Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Environment and Communications References Committee
20/04/2017
Shark mitigation and deterrent measures

PECK, Mr Chris, General Manager - Lifesaving and Training, Surf Life Saving Western Australia

Committee met at 10:48

CHAIR ( Senator Whish-Wilson ): I open this public hearing of the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee in relation to its inquiry into shark mitigation and deterrent measures. This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made. I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee. Such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.

The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public, but under the Senate's resolutions witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. In addition, if the committee has reason to believe that evidence about to be given may reflect adversely on a person, the committee may also direct that that evidence be heard in private session. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on such an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may, of course, be made at any other time.

On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank all those who made submissions and sent representatives here today for their cooperation with our inquiry. Unfortunately, we need to acknowledge the tragic incident that occurred on Monday. As I am sure everyone in this room is aware, Laeticia Brouwer, a 17-year-old teenager who was holidaying with her family on the southwest of WA, was attacked by a shark while surfing and she died from her injuries. I was deeply saddened by this terrible news, as I am sure most of the committee was. On behalf of the committee, I would like to offer our sincere condolences to the girl's family and friends. Our thoughts and sympathies are also with all those who responded to or are otherwise affected by this tragic incident.

Could I also very quickly place on record that this hearing today was organised some six weeks ago and it just happens to be a coincidence that we are here this week. I would also like to place on record that that statement by the committee is heartfelt. There have been some adverse reflections in some elements, especially the Murdoch media, in the last few days that this statement would be made by the committee and that it would somehow be shallow, superficial and hypocritical of the committee to make this statement—and even reflections that members of this committee, including me, have blood on our hands because we have previously opposed the culling of sharks. I want to put on record today how insulting that is for members of this committee, who are just doing their jobs as parliamentarians on a very important matter of public interest.

I now welcome Mr Chris Peck from Surf Life Saving Western Australia. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you.

Senator LINES: Excuse me, Chair. I want to make a statement before we go on.

CHAIR: Okay.

Senator LINES: Thank you. As Minister Dave Kelly is appearing later today, I wish to put on the public record, in the interests of transparency, that Minister Kelly and I worked together for a number of years at United Voice.

CHAIR: Thank you. Mr Peck, would you like to make an opening statement to the committee? If so, we will ask you some questions about that statement and your submission following that.

Mr Peck : Yes, thank you. As surf lifesavers, fundamentally we exist to preserve life at our beaches and to preserve a way of life where generations can continue to enjoy WA's beaches. Surf Life Saving WA has developed key strategies to assist in performing the critical frontline role of protecting and saving the lives of beach users. These primary strategies are emergency response; surveillance through air, land and water activities; communications through emergency incidents, public messaging and status reports; preventative actions; and education and awareness.

Sharks are a risk at the beach and they are frequently and increasingly encountered by users and visitors. A shark mitigation strategy is in place in Western Australia. A number of initiatives are part of the strategy and in most circumstances it is essential that these overlap. Surf Life Saving WA is responsible for delivering a range of initiatives, and examples include aerial surveillance, beach patrols, sighting response procedures, jet ski response services, incident communication and public messaging. A number of programs are delivered by other agencies or providers. However, for purposes of sustainability it is necessary for most of these to integrate into Surf Life Saving systems and procedures. Examples of those other strategies would be shark enclosures, the shark tracking and monitoring programs and public messaging.

The initiatives delivered by Surf Life Saving WA fall within our organisation's area of expertise. Our organisation has a sustained and credible track record of developing, testing and implementing coastal risk programs to keep the beach-going public safer. Our initiatives are extremely effective and provide the public with confidence to continue with recreational activities at their local beaches.

A snapshot of the demonstrated effectiveness of shark mitigation programs which we are involved in include aerial surveillance, where there have been direct sightings at 40 individual beaches across the metropolitan area. In the last two years, 258 direct warnings to beach users have resulted in more than 4,600 individuals being warned to clear the water where there was an imminent threat. With our beach patrols and responses to detections from aerial surveillance, VR4 receivers or public sightings, our lifesavers have cleared tens of thousands of beach users where there was an imminent threat in the water. Public communication and messaging based on the detection sources—we have 46 ½ thousand Twitter followers that receive known shark sightings, a critical outcome for locations where patrols or other initiatives are infrequent or not present at all. Surf Life Saving WA believe that, through the persistent application of these initiatives, lives have been saved. In our opinion, their continued implementation should not be underestimated. Surf Life Saving WA remain at the forefront of continuous improvement opportunities and this is evidenced by our new surveillance technology, the drone patrol, which has been trialled recently with success.

Despite the review and trialling of continuous improvement opportunities, we believe that our way of life is still being eroded. The current strategy provides layers of protection for the majority of recreational beach users, but particular groups, such as surfers and divers, remain exposed, especially at locations that do not have a surf life saving presence, are remote or are considered to be further away from the shoreline. These variables encountered by these types of user groups make protecting them more challenging.

The general public is divided on the issue of how best to mitigate the threat of sharks. There is no magic bullet to prevent shark attacks, and we believe a variety of initiatives must overlap. As a community, we must maintain a strong commitment to ongoing work and continuous improvement. Surf Life Saving WA's primary expertise lies in prevention, surveillance, education and emergency response. If any level of government was to consider more lethal mitigation initiatives—this is not an area in which Surf Life Saving WA has any expertise. We would not be an operational agency to deliver this type of initiative, in the same way that we do not provide shark enclosures, VR4 receivers or personal protective devices. Other agencies or service providers hold this expertise, and we are guided by their research, independent testing and policy development.

CHAIR: I might start by asking you about the recent trial that you had in City Beach with the smart buoy technology. Was your group directly involved with the system that was set up behind that technology?

Mr Peck : Our involvement extended to the limit that we were an end user of that technology. If there was a detection event, our systems and strategies then came into play in terms of keeping the public safe based on the information and advice that we were receiving.

CHAIR: We tried to get some information and we actually interviewed them and Cardno, who have done an independent evaluation, in Sydney recently. The committee had evidence that it was ongoing and that trial had not been completed yet. Do you have any confidence, from what you have seen so far, that the system may provide an application to enhance public safety?

Mr Peck : Not at this point; we believe that it was premature for that technology to have been put in place. We had a limited amount of confidence in the events that were being detected and the types of sharks, the size of the sharks and the location of them. As a result of that, there were a number of detection events that required the beach to be closed for long periods of time, but there was no validation or verification as to whether there was a shark actually in the area.

CHAIR: How did it work then? If the system set off some kind of alarm, you had a technology interface where that let you know that was happening and then you cleared the beach. Did you guys have to go out and validate that yourselves, or were spotters involved with the program?

Mr Peck : No, despite the organisation with the technology being encouraged to have some sort of validation methods, they did not put any in place. Once we had cleared the beach—and then you also have to maintain the beach closure—we tried very hard to get some validation. Whether that was through getting the helicopter above or trying to get a drone that was at a nearby location to provide that verification, we were unable, out of any of the detection events, to put any verification that the shark was actually in the location.

CHAIR: Could your association give the committee an idea of how many shark—let's call them encounters—and fatalities have occurred on patrolled beaches in Western Australia or in Perth?

Mr Peck : The question around whether it is at a patrolled beach or whether there is a patrol in place at the time—the only one I can think of in more recent times was Mr Bryn Martin at Cottesloe, who was some 400 metres out to sea when the patrol and the early morning lifeguards were just setting up. They were only just arriving at the beach and getting their equipment into a pre-operational order and he was further out. Under a coronial investigation, he was thought to have been taken by a great white. Outside of that, we are not aware of people being attacked or fatally attacked at patrolled locations.

CHAIR: You have made an excellent submission here with a number of recommendations, and you have outlined the limitations of what you are doing and where you would like to see more funding and more work on education and awareness. You would have to say, overall, that you are doing a fairly good job with protecting public safety on this issue on beaches where your organisation is set up and entrenched.

Mr Peck : Yes, we agree with that comment. I think that is because, as in my opening statement, there are a number of initiatives that overlap at those locations, from detection aspects through to response aspects. If the public have greater access to those overlapping initiatives, it provides a safer environment for them than if they were operating at more-remote or unpatrolled locations where it is harder to communicate with them, harder to advise them around detection events, and harder to get responses to them. This is evidenced by the fact that we see individual shark sightings at 40 beach locations in the metropolitan area. We have 16 Surf Life Saving clubs and 10 lifeguard services across that area. That is not covering all of those beach locations. More and more, I think that we are seeing, across the coastline, that people have access to the beach and want to recreate with it in their own unique way.

CHAIR: You do not have to answer this. Let us go back to 2000. It was reported this morning that there have been 14 fatalities, and a number of those, as you have pointed out, have occurred outside of the metropolitan beaches. Do you think that it has impacted on people's desire to go to the beach and to recreate in these areas that you patrol? Has it had an impact on perceptions around risk and of the ocean as being a place that they can go to?

Mr Peck : I can only give you some anecdotal responses on that.

CHAIR: Do you collect data on visitation, for example?

Mr Peck : We do collect data on visitation. It is an imprecise science in terms of that collection, but we are not seeing numbers reduce at the beach. I think that what we are seeing is that people are altering the way that they are using the beach and that their way of life is either being eroded or, at the very least, being interrupted. You are coming into a beach environment where we have a beach-closure protocol in place, and people are becoming frustrated by that because they cannot use the beach in the way that they want to. Again, that comes back to our statement around the way of life. Large, mass-participation community events are having to be postponed or called off in the middle of that event, so it is frustrating and irritating—

CHAIR: Because a tagged shark, for example, may ping on a detection system, and therefore you have to close the beach?

Mr Peck : That is right. We have researched extensively over the years how other jurisdictions handle the presence of sharks and beach closures. In fact, as a result of the work that we have done, in terms of that consultation and developing our own strategies and putting them in place, a number of jurisdictions across Australia and internationally are now using that protocol.

CHAIR: Your submission was described in News Limited papers yesterday as being 'timid'. How do you respond to that?

Mr Peck : I think that it is an unfair labelling of our submission. I have certainly seen the individual, that referred to us as being timid, shift, I think, in terms of his position over time. I think that it is an unfair statement on the basis that he is not in Western Australia, he does not understand the programs that we deliver and how we deliver them, and he appears to have a focus on what he would like to see done.

Senator LINES: Thinks for appearing today, Mr Peck, and for the great work that Surf Life Saving does. I know that you do some fundraising, but you get some state government funding?

Mr Peck : Yes, we do.

Senator LINES: How much is that?

Mr Peck : Across the range of programs, from a service delivery point—which are helicopters; beach patrols, which help local governments supplement their lifeguard services; and our jet ski services—I think it is about $3.4 million.

Senator LINES: $3.4 million.

Mr Peck : That is directly related to service delivery for shark mitigation.

Senator LINES: What is?

Mr Peck : The $3.4 million that we receive is directly related to shark mitigation outcomes.

Senator LINES: How is that distributed? Is that given to Surf Life Saving, the association, directly and then you distribute it out? What is the carve up?

Mr Peck : Indirectly. The money comes into the head organisation, Surf Life Saving WA. We deliver directly some of those programs that also use our volunteers as part of that—and that is where we talk about the use of our volunteer system as what is making some of these programs sustainable from a human-resource perspective. It is then that the money is used to purchase equipment or to deliver training to our volunteers, who are spread across the state. It is those people who participate in terms of helping to deliver the programs at the frontline.

Senator LINES: How long has the association been in receipt of that funding of $3.4 million for shark mitigation?

Mr Peck : At that level, since about 2012 when the Barnett government made some significant changes to the way that they were approaching the shark hazard issue and their own mitigation strategies.

Senator LINES: Was that funding guaranteed in the budget last year?

Mr Peck : No, it was not. We currently sit here at the end of a funding period without a commitment at the moment for that funding continuing.

Senator LINES: The Barnett government at the last budget made no ongoing commitment to those funds?

Mr Peck : No, they did not.

Senator SIEWERT: When you talk about a way of life being eroded, if it means that people do not have an interaction with a shark, if people understand why they are being taken out of the water by the surf lifesavers, do they get a better appreciation and is less concern about the fact that their day has been interrupted?

Mr Peck : The issue is obviously very polarising. Some people would perhaps think that the way that their lifestyle is being interrupted is important to them. Where we have seen situations where beaches are closed for a number of hours because of a shark persistently being in an area or a number of days even, it has been quite an interesting exercise to watch the public sentiment change around that and how their frustrations came out.

CHAIR: When an alarm goes off, how long do people have to stay out of the water?

Mr Peck : The protocol is an hour from the last sighting. So if we get to minute 59 and we see it again, the clock starts again.

Senator SIEWERT: What is the feedback that people want you to do about it—just let them go into the water?

Mr Peck : No, I think it is an element of frustration that is coming out. We have seen people leave the beach environment, but frustrated. We seen people come down and want to participate in events and they are unable to or been halfway through an event and participation has had to stop. People become very frustrated and become very angry by that. If I look at the Clever Buoy example at City Beach where that trial was conducted and the number of beach closures, there was a significant amount of angst from the people and that anger was directed at the lifesavers, who were simply delivering the protocols and closing the beach. In that sense, that is disappointing.

Senator SIEWERT: Maybe, as a start, some better education and support for the surf lifesaving and the role that you are paying but also the need to stay out of the water while the process is investigated.

Mr Peck : Yes, we certainly think that more education and awareness could be provided, and I think we put that in our submission that that is one of the limitations at the moment. In terms of developing a culture and an understanding, there is a long process for that and you have to start somewhere. We do not think we have enough support to deliver that education and awareness, particularly to school groups where you are often commencing the development of a culture.

Senator SIEWERT: In regard to the smart buoy, did I understand you to say that the surveillance was not there to test whether a shark was present?

Mr Peck : That is right.

Senator SIEWERT: So it was half-baked. It seems to me if you are trying to test it, you actually need to see if a shark was present that set it off in the first place.

Mr Peck : We agree with that. There should have been some more rigor around the verification process to ensure that we had confidence that the algorithm was functioning and was continuing to teach itself.

Senator SIEWERT: Is the process still working? My understanding of how the tagging process works is that the tag would go off and within a couple of seconds you would get the notification that there is a shark—

Mr Peck : There is a known shark in the area.

Senator SIEWERT: Then you put out the twitter alert.

Mr Peck : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Is that still the same process?

Mr Peck : Yes, it is.

Senator SIEWERT: Okay. My understanding is that there was some reduction of the funding of the tagging process. Is that correct?

Mr Peck : I do not have the specific answer to that. I can only say that we understand that they were not funding a rollout of further monitoring stations but were funding the ongoing maintenance of what was currently in place.

Senator SIEWERT: So that process is still going but has not been expanded.

Mr Peck : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you. In your submission you make comment about the review of the strategy and recommendations summary matrix and talk about surveillance. One of the points you make is that aerial helicopter patrols are not operational during winter and do not provide dedicated local area surveillance, especially when at-risk groups are using the beach. Do I take that to mean the divers and surfers that you were talking about earlier?

Mr Peck : They are some of them, but we would contend that, despite some of the comments more recently that swimmers are at risk, it is simply that we have a number of strategies in place in the South West and the metropolitan area that overlap and that keep those swimmers safe. Where surfers and divers tend to be at locations where we are not, it does make them at risk. They tend to be more recreational particularly in the wintertime, when there are better swells—

Senator SIEWERT: That is what I was coming to

Mr Peck : and better surf, and I think some of the information that we read is that there are more likely to be the high-hazard sharks like great whites around in those winter periods as well.

Senator SIEWERT: That is what I was coming to. There is better swell—being married to an extremely active surfer and myself a paddleboarder actively engaging in the oceans—but there are no helicopter patrols in winter, when in fact that is the peak of surfing activity in the South West as well, not just in Perth.

Mr Peck : That is correct. We think the helicopters provide a vital role in providing what we call regionalised surveillance. We get into the areas where you do not have a local opportunity. One of the continuous improvement outcomes for our organisation is that we continue to expand our drone patrol program so that it has opportunity over the winter but also in a localised sense. If a helicopter is covering local areas, there are also regional spaces in between where we do not have services.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you talked to the state government about trying to get funding so you have got year-round coverage?

Mr Peck : We certainly spoke to the Barnett government about that, but we have not had the opportunity with the new McGowan government.

Senator SIEWERT: What was their response?

Mr Peck : The Barnett government was comfortable with the funding that they were providing for shark mitigation and perhaps did not see the opportunity for new money to come into that.

Senator SIEWERT: So it means that, for a significant period of the year when some of those at-risk groups that you talk about are using and engaging with the water, they remain exposed.

Mr Peck : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.

Senator REYNOLDS: First of all, on behalf of all of us, I congratulate you and your members on the amazing work they do no behalf of all Western Australians. Western Australians have 20,000 kilometres of coastline and a very close relationship with it particularly in our lifestyle. The coastline is important to us—swimming, surfing, diving, boating. This is a great challenge. I want to thank you for the work that you do, because the victims are generally treated by your members, which I know causes your members some great trauma as well. With increasing shark numbers and the issues that are occurring, your members are certainly more vulnerable than most in protecting the rest of us, so I just want to say thank you very much on behalf of us all.

Mr Peck : Thank you.

Senator REYNOLDS: I also acknowledge the 15 Western Australians who have died in shark attacks since 2000. At least two of them were here at Cottesloe Beach, and the others, as you have said, were in Esperance, Albany, Rottnest—all the places that our Western Australian lifestyle and passions take us to across this country. In particular I acknowledge the family and friends of Laeticia Brouwer. I have talked to some of the friends of her family, and they and most of the community of Mandurah were all suffering terribly. Sorry; I am getting a bit teary here. My heartfelt sympathies go out to all of them. So thank you.

In relation to that, having a look at the submissions—again, thank you for your submission—you cannot possibly cover all 20,000 kilometres of our coastline. You said there are 16 locations. You are covering the majority of Western Australians who are enjoying recreational activities on the beach. I am not saying additional resources do not need to be provided, but is it safe to say that you cannot cover everybody at all times on our coastline. Is that correct?

Mr Peck : That is a fair statement.

Senator REYNOLDS: You have touched on what measures have been applied in other states, particularly New South Wales and Queensland. What are some of the lessons from that? Can you give me your observations in a bit more detail. Is there anything that other states are doing that we could do here? Like everything, Western Australia does better than they do over east. What are your thoughts on the experiences elsewhere?

Mr Peck : As an organisation we have been on this journey for perhaps longer than any other agency and any other department, particularly over the last eight years, and some of the people we have in our organisation have been along for that as well. One of the things we have learnt is that there is no single solution for one location or for one region. What will work in some of the Queensland areas and in New South Wales and Tasmania may not work in Western Australia. In fact, what will work in Western Australia will not necessarily work up and down the whole of our coastline. We have to have a range of strategies available from a sustainability point of view too. We understand there has to be a finite level of resources that we can put into this. There have to be a range that local communities and regions can select from that suit their environment and suit their particular need.

I said in my opening statement that we have been here for eight years. From what we are seeing happening on the east coast, apart from perhaps one particular method, Western Australia has led the way in developing those strategies through aerial surveillance, drone surveillance, extension of beach patrols, the way that we use jetskis. We are just going through a project at the moment where we are looking to place observation platforms into beach environments to give lifesavers a more elevated position from which to do their surveillance, from a beach perspective.

The game changer in most cases will be the technology that evolves to enable people to have portable protection through to early detection systems. Whether that is through the use of sonar, shape detection, multispectral cameras, they will be the things that will enable us to have that selection of things on a local and regional basis to give people confidence that, if there is the presence of a shark, it can be detected. The problem is that everybody has a solution to this—everybody thinks they have a solution—and there are a number of groups out there that think they can monetise the solution, and they are very good at marketing their products at the moment. But they are far from ready to be implemented into what we would call a sound initiative. Anything that we would adopt we would say needs to be tried and proven. It needs to be rigorously tested and independently assessed prior to any government or any private organisation saying that they are going to pick up the bill and implement that. I do not mean to single out the Clever Buoy solution that was used at City Beach. That may well become a tried and proven outcome. But it is a very expensive solution to then duplicate across multiple areas. Then does it have sustainability about it? I think all of those things need to be assessed when we are looking at bringing in new solutions.

To get back to your original question, I do not know that there is anything happening on the east coast that we are not already looking at as a collective in Western Australia or that we are not already implementing.

Senator REYNOLDS: Specifically in relation to the issue of drum lines, for example, and culling, as I understand it shark numbers are increasing—

CHAIR: Let us wait until we hear from the scientists about that one.

Senator REYNOLDS: There is no-one who is more heavily invested in this than Mr Peck and his members. Given that I hear that shark numbers are increasing—certainly, as you said, shark sightings are increasing and the warnings are increasing—what do you think about drum lines and culling as part of a more integrated solution?

Mr Peck : We do not think that there is enough evidence for us to be able to make a decision on whether it would be a valuable introduction to keep people safer. We have not seen the evidence at the moment that unequivocally says there are less or more shark numbers and which type they are. We have not seen the evidence from a Western Australian perspective that says that drum-lining or meshing would, in fact, keep beach users safer, and, as I said in my opening statement, that is not our area of expertise, so we are going to rely on the experts to put forward that evidence. If there—

Senator REYNOLDS: Just before you go on, as I understand it, for example, in about the same period that we lost 15 West Australian lives Queensland lost one, whereas before they introduced some of these measures—the drum lines, in particular, and their other measures—they had over 20 deaths in a comparable period. I would say the number of West Australian lives that have been lost is certainly an indication that measures that Queensland and New South Wales—

CHAIR: Are you asking a question, Senator Reynolds?

Senator REYNOLDS: No, I am just saying that you have obviously looked at this very carefully, so you do not take the sheer number of lives lost as any indication about the effectiveness of measures that others are doing that we are not.

Mr Peck : Only that we do not know whether those programs they have on the east coast would be effective on the west coast of Australia. It is a very different coastline. If there were a tried and proven outcome that said that we can unequivocally say that that method will keep people safer on West Australian beaches, we may well make a decision to say that we would support it, but given the lack the scientific evidence and the proof around that—and it is the same as what I was talking about with Clever Buoy—we are not in a position to be able to make that opinion.

Senator REYNOLDS: You have obviously read a lot of the submissions here, and my reading of a number of them is that it is about putting the environment and sharks first and that is the government's responsibility—it is the environment and sharks first before people. Given a lot of your members are in the water every day, in terms of coming up with solutions or recommendations for this committee, personally I feel very strongly that it has got to be people first and not animals.

CHAIR: What is your question, Senator Reynolds?

Senator REYNOLDS: Where do you sit? Where do your members sit? Should we be looking at people-first solutions or environment-first solutions?

Mr Peck : As I said in my opening remarks, our job is to preserve life. That is why we exist as an organisation. In this particular issue, which is different from rips, when we are talking about sharks, we want to see that there are tried and proven, scientific-based outcomes before we implement anything, and we just do not see that at the moment, in terms of drum-lining, meshing or other lethal programs.

Senator REYNOLDS: You would not also support or look at a culling program?

Mr Peck : I do not think we even know what culling is when people say it. I think the terms are thrown around as to whether it is drum-lining, culling or meshing. We, as an organisation, simply do not understand that, and no-one has explained to us what they mean when they are putting those statements out. From that perspective and from where we sit, from a tried and proven scientific point of view, at the moment we do not support drum-lining, meshing or other types of programs.

Senator REYNOLDS: I have one final question just as a follow-up to that point. Given you are not in a position to comment on any of the other trials or activities that have been happening elsewhere and given the keen interest that your members have in this issue, apart from their own personal self-protection, what work has your organisation done to proactively research some of this? You are saying you have not gotten information and you have not looked at the implications of deaths. What work have you done to proactively research these areas, or are you waiting for other people to do that for the organisation?

Mr Peck : We have not done any work in that space. We are waiting for other groups with the expertise to do it. That is on the basis as well that we are simply not resourced at this point in time to be able to undertake that activity. Whilst there is a strong focus at the moment on sharks as a hazard, we are constantly dealing with a whole range of coastal risks—in particular, drowning—on a daily and yearly basis, so a lot of our work continues to be focused in those areas, which does not allow us to actively move into other areas. On the basis that there are other resourced organisations, we think that that is their role, with their expertise, to provide us with the information.

Senator REYNOLDS: What work have you done to reach out to other organisations to do that work or to provide that information for you?

CHAIR: You have asked the question and I think Mr Peck has answered. Before I go to Senator Siewert, could you let the committee know how many tragedies you have seen on your patrolled beaches around drownings? Is it a fairly frequent occurrence and has it improved over time?

Mr Peck : No, it has not. In fact, the trend has marginally shifted upward. We are at about an average of 14 drownings per year in Western Australia alone.

CHAIR: Have you seen for four days in a row the first four pages of the newspaper about those tragic drownings?

Mr Peck : No.

CHAIR: That would be a shame, because I am sure that would help you if that were the case.

Senator REYNOLDS: Chair, that is most disgraceful. You are trying to justify these 15 deaths by saying we have got more drownings, so these 15 people do not count. I am sorry, Chair, but I cannot let that go.

CHAIR: Senator Reynolds, Mr Peck made a very clear comment that they have—

Senator REYNOLDS: That is disgraceful, Chair.

CHAIR: significant concerns about other hazards such as drownings. I was asking him to clarify that.

Senator REYNOLDS: Of course we do, but drowning is not the subject here and you did that clearly to try to undermine the importance of 15 Western Australian deaths here. I will not press it further, but that was—

CHAIR: Senator Reynolds, I am putting this in perspective. Every death is a tragedy. Mr Peck was making it very clear that they have other hazards they have to manage. You deserve an Academy Award for that. What would you like to ask, Senator Siewert?

Senator SIEWERT: I want to ask about Shark Spotters, which I am sure you are aware of. It has been a successful program in South Africa. Have you looked into that particular program? You talked about putting more towers on beaches. I am wondering if you have looked at that and whether you think it would be of any use here in WA?

Mr Peck : We certainly met with the Shark Spotters from South Africa when they did a tour of Australia. We have looked at their program from afar. We would contend that we actually have 5,000 shark spotters across WA beaches because that is what they are doing when they are on patrol as well as spotting other dangers. It is a slightly different topography, particularly in terms of the popular beaches people visit. As to how effective those programs would be across our beaches—

Senator SIEWERT: I have looked at the topography things myself. Another thing that goes along with Shark Spotters and what we are talking about here in Australia is making sure that there are medical kits available. You made the point that we cannot patrol all of the beaches. I use the coast in the south-west. For example, from cape to cape in particular we have helicopter patrols over summer and into autumn—and they were going over Easter. Do you think that would that help at some of the beaches down there that are not patrolled, particularly in the winter, and at beaches where it would work with the topography? Also what about the installation of medical kits and emergency response equipment on some of those beaches?

Mr Peck : In terms of the Shark Spotter program that lends itself to the right topography, it is then the sustainability around having people from within the community wanting to provide that level of service. Also I think in the Australian jurisdiction there is an expectation around the infrastructure you provide for that, which might be different from a legal perspective to what they have to provide in South Africa. Some locations may benefit from having trauma kits that people can access.

Senator SIEWERT: Sorry, I was using the wrong words—trauma kits, yes.

Mr Peck : It is then people having the skill to be able to do that. We are currently in partnership with Surfing WA to teach their recreational surfers how to deal with some of these major traumas. It is seen that local governments will end up having to maintain those trauma kits and the concern is that they will be vandalised, damaged, and not be in place when they are needed. Local governments certainly are conservative around the liability that may come on them when things that are supposed to be in place are suddenly not there and they did not have a maintenance program for that. It has certainly been looked at by various groups as to what can be put in place to assist.

Senator SIEWERT: Thanks.

CHAIR: Byron Bay has an initiative in place at the moment and we will take evidence on that. Lastly, Mr Peck, I asked this same question of Surf Life Saving New South Wales. What kinds of services, for want of a better word, do surf lifesavers or first responders have around PTSD? We know that with a number of tragic drownings and shark occurrences you guys are often the first on the scene. Do you have a program in place for that kind of thing?

Mr Peck : Yes, we do. Certainly where our members are involved, we were able to offer them those services on a rapid basis. Only yesterday I had someone come to us who was affected by an incident three years ago, looking for some support. We see that as part of our responsibility to our members, to ensure that they have access to those services, given what they are providing to the community.

CHAIR: Thank you for appearing today. I wish we had more time, but much appreciated.