“There’s nothing worse than turning up to a fatality and seeing that it’s someone you know. As much as all that’s really hard, you feel the fact that you’re there to give those people who you know that little bit of extra help and consideration... from somebody that they know, it’s just a bit more personable,” Llew says. “It takes a little bit more out of you, but it helps them a bit too.”
As a police officer in Kilkivan, a small town west of Gympie, this is a situation Llew O’Brien has been forced to get used to. Many times, O’Brien has been the officer no one wants to see at their door, bringing with him the tragic news that a loved one has passed away. Despite this, he is a cop the community of Kilkivan still appreciates in times like these. He’s a familiar face filled with the same heartbreak as the person in front of him about the loss of another life in the town he loves.
This scenario was all too real last year when one of O'Brien’s close family friends died. “My husband was a suicide,” Amelia Olsen says, her eyes welling with tears as she continues. Llew had the job of delivering me the death message.” Olsen is a teacher at the state school in Kilkivan and her family has been close with the O’Brien family for the past few years. Following her husband’s death, this friendship became even stronger. “Basically Llew and [his wife] Sharon have become like my family,” Olsen says. “In terms of checking in with my kids, stuff like that, he’s been great.”
It is through these challenges as a police officer that O'Brien decided to run for the seat of Wide Bay. O'Brien is currently on leave focussing his attention on the campaign, however if elected he will leave the police force after 16 years of service. His aim for politics is to bring his experiences as a policeman to the forefront of his political campaign to try and improve the community issues he has dealt with on a broader scale. “My political involvement of activity hasn’t been about me running for politics, it’s about an alignment of what I believe in and what the party principles are,” O'Brien says.
Olsen says O'Brien will be an excellent representative for Wide Bay if elected, as he is in politics for the right reasons. He wants to help people. “I think he really just wants to represent those people the best way he can,” she says. “He’s compassionate, he’s very realistic and I think in politics he’s going to need that. I like the fact that he’s not big and shiny. It’s a very personal thing but through that I’ve seen both sides of Llew, professionally, personally and now politically so I think he’s got the measure of what it takes because he’s a great listener, he’s able to communicate, he’s able to articulate under pressure.”
O'Brien has been politically active in the Liberal National Party for the past 10 years and is now the vice president for the party. While O'Brien will have big shoes to fill if elected in taking over from Warren Truss, the former deputy Prime Minister and member for Wide Bay, he is more than prepared for the task ahead. “I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what the challenges are, how big the job is and responsibilities, so I’m very excited about it, I just feel really honoured,” he says. “I’ve embraced it and I’m one hundred per cent committed to it.”
O'Brien has a strong relationship with Mr Truss and sees him as a mentor. He says it was Mr Truss who sparked the idea of running for the federal election when it was time for him to retire after 26 years in Parliament. “Warren spoke to me about it [running for Wide Bay] for some time in the lead up and has always encouraged me politically within the organisation,” he said.
O'Brien is extremely passionate about working towards improving mental health, especially for men in regional and rural areas as a result of what he went through with Olsen. “I think we can look at doing a better job in terms of the high suicide rate,” he says. Bringing the road tolldown, improving unemployment across Queensland and enhancing education opportunities are also other areas O'Brien is passionate about and they are all motivators for him with his politics.
“I like helping people at the coal face,” he says. “It [Police work] can be very upsetting at times and you have to have a certain personality that can handle it. But it can be tremendously rewarding when you really help someone and that, if I’m successful, I’ll miss. In saying that, I think I’ll have a chance to change people’s lives for the better on a bigger, broader level.”
Last year O'Brien’s commitment to the Queensland Police Service was recognised. He was honoured to receive three medals in appreciation of his 16 years of ethical and diligent service with the police. While this recognition is very satisfying for O'Brien, he feels it is also a sign of appreciation to his family for the challenges they have endured as a police family. "It’s not easy for a wife when a husband has to go out and investigate and attend really nasty incidents and manage things under those circumstances,” he says.
O'Brien is without doubt a family man and his calm approach to the difficulties he has faced as a policeman is a mark of his strong character. Olsen describes O'Brien in three words: “firm but fair”. She says he is a local bloke with strong family values who wants to improve the life of those in his community; he is not in it for himself. “No fancy stuff, he is who he is,” she says.