National framework will improve swimming, water safety

Published on Mon 13 February 2017 5:45pm

I want to take this opportunity, as other members have done, to recognise organisations in my electorate that contribute a great deal to water safety and do so chiefly through the time and energy of volunteers.

Mr Wilson (5:45pm) — I thank the member for Kingsford Smith for bringing this motion, and I thank all those who have contributed to the debate. From Maroubra in Kingsford Smith to Sand Tracks Beach in Fremantle or from Coogee to ‘Coo-gee’—as we call it—our electorates pretty much span the country. Considering the size of our nation continent, it is amazing to reflect on the fact that 80 per cent of the population lives within 50 kilometres of the coast. With 37,000 kilometres of coastline and 11,000 recognised beaches, there is a lot of ocean to choose from. For those not near the sea, there are great rivers, waterholes and, of course, swimming pools. Strangely enough, Perth, as a capital city, leads the nation in terms of swimming pool ownership, with 18 per cent of residents living in a house with a pool. Recreating in and around the water is one of the defining features of Australian life, but it has associated risks. The joy of being in and around the water is balanced with dangers and, unfortunately, in 2016 accidental death by drowning cost the lives of 260 people, as detailed in the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report. I draw attention also to the emphasis in the report on the often severe consequences of non-fatal drownings.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in the period 2012-14 drowning was the fourth-leading cause of death for people between one and 14 years of age, and in 2015 alone it was the second-leading cause of death for that age group. We have also seen the number of drownings in the 55-to-64 and 65-to-74 age brackets climb above the 10-year average. It is understandable that priority area No. 1 of the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2016-20 is to take a life-stages approach, and goal No. 1 is children between zero and 14 years of age. But, for the strategy to be effective, we need a comprehensive and consistent approach from east to west and north to south, so I endorse the motion’s call for a national swimming and water safety framework and a national education fund.

I represent an electorate that enjoys a beautiful stretch of the Indian Ocean coast as well as the Swan River Foreshore and the island of Wadjemup, or Rottnest Island. Swimming, fishing, boating and water sports of all kinds are commonplace. I want to take this opportunity, as other members have done, to recognise organisations in my electorate that contribute a great deal to water safety and do so chiefly through the time and energy of volunteers. Fremantle Surf Life Saving Club and Coogee Surf Life Saving Club provide safe beach swimming in the form of flagged beaches and patrols. Both clubs run education programs that take children from their first year, as nippers, to the completion of their surf rescue certificate and beyond. They are not only equipping young people to safely enjoy the ocean but providing the next generation of beach patrol and emergency response personnel. As an example of the scale of the BeachSAFE effort, which is the name of the surf lifesaving WA program, it is my understanding that in 2014-15 there were 33,000 BeachSAFE participants who, together, took something like 43,000 preventative actions in Western Australia.

I would also like to acknowledge the work done in recent years by the cities of Fremantle and Cockburn to improve safe but also universal access to swimming. Fremantle has invested in upgrades to its leisure centre to introduce ramp access to its main pool, and the new Aquatic and Recreation Centre in Cockburn incorporates state-of-the-art design to make universal access safe for all of its seven swimming pools.

While it is natural to think about water safety in the context of swimming, the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report for last year shows that 60 per cent of drownings occur through accidents related to boating.

Both Cockburn and Fremantle sea rescue provide radio monitoring and rescue services around the clock, year round. This involves the work of dozens of volunteers, who give up their sleep and their weekends to stay vigilant 24/7 and to crew rescue vessels at all hours. I pay tribute to all the volunteers at surf lifesaving clubs and sea rescue organisations in my electorate and around the country, without whom there would be much greater harm and loss. I note that, in many cases, this work assists people who are visiting Australia. It is important, as the member for Kingsford Smith has identified, that we extend our care to those who may be unfamiliar with an ocean or a river environment. One in 11 of all drownings last year was a visitor from overseas.

The first story I saw on the news this morning was about a young boy who lost his life on the weekend while swimming with a friend to escape the heat. I can only imagine what that must be like for his family and friends. I hope this debate on the motion brought by the member for Kingsford Smith, and all the contributions that people have made, can assist in delivering on the Australian Water Safety Strategy target of reducing drowning deaths by 50 per cent by 2020.

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