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Monday, 13 February 2017
Page: 864

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (17:25): I rise to support the motion today by the member for Kingsford Smith on the importance of water safety. This is a very important issue for my home city of Newcastle and for the Novocastrians, whom I represent in this parliament. My electorate is lucky enough to have 11 kilometres of pretty stunning coastline complete with ocean baths and convict-built swimming holes. We also have inland swimming pools at Wallsend, Mayfield, Lambton and Stockton.

The water and our healthy beach lifestyle are integral to the way that Novocastrians live our lives and, indeed, see ourselves. We are also blessed with a wonderfully temperate climate where swimming is an enjoyable activity for most of the year, but we must never forget that coastal living brings its own risks. It is a sobering reality that 280 people drowned at Australian beaches, pools and waterways in the past year. The cost of responding to drownings caused by a lack of knowledge or skills is substantial, but of course the toll on families and communities is unspeakable.

Studies have found that between 20 and 60 per cent of children finish primary school lacking basic water-safety knowledge and unable to swim 50 metres. The number of kids participating in formal swimming programs is dropping. We also need to recognise that water safety knowledge and swimming skills are not evenly distributed. Children from low-income families and those from rural and remote areas are far less likely to develop water safety knowledge and skills and as a result are at greater risk of drowning. The disparity is even greater for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and children not born in Australia.

It is true that there are some fantastic organisations. I am fortunate to have six incredible surf-lifesaving clubs in my electorate, namely Stockton, Nobbys, Newcastle, Cooks Hill, Dixon Park and Merewether, and each of those is taking on excellent initiatives focusing on improved water safety and achieving good outcomes. In my local area I want to focus on just two recent examples. One is based at Nobbys Surf Life Saving Club, which runs a buddy swim program for people with disabilities. I have had the extraordinary pleasure of joining them on a Sunday morning, where lifeguards and volunteers alike are out there in the water teaching kids with disability great water safety skills and knowledge, knowledge about the surf and necessary skills to keep them safe. Likewise, the Cooks Hill surf-lifesaving club is running a terrific refugee and multicultural swimming program, ensuring that people who were not born in Australia who are not familiar with coastal living receive the best tuition so they can enjoy beaches in the safe way that we in Australia would hope for for everybody. There is also the $4 million Kids Alive initiative, which is doing excellent work across Australia.

So much has been achieved, but obviously much more needs to be done. We urgently need a coordinated and properly funded national water safety initiative. I hear the members opposite suggesting that there is a lot of onus on state and local government in this area of water safety, but there is a critical role for the national government to play here as well.

Before the 2016 election, Labor announced a very clear plan to improve water safety and decrease the number of drownings. We committed to establishing a $40.9 million water safety education fund to support the states and territories to work with the federal government, Catholic and independent schools, local swimming clubs and lifesaving clubs in improving education and equipping our young people with the knowledge and skills they need to survive. We also committed to work with the state and territory governments to roll out a national water safety program, Water Safe, across the country so that all Australian children have the training and skills they need to stay safe in Australia's myriad beaches, waterways and pools. Regrettably, these commitments were not matched by the coalition. I am by no means suggesting that we on this side of the House somehow have a monopoly on the concerns of children and water safety. There are many members opposite whose communities have been tragically impacted by avoidable drownings and who care deeply about improving outcomes.

Certainly, I think together we should support call by the member for Kingsford Smith for a parliamentary inquiry into why children are not getting the water safety education they need and what the federal government needs to do to ensure they are. We should also back his call for the government to commit to implementing a national swimming and water safety framework, ensuring every child— (Time expired)