darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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November 25, 2009

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (9.36 am) — With summer rapidly approaching, I take this opportunity to raise awareness of water safety issues. I note the presence in the chamber of the member for Werriwa—an MP who I understand has undertaken his own bronze medallion course, along with six other MPs in the place. I commend the member for doing so. I have undertaken a bronze medallion course with the surf lifesaving club in my hometown of Lakes Entrance.

The drowning and injuries report—the National drowning report—released by the Royal Life Saving Society indicated that 302 people drowned in the year 2008-09. That is an increase of 41 people on the previous year. The report points very strongly to issues concerning children around water and the fact that we need to pay particular attention to children under five in the home environment as well as in the wider environment. The report recommends that parents take action that would seem like common sense. However, I am afraid that, given the number of young children who have drowned in the previous year, not enough of us are paying attention to these guidelines.

The report states that active supervision and complete vigilance are required at all times with children around water and that a child’s access to water should be restricted in the home situation. It also recommends that parents take the time to increase a child’s familiarisation with water wherever possible and that swimming lessons begin at a young age. I believe there are opportunities for our education sector to ensure that every young child, even before they go to school, has the opportunity to attend swimming lessons subsidised by state and federal governments.

In a broader sense, the issue of drowning is a major concern in a community like Gippsland. We have a vast number of opportunities for people to get themselves into trouble in the water. A lot of people visit the Gippsland region over the holiday season and are unfamiliar with the surf conditions along 90 Mile Beach. I urge people who are visiting our region to understand the need to swim between the flags on the patrolled beaches in Gippsland.

There are patrolled beaches at Woodside, Seaspray, Golden Beach, Lakes Entrance and Mallacoota. The surf lifesaving volunteers do an extraordinary job on behalf of our community. I particularly want to give reference to the younger volunteers. We often hear criticisms of young people in this place but when you see the young volunteers involved in the surf lifesaving movement it gives you great heart in the future of our nation.

These people are prepared to undertake training from the age of nine. They get involved in the Nippers program and go through to the youth program and then on to become senior lifesavers. They do an extraordinary job for our community in helping to keep our beaches safe throughout the summer. They are learning leadership skills and also investing in their own personal health and fitness. It is a great program.

The other area that I would like to mention relates to young males and how they are vastly overrepresented in the drowning statistics. The figures indicate that of the 15- to 34-year-olds who have drowned in the previous year, 87 per cent of those were males. One of the common factors in the drowning deaths of young males is, unfortunately, alcohol. When it comes to swimming at beaches and in rivers and dams, we need to encourage our young men to stay out of the water when they have had a few beers.

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