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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6045

Mr HAYES (8:17 PM) —I start by thanking the member for Blair for bringing this important issue to the attention of the parliament tonight. Water safety is a critical community issue across the country. You would not know it from the weather outside today; however, we enjoy a popular beach and water sport culture and we, as a government, have an obligation to promote water safety and commit to minimising the number of drowning deaths that we have in this country. Disturbingly, despite much of the hard work and positive results achieved over the past 10 years—a testament to all those who contributed to that: the various water safety agencies, community groups, individuals and government—over the last 12 months that appears to have been eroded with an increase in the number of drowning deaths.

Recently drowning deaths have increased and the record indicates that in 2007 alone there were approximately 270 deaths across Australia in swimming pools and rivers and at beaches. New South Wales recorded the highest number of deaths. Males are three times more likely to drown than women. These statistics tell only a small part of the problem. Every fatality causes untold grief to the family and friends of loved ones. The trauma is not only isolated to the immediate victims and their families; there is the collateral damage and the effect on many of our emergency services, and community groups, volunteers et cetera every time they attend such shocking incidents.

It is a fight that we can never totally win, but there are many things that we can and must do. We start by saying that the government wholly supports the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2008-2011 and the Australian Water Safety Council’s aspirational goal to reduce the current number of Australian drowning deaths by 50 per cent by 2020. Some would say that this is an ambitious undertaking; however, I strongly believe that it is achievable. Certainly, through collaborative effort, coordination and goodwill amongst various agencies, I think this is something that we as a society can achieve.

To reverse the upward trend we must take urgent steps to build upon the knowledge that we have gained from previous water safety campaigns. In order to achieve a significant reduction in the number of deaths, the Australian Water Safety Council has identified three key drivers which will form the basis of the strategy. They include taking a life stages perspective, targeting high-risk locations and meeting key drowning challenges, particularly for those at-risk groups, such as Indigenous and other culturally and linguistically diverse communities across Australia.

As the member for Blair indicated in his motion, in order to prevent drowning deaths, we must allocate resources towards the major causes of drowning. The general community has a responsibility to contribute to the overall goal. That is something that we can all work towards. The Australian Water Safety Strategy seeks to do this by building awareness of the dangers of aquatic environments and by arming the community with the lifesaving skills necessary to prevent and to rescue. I note that in order to make a positive difference all parties with an interest and a stake in water safety must pull together to reduce drownings in our community. I offer my full support for the suggestion by my colleague the member for Blair of a national drowning day to promote water safety as well as to commemorate those that we have lost tragically through drowning deaths.

In the short time I have left to speak tonight I would like to quickly add that I am currently speaking with Royal Lifesaving Australia regarding a program for members of this House to gain their bronze medallion. The initiative would allow members to develop the level of knowledge, judgement, technical and physical ability required to carry out a safe water rescue. Equally important, they can demonstrate in their electorates their commitment to water safety by reducing the death toll. This is something that we parliamentarians can be part of. Royal Lifesaving Australia is very enthusiastic about delivering the training here in the parliamentary pool, and I would encourage all members to participate in this program. Finally, I would like to congratulate all those involved in this landmark strategy. I think the member for Blair has done well by raising this matter tonight. (Time expired)