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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6041


Mr CHESTER (8:02 PM) —First, let me congratulate the member for raising this issue on water safety and acknowledge his thoughtful and constructive comments. There are many practical and commonsense proposals contained in there. The motion refers to the Australian water safety strategy for 2008-11. I note that the key target of the strategy is to halve the number of drowning deaths by 50 per cent by 2020. It is a challenging target and, when you consider the complex issues which contribute to our annual drowning toll, it will require a true partnership between individuals, community groups, the business sector and governments at all levels to achieve.

In 2007-08, the national drowning toll was 261, which represented a small decrease on the previous year. I attended the launch of the national drowning report in this place last year and the trends that were revealed are a guide to the approach being taken by the Australian Water Safety Council in the development of its strategy. Those trends are quite clear. Men are three times more likely to drown than women, with young men overrepresenting those statistics and often with alcohol involved in the tragedy. Toddlers aged zero to five are also overrepresented in the toll, with 27 children drowning in that year—a constant reminder for parents about vigilance and the pool maintenance and other controls referred to by the previous speaker. With an ageing population, we need to develop better strategies to ensure that older people are safe when they enjoy boating, swimming or fishing activities.

Most drowning deaths are preventable, as can be seen by the success of the surf-lifesaving movement throughout Australia. In Victoria alone, there are about 55 surf-lifesaving clubs which provide patrols in the peak summer months. Last year, those clubs saved an estimated 1,000 lives in Victoria. I know from personal experience that surf-lifesaving clubs can play a critical role in preventing drowning deaths. In fact, three of my young children are involved in the Lakes Entrance Surf Life Saving Club nippers program, where they are taught surf skills and first aid. Providing these volunteer organisations with quality rescue equipment and facilities with which to teach first aid and treat patients are all critical elements of the effort to reduce the national drowning toll.

Many large corporations already make significant donations to such volunteer activity, and I believe governments at all levels can always do better in this regard. The club members themselves are often highly motivated and take a great deal of pride in their efforts to educate young people about surf safety, rescue techniques and first aid. But they could do with more help from government bodies. To the best of my knowledge, no-one has ever drowned at a patrolled Victorian beach whilst swimming between the flags. It is with that in mind that I support the general thrust of the motion before the House. There is no question that most drownings are preventable. Yes, they are always tragic and, yes, they often occur as a result of misfortune or accidents, but with better prevention measures, better planning and preparation and increased vigilance drownings are almost always preventable.

Time prevents me from expanding upon each point raised by the member for Blair but I would like to make a few general observations. Any strategy that is undertaken to implement a national rural and regional swimming program to better equip parents, carers and children in isolated communities must consider the socioeconomic factors. In many of our rural and regional communities the cost of attending swimming lessons—assuming there is a suitable facility nearby—often prevents participation by low-income earners and their families, particularly amongst the Indigenous community. A strategy that makes it more affordable, particularly for pre school-age children, to attend a recognised training course is a vital step towards making young children safer around water.

I also take up the point in relation to providing assistance to schools and other education facilities so they are fully resourced to provide CPR and first aid training, and they are also better able to educate students on water safety measures. This is a positive initiative put forward in the motion and it reflects a policy position that I actually helped to develop myself for the Victorian Nationals in the lead up to the 2006 Victorian state election.

Increasing the awareness of basic first aid will save lives and it is important that these skills are regularly upgraded, particularly as new treatment methods are developed. There are often changes to the treatment of various ailments as new information comes to hand and those of us who learned CPR as recently as just five years ago may not be aware that the preferred system of breaths and compressions has also changed in recent times. More generally, there needs to be increased education in the community about the changing nature of conditions on Australian beaches and other waterways. Those of us who are familiar with the beach environment know that conditions change quickly from hour to hour but many tourists or people from various ethnic and cultural groups may have little understanding of the dangers which exist on our beaches.

There have been many tragic drownings in Victoria in recent years where multiple members of the same family group have been victims as they have got into difficulties and those seeking to assist have also perished. We are seeing circumstances where a group have got into difficulty in the surf and the others have gone in to try and achieve a rescue situation and more than two or three members of the same family have passed away.

Of course, the ongoing drought has meant that conditions in our rivers, lakes and dams have also changed considerably and may pose a drowning risk to those who assume their favourite watering hole in unchanged from summer to summer. I support the general thrust of the motion before the House and see great merit in improving education, awareness and assistance for antidrowning activities across our nation.