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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6044

Mr SIMPKINS (8:12 PM) —There is absolutely no doubt that we are all dedicated to the elimination of all deaths in Australia by drowning. As a father I feel very strongly about this, as do all members of the parliament who are parents or responsible adults. So I would like to commend the member for Blair for raising this important issue and allowing us to focus on this current situation. As a parent I feel very strongly about it. It was only in the last 12 months that we allowed our 10-year-old to go swimming at a friend’s pool party, and that was only after being completely confident about the adult supervision from other parents. She attended swimming lessons with our school over the last two weeks. She went for her level 8 achievement and, I found out this evening, she passed that. My six-year-old daughter also undertook swimming lessons and passed level 5, so I am very proud, but there is no way in the foreseeable future that my six-year-old will be going anywhere near the water without me or my wife. The fact that I consider both my daughters to be very good swimmers does not ever allow me to fully relax or not be there when they are swimming. Children, of course, are much more vulnerable to drowning than adults. An unexpected mouthful of water or being out of their depth can cause them to panic, and their skills are not so ingrained as to be automatic when under pressure. The point is that when children are swimming adults can never fully relax.

I note that in this motion there are a number of suggestions for the federal government about first aid and safety training laws and swimming lessons as well as better awareness. I absolutely support the concept of an awareness day to focus Australians on this tragic and enduring problem. Yet I believe that in Western Australia the state laws and the by-laws of the local government are effective. The pool and spa fencing requirements are up to date and reflect an appropriate safety standard. The way I see it, national standards would not be any better than state prescribed standards and local government checks and enforcement. I worry that trying to impose a federal legislative enforcement regime will be more difficult not more effective. There is no doubt that fencing rules are required, but I cannot see that pool owner training and certification including resuscitation will be possible to achieve.

The point I come back to is that of parental or carer responsibility. That is the bottom line of all preventative action. Parents ensure their child’s safety and that is the key. It comes down to knowing where your child is at all times. That may be harsh but it must be recalled that drowning of children can and does occur in places that are not pools or spas. The family bathtub is an example of where supervision of young children is critical and no amount of regulation can make up for that. Similarly, there is the modern common suburb feature of a lake or pond in close proximity to houses. In the rural areas dams and water tanks are common. These are risks to children that cannot be remedied by fencing or the regulating of owners. There is no doubt that I do favour the current arrangements of fencing and inspections in Western Australia, but children can get to bodies of water, either in or near to the home, and they can climb fences in many cases. Children have done so in the past and it has resulted in some drownings. The one and only sure thing to prevent a child drowning is effective adult supervision.

It would be wrong of me not to mention the point raised in the motion regarding CPR and first-aid training. In Western Australia secondary school students are required to conduct 20 hours of volunteer work; I would suggest that CPR and first-aid courses could count towards such a requirement. In general terms, I support grants to effective organisations that have profile and expertise in these areas—the Red Cross, Surf Life Saving Australia and the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia. I particularly advocate for the Royal Life Saving Society’s Keep Watch program. As a Keep Watch ambassador myself I would say that the four Keep Watch strategies are very effective at protecting children. Those four strategies are to supervise your child, to provide barriers to water locations, to familiarise your child with water and to learn resuscitation. Ultimately, it comes down to parental responsibility, though.

As I said at the start of my contribution, there is no doubt that we all support better water safety. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to speak on the subject and applaud the member for Blair for raising it. I believe that the regulations and controls in place at state and local government levels are appropriate. I would, however, support making it easier for CPR and first-aid courses to be undertaken and, of course, any profile that can be given to the issue, with an important emphasis on the responsibility of parents and carers to do their job and keep watch over their children.