prosecuting Branch where I remained for four years before resigning to pursue a career in law.

"Mr Speaker, I am not raising my policing career for dramatic effect. I do so for two reasons.

Firstly, we cannot wane on our war on drugs nor can we accede to a minority to consider legalisation through legislation. Our communities are awash with the catastrophic effects of this poison.

"Families torn apart and displaced, unemployment, violence, robberies and break and enters.

"The enormous and obvious consequence on the health and mental health system is palpable, not to mention the effects on those who work within those systems.

"Secondly, I spoke of the difficulties of 'the job'.

"I am lucky as I came out relatively unscarred.

"This is not the case for so many emergency personnel.

"Year after year I have seen my former colleagues fall by the way side with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder simply to be forgotten or discarded.

"Made to fight the system just to receive the care they require, not to move on, but to simply survive.

"Mr Speaker, many have not.

"As many of 20% of emergency workers are impacted by PTSD.

"Between 2001 and today, 68 serving police officers across the country have died by suicide.

"This does not take into account those who have left the force, nor does it take into account any other emergency service organisation past or present.

"These are the people who serve and protect us. We as a government must do much more to serve and protect them.

"This cannot be passed off as a 'state issue'.

"We must work collaboratively as a government to do all we can for those who put themselves in harm's way for us.

"But Mr Speaker, as I have said, these were the greatest days of my working life. Only working under such conditions can great camaraderie come."