House debates

Monday, 30 November 2020

Private Members' Business

National Water Safety Day

11:56 am

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Financial Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes:

(a) that 1 December 2020 is National Water Safety Day where we highlight the importance of staying safe and acting responsibly around water;

(b) that from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020 some 248 people lost their lives to drowning across Australia;

(c) that Royal Lifesaving estimates in its annual drowning report that an additional 504 people experienced a non-fatal drowning incident;

(d) the drowning report indicates the total number of drowning deaths over the past year decreased by 8 per cent on the previous year;

(e) people aged 25 to 34 years accounted for 17 per cent of the total number of drowning deaths, the most of any age group; and

(f) despite still being the leading location for drowning, deaths in rivers and creeks decreased by 32 per cent, compared with the 10-year average;

(2) acknowledges:

(a) drowning and accidents in the water can be avoided if people act responsibly and follow the basic water safety rules:

  (i) always swim between the red and yellow flags at the beach and obey the instructions of lifesavers;

  (ii) alcohol and swimming or boating don't mix;

  (iii) don't swim at unpatrolled beaches;

  (iv) don't swim alone; and

  (v) never take your eye off children around water; and

(b) that too many avoidable drownings occur when rock fishing and rock fishers should:

  (i) stay alert to the weather conditions;

  (ii) learn how to swim;

  (iii) choose the safest possible location;

  (iv) wear the right gear;

  (v) never fish alone; and

  (vi) always wear a lifejacket; and

(3) encourages:

(a) all Australians to learn how to swim from a qualified instructor before they enter the water on their own; and

(b) people who use our waterways regularly to take the opportunity to learn rescue techniques and resuscitation from organisations like Surf Life Saving Australia by joining your local surf club.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is there a seconder for the motion?

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very happy to second the motion.

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Financial Services) Share this | | Hansard source

Tomorrow is of course the first day of summer, the day when Australians think about flocking to our beaches and waterways over the wonderful warm months of our year. It's also the first National Water Safety Day, a day when we highlight awareness of the risks associated with swimming, of the risks of drowning, over the course of the summer months, in particular. It's vitally important that, on this day, we highlight the importance of staying safe and acting responsibly around water.

Australia is of course a nation surrounded by water, and we're blessed with some of the most beautiful and pristine coastlines and waterways of any nation in the world. As the weather warms up, more of us will head to the beaches, the rivers and the pools to cool off and have fun. We love being in and around the water. But unfortunately too many Australians lose their lives in the water each year, particularly in the summer months. Summer is the peak season for drownings in Australia. From 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, 248 people drowned in Australia. Thirty-nine per cent of those drownings occurred over the three months of summer. We are losing too many young Australians to the water. Royal Life Saving, in its annual drowning report, found that those aged between 25 and 34 years accounted for 17 per cent of the total number of drowning deaths. It's the most of any age group and represents so many lost summers into the future. For the family and friends of those lost to the water, summer will forever be tinged with sadness. The Royal Life Saving report shows that an additional 504 people experienced a non-fatal drowning incident. These are too many close calls that could easily have led to more tragedy.

All drowning deaths are preventable, and one drowning is still too many, but, as a nation, we have made some slight progress to turn the tide on drownings. The drowning report indicates that the total number of drowning deaths over the past year decreased by eight per cent on the previous year. Despite rivers and creeks still being the leading location for drowning deaths, drownings in rivers and creeks decreased by 32 per cent compared to the 10-year average. As we get ready to dive into summer, we know that drownings and accidents in the water can be avoided if we act responsibly and follow the basic water safety rules. I urge all Australians to always swim between the red-and-yellow flags at the beach and obey the instructions of lifesavers. Please don't swim on unpatrolled beaches or swim alone, and never ever take your eye off children when you are around the water—and, of course, alcohol and swimming and/or boating don't mix.

Ahead of National Water Safety Day and the first day of summer, it's also vital that we note that there are too many avoidable drownings that occur when people go rock fishing. Rock fishers should always stay alert to the weather conditions, learn how to swim, choose the safest possible location for fishing, wear the right gear, never ever fish alone and always wear a life jacket. I also encourage all Australians to learn how to swim from a qualified instructor before they enter the water on their own. For all of us who use the waterways regularly, please take the opportunity to learn rescue techniques and resuscitation from organisations like Surf Life Saving Australia by joining your local surf club. I know that there are many members of local surf clubs who are in the parliament who encourage people in their communities to become involved in those clubs.

Our leading water safety authorities, including Surf Life Saving Australia and Royal Life Saving, play an important role in helping keep Australians safe in and around the water. Their dedicated efforts, including through professional lifeguards, lifesavers and thousands of volunteers contributing millions of hours of patrols each year, make a vital and greatly valued contribution to our nation. Interventions performed by surf lifesavers and lifeguards result in more than 1,300 avoided fatalities and 800 avoided critical injuries each year.

Ahead of National Water Safety Day, I join with my co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Surf Life Saving, the member for Mackellar, and other surf lifesavers in this place to call on Australians to play it safe when enjoying your time around the water this summer. If we stay safe together, we can enjoy many more summers into the future.

12:02 pm

Photo of Andrew WallaceAndrew Wallace (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to acknowledge the member for Kingsford Smith for bringing on this motion. It's well timed and well executed, so thank you. I have been a surf lifesaver for 14 years—I had to check that this morning because I couldn't quite remember how long it had been—and in that time I have seen the very best of people and their selfless dedication to their fellow Australians. I've seen and experienced great acts of bravery, where volunteers have run and swum towards danger to ensure that a member of the public gets to go home after an innocent day at the beach. This speech is for the brave members of the surf lifesaving fraternity who at times are called upon to risk their own lives to save the life of another, who is usually a complete stranger.

The motto of Surf Life Saving Australia is 'vigilance and service'. Between the red-and-yellow flags dotted around the coast of this great land are surf clubs and lifesaving clubs, whose volunteers give up time from work and their own families to keep our beaches safe. In the 113 years of the existence of surf clubs in our country, there has only ever been one reported case of a death of someone swimming between the red-and-yellow flags. When you compare that to the almost 150,000 people who have been saved swimming between the red-and-yellow flags, that is an amazing accomplishment.

I am so incredibly proud to be a member of the Alex Surf Club, where I've been active for 14 years. The club is an amazing, family-friendly club and has been since its inception in 1924. Joining the Alex Surf Club certainly changed my life, not just because of the people I've worked alongside of but because of the emphasis it's taught me to place upon my own health and fitness. It's taught me so many life and leadership skills.

Whilst I have seen the very best of people in my role, I have also seen the very worst. On a recent patrol just a few weeks ago, one of my team, Steve Ling, pulled two little kids out of the surf. They'd been caught in a strong sweep and were being pulled out to sea. But for the quick thinking and actions of Steve, the outcome could have been disastrous. Assisted by another team member, the two young kids were brought to shore—and they were no older than 10. When I asked, 'Where are your mum and dad?' 'They're up at the Bluff Bar.' Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. Parents: lifesavers and lifeguards are not babysitters. Your children are your responsibility. It's your responsibility to be down at the beach and, depending on their age, be with them in the water or at the very least by the water's edge. Watch them like a hawk. Unsupervised children can drown in the bath, let alone the ocean.

I see so many people who choose not to swim in the flagged area. Some of them are drunk or under the influence of drugs; some can't even swim at all. Why do they do it? I simply don't understand. Please: swim between the flags; bathe in accordance with your own abilities and the conditions; don't swim whilst under the influence; and always feel free to speak to lifesavers to ask them for up-to-date weather and surf conditions. Remember: if we can't see you, we can't save you.

Finally, I want to thank the following members that have volunteered as part of patrol team 3 which I have been the captain of over the last eight years—in alphabetical order: Ami Bateman, Dekota Berkery, David Birch, Olivia Bredhauer, Caroline Campbell, Paul Campbell, David Clancy, Karl Dittko, Peter Duffy, Mitch Duffy, Benjamin Ehlers, Brett Fellowes, Karl Fidler, Jaykob Flaherty, Brad Graver, Isaac Hamstead, James Hill, Julie Horgan, Scott Howarth, Dale Kleinschmidt, Jonathan Last, Gavin Lewis, Steve Ling, Harry Ling, Jessica Ling, Cheryl Ling, Rob Matchett, Chris Morrison, Angus Roberts, Lyn Roberts, Gary Roberts, Richard Short, Ben Synak, Kristy Taylor, Louise Taylor-Smith, Dylan Wheeler and Kail Willis.

I also want to thank Glen Garrick OAM. Glen, but for your encouragement and mentorship, I would never have become a lifesaver, nor would I have become involved in the leadership of the club nor PC for patrol team 3. Thanks for your friendship and for continuing to fill in for me when this job doesn't allow.

12:07 pm

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The New South Wales South Coast is best known for its beautiful beaches. We are a water community and we have some of the most famous beaches in Australia and indeed across the world. Hand in hand with that, of course, means we have some of the best surf lifesavers. For National Water Safety Day, I want to talk about the amazing work our surf lifesavers do in our community.

I recently visited beautiful Kiama to chat with Brad from Surf Rescue 50. This jet boat is a vital asset that is almost unique to the South Coast. Manned largely by volunteers, last summer this team responded to over 20 emergency call-outs and accumulated over 700 patrolling hours. It is an incredible achievement and a stark reminder why boat and surf safety is absolutely critical.

Many of the rescues this team does would not be possible without their ability to mobilise quickly and efficiently around the clock. We are so lucky to have them on our South Coast. Thankfully, the work of our local surf lifesavers does not go unrecognised. When you have the best beaches and the best surf lifesavers, you also have outstanding rescues. Last year I was proud to present three of Kiama's surf lifesavers, Rhys Dawson, Brad Dawson and Toby Streamer, with the National Rescue Medal in Parliament House for a harrowing rescue of a rock fisher who was swept out to sea in dangerous surf on 4 August 2019—remarkable. Well done and thank you to Rhys, Brad and Toby.

It isn't just Kiama that is lucky enough to have award-winning surf lifesavers. In November, Batemans Bay Surf Life Saving Club captain, Anthony Bellette, was named the winner in the surf lifesaving category of the 2020 Rotary Emergency Services Community Awards. Congratulations to Anthony.

Far South Coast surf clubs deserve special recognition here, and there is no doubt that Anthony played a pivotal role in the response to the summer's bushfires. The volunteers did a simply remarkable job of helping and supporting the local community during the bushfires. Across the Batemans Bay, Broulee and Bermagui surf clubs, teams of volunteers—led by Anthony, Andy Edmunds and Cheryl McCarthy—sheltered over 7,000 people on New Year's Eve. Devastatingly, thousands of local people ended up on those beaches during the fires, trying to find a means of escape. In the middle of the night, teams of surf lifesavers snapped into action, arranging food and water. They provided medical support to those who needed it, and when buildings around the Batemans Bay club caught fire they evacuated people from the clubhouse to the beach. All of the clubs used their ATVs to collect people from the nearby streets and bring them to safety. They literally saved lives in what were terrifying conditions. Broulee came under direct and significant ember attack with 1,000 people in the clubhouse, many of whom the volunteers had helped to evacuate there. They all ended up on the beach. It was incredible.

The clubs stayed open the next day and for weeks after as community recovery centres. In the immediate aftermath of the fire, as soon as the highway was open, I visited the Batemans Bay surf club to see firsthand how they had kept this incredible effort going. The club was now a donation hub. Food was being cooked for those without power or homes. They just kept going. So it is no surprise that club captain Anthony won this award. It is also no surprise that the club won the far south coast branch's rescue of the year for the bushfires or that the Batemans Bay bushfire response team won the services team award at the Surf Life Saving New South Wales Awards of Excellence. All of these clubs deserve this and so much more. Thank you to all the clubs' members and all the amazing volunteers for their efforts not only during the bushfires but every day.

I grew up on the South Coast, and I understand how important our surf lifesaving clubs are. That's why in the 2019 election I committed with Labor to a new training centre for the South Coast branch of Surf Life Saving New South Wales, as part of the integrated emergency management centre in Nowra. I was thrilled when the government matched my commitment, and I was pleased to see the contract for construction signed last week. Like so many local people, I am incredibly proud of our surf lifesavers. There are too many amazing clubs to name here, but you all deserve recognition. Thank you for everything you do.

12:12 pm

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is my great pleasure to co-sponsor this motion with my good friend the member for Kingsford Smith, whose love of all things surf lifesaving is well-known, and if it isn't it should be. His time as a nipper was, I'm assured, great and glorious, and he saved many people. To hear him, you would think he saved me at one point. For that he needs to answer to the Australian people, and he will in due course.

I was born in Manly, and it was kind of a prerequisite that to be born in Manly you had to love the ocean. As a kid, summer days were spent swimming in the ocean and rock pools of north Narrabeen. There were feeble attempts at surfing, which continue to this day, and an admiration for those men and women in the red and yellow caps who quietly lined the shore, their protective gaze scanning the water as swimmers bobbed in and out of the waves. As an adult I still enjoy those very same beaches and respect those very same guardians in the red and yellow. As a proud nippers dad, I take great pride in seeing my own daughter getting involved with our local club, giving me an added appreciation of the work surf lifesavers do for our community. I want to go off script and thank Zeke, because occasionally 30 girls will swim so far out into the ocean that you can no longer see them, yet somehow Zeke makes sure that 30 girls come back. I'm sure one day a couple of them will end up in New Zealand, but until then we're okay.

Because McKellar and the northern beaches is one of the best places in the world we have the most surf lifesaving clubs in the world. As a beaches community, water safety is always on our mind. Mums and dads swim in the ocean for exercise and leisure. Boys and girls participate in nippers and their surf rescue certificate for the same reasons. It all stems from the amazing volunteer organisation that is Surf Life Saving Australia. It is an organisation which represents the best in Australia, volunteerism: everyday Australians from all walks of life giving up their time to help others. Often receiving little to no thanks or favour, they do it because they care. The federal government commits millions of dollars each year towards water safety, to organisations including Royal Life Saving Australia, Surf Life Saving Australia, AUSTSWIM and Laurie Lawrence's swimming enterprises. Surf Life Saving Australia is the largest recipient of funding under this program, with $20.8 million over three years. This considerable investment has supported programs and projects to reduce the incidence of coastal water related injury and death, increase community awareness of coastal water safety, and enhance coastal water monitoring and rescue services. I have proudly supported local clubs in my electorate by fighting for further financial support and upgrades to their facilities. This includes $1.9 million to upgrade the dilapidated building for the Longreach Surf Life Saving Club. Peter Kinsey, Rob Pearson, Margaret Pearson and the entire club membership deserve a state-of-the-art clubhouse to support their operations, and that is exactly what they are getting.

Of course, there are many other groups which contribute to keeping us all safe in the water, including swim schools and the first aid organisations educating Australians on how to perform CPR. The federal government is committed to supporting the work of the Australian Water Safety Council, which includes the Surf Life Saving Australia and Royal Life Saving Society Australia. The council's Australian water safety strategy 2016-20 is coming to a close, and I understand the next strategy is set for release early next year. Royal Life Saving Society Australia is being provided with $10.3 million to enhance monitoring and rescue services in the water, including inland waterways and swimming pools; undertake research and collect data on fatal and non-fatal drownings; develop education and communication tools for various audiences; educate the community and promote safety awareness; and develop and use systems to benchmark national standards. Much can be said about the brave men and women of Surf Life Saving Australia, but, put simply, it displays the best of our community, for it is these volunteers which make our society so great.

12:17 pm

Photo of Emma McBrideEmma McBride (Dobell, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Mental Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the motion moved by the member for Kingsford Smith and, in doing so, recognise his contribution as a surf lifesaver for 35 years and past president of Maroubra Surf Life Saving Club. Tomorrow is the first day of summer. It will also mark the first National Water Safety Day. I congratulate the co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friends Of Surf Life Saving, Jason Falinski and Matt Thistlethwaite, on this important initiative. Australians love the outdoors and the water: swimming, fishing, boating, surfing, snorkelling or sailing. It's part of our way of life, especially for coastal communities like mine on the Central Coast of New South Wales. National Water Safety Day is an important opportunity to focus on staying safe and acting responsibly around the water as we head into the summer months and the school holidays.

Each year, too many Australians lose their lives to drowning. From 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, 248 Australians lost their lives in the water. Royal Life Saving estimates another 504 people experienced a non-fatal drowning incident. We are getting better. The statistics show a reduction in the number of incidents. The annual Royal Life Saving national drowning report shows the number of drowning deaths over the past year decreased by eight per cent on the year before and that deaths in rivers and creeks, the leading location for drownings, decreased by 32 per cent, compared with the 10-year average. We must always be vigilant. Even experienced swimmers can be at risk in the water. Only last month, there was a serious incident at Wyong Olympic Pool in my electorate, where three Central Coast council lifeguards on duty at the time, Douglas Kingston, Adam Chay and David Lamond, helped save the life of a young water polo player in distress. I would like to thank Adam, Doug and David for their quick action to help save the life of this young man and recognise the important work professional lifeguards do every day keeping us safe.

Alongside the professional lifeguards, there are volunteers—surf lifesavers giving their time to keep us safe on the beaches every summer. Yesterday, I joined Toowoon Bay Surf Life Saving Club president, Phil Raymont, to present the national medal to four outstanding volunteer surf lifesavers from Toowoon Bay, joining the ranks of 13 others at their club, recognised with this prestigious award. The national medal, established in 1975, is one of the original elements of the Australian distinctive system of honours and rewards. You require 15 years of service to qualify for this medal.

Congratulations to Tracie Cole, who joined Toowoon Bay in 2001 as a nipper parent, attaining her bronze in 2004. Since then Tracie has patrolled consistently and is now a patrol captain. Craig Cole joined Toowoon Bay in 2004 as a nipper parent, attaining his bronze in 2005, and has consistently patrolled Toowoon Bay since. Patrol captain John Vergara joined Toowoon Bay in 2001, attaining his bronze medallion in 2004. He has consistently patrolled Toowoon Bay since attaining his bronze and is now part of the emergency call out team. He is also a trainer, assessor and facilitator. Finally, congratulations to Wendy McNamara. Wendy joined Toowoon Bay in 2006, having previously been a member at Lakes Beach. Wendy attained her bronze medallion in 2000 and has consistently patrolled Toowoon Bay since gaining her bronze.

This is a big contribution, as the member for Kingsford Smith would understand––patrolling for over 30 hours a year every season for 15 years. It is a big responsibility. Surf Life Saving Central Coast's annual report showed that on the Central Coast 806 people were treated with first aid and another 564 people were rescued last season by our volunteer surf lifesavers.

We need more volunteers to help out. If you are ready for the next step to jump in and become a surf lifesaver, signing up for your bronze medallion is a start, like I did in September, signing up to do my bronze medallion with Toowoon Bay Surf Lifesaving Club. Starting this October, each week I have learnt new skills and gained a better understanding of the surf, the conditions of safety and risk and how to help out. On Sunday I will be taking my final assessment. I would like to give a shout-out to my instructors, chief training officer, Sue Hale and life members Mick Cook and Graham Sherer, who have shown this rookie the ropes, and to patrol captain and life member Bill Kensey, who will assess our group of bronzies this Sunday. I would encourage anyone who is interested in signing up for their bronze to have a go. You will learn valuable life skills like rescue techniques and resuscitation. The course is offered through surf lifesaving clubs locally across Australia. At Toowoon Bay, Lakes, Soldiers Beach, North Entrance, The Entrance, Shelly Beach or Wamberal.

Ahead of National Water Safety Day tomorrow I would like to thank all our professional life guards working on the Central Coast and in the pools this summer, and the volunteer lifesavers, who keep everyone on the coast safe for visitors and locals across the summer in the sand and on the water.

Photo of Pat ConaghanPat Conaghan (Cowper, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to rise to speak on the motion by the honourable member for Kingsford Smith. I acknowledge the work he does in this place and outside as well, particularly with the surf lifesaving club. I also acknowledge the member for Mackellar and the work that he does with his surf club on the northern beaches. I am sure there is some competition between north and south.

I am one of the lucky ones. Growing up on the mid-north coast I had the benefit of the beautiful beaches of Crescent Head, South West Rocks and Hat Head, as well as swimming in the mighty Macleay. I am also lucky that I don't recall learning how to swim. It just seemed that I always knew. Maybe that was the benefit of being the youngest of five children. But I know that it was a consequence of my mother and father knowing how important it was to get their children into the pool and learning how to swim as early as possible, whether that was because of what they saw––my father was a country GP and my mother a nurse. I certainly saw in my time as a police officer the tragic consequences of failing to do that.

We've heard today that last year alone 248 people drowned in Australian waterways. Eighty per cent of those were males. One always thinks about the beach being the most dangerous, but the top three locations were in fact a river or creek at 21 per cent; 20 per cent in the harbour; and 18 per cent at the beach. One-quarter were recreational swimmers. Twenty per cent were from boating. Despite this being an eight per cent decrease from 2018-19 and a 12 per cent decrease over the last decade of the national average, it is still far too high. I have to say that many of those deaths were avoidable.

Today I would like to concentrate on what I hope we can reduce to zero, and that is young children, zero to four years of age, dying in backyard pools. From July 2002 to June 2017, 87 per cent of drownings for children zero to four happened in backyard pools. A study over that period found that the most common causes of distractions were indoor household duties, like doing the washing up; outdoor duties; electronic distractions—looking at your phone, being on your computer, looking at your iPad and not looking at the kids; and child care—looking after another sibling and thinking that the little one is going to be okay just sitting on the step, or looking after somebody else's kids. I say to parents, mums, dads, child-care givers and grandparents: you've got to watch your kids. I am guilty of it; I have answered the phone when my kids have been in the pool. We cannot do it.

Most importantly, we need to make sure that we check the locks on our gates regularly. You might think, 'My child is not in the pool and it is okay to go off and doing something,' but make sure that your gate is locked properly and make sure that there are no other avenues for the kids to, for example, put a block there and get over the fence. It is so important to do that. This is where our most vulnerable people, our children, our little ones, are dying. So please make an effort over this summer to do that.

I would like to thank all the surf lifesavers. They are volunteer workers and they do a fantastic job. I'm proud to be the patron for both the South West Rocks Surf Lifesaving Club and the Kempsey Swimming Club, and I thank them for having me as one of their patrons. I'd also like to thank surfers. I know there's a bit of competition between clubbies and surfers but, invariably, when the flags come down, the surfers are still there and they do such a fantastic job. They make many, many life-saving saves, and I would like to give a shout out to them and thank them for their efforts.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives

Proceedings suspended from 12:27 to 12:42