darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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October 25, 2010

Debate resumed, on motion by Mr Lyons:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges and congratulates the over 153 000 volunteer members and staff of Surf Life Saving Australia;

(2)  notes that:
  (a)  Surf Life Saving Australia faces many challenges in looking after the nation’s largest and most popular playground, our beaches, with over 100 million beach visitations each year; and
  (b) in its 103 years of service, Surf Life Saving Australia is defying trends by increasing volunteer numbers, which is a great reflection of an organisation strongly connected to unique Aussie lifestyle, culture and adaptability;

(3) supports Surf Life Saving Australia’s efforts in advocating for nationally consistent standards for coastal safety services, systems and signage;

(4) acknowledges Surf Life Saving Australia’s international aid and development programs in 25 countries, mainly in the Asia Pacific region, playing its part in showcasing the nation’s global goodwill; and

(5) supports the establishment of bi-partisan ‘Friends of Surf Life Saving’ amongst Members of Parliament and Senators, providing the opportunity for Surf Life Saving Australia to keep the country’s leaders informed about the humanitarian, social and economic value of Surf Life Saving Australia to the Australian community.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (1.08 pm) — Madam Deputy Speaker Livermore, I join with the member for Bass in recognising your new role as a deputy speaker and wish you well in that role. I am pleased to join the debate today on the motion put forward by the member for Bass on surf-lifesaving. In doing so, I acknowledge that the member for Bass is a life member of both Surf Life Saving Tasmania and Surf Life Saving Australia. His modesty prevented him from telling us that. I understand you do not get that in a box of Nutrigrain. I believe the member has served his community and served the surf-lifesaving movement with great distinction over a period of many years. I commend the member for his dedication to what I believe is one of the most worthy causes in the Australian community. In doing so I also congratulate him on his win at the recent election; he had a very strong result.

My personal involvement in the surf-lifesaving movement is far more modest. I have been involved for the past five years in my children’s nippers program. This year all four of my children are enrolled in the nippers program at the Lakes Entrance Surf Life Saving Club and I will continue my role as a bronze medallion holder and water safety officer. It goes without saying that without the volunteer parents to support our young nippers on the beach the program would collapse, but at Lakes Entrance we have more than 100 nippers taking to the beach every weekend and the parents do a magnificent job. Some of us have had to rediscover the ability to swim as water safety officers in order to support the nippers and sometimes you wonder whether the kids will save us or we will save them. Having said that, we do take safety very seriously and there have not been any problems in recent years.

The importance of the surf-lifesaving movement flows beyond the safety issues on our beaches raised by the member for Bass to the critical role of surf-lifesaving in the local economy of many regional communities. Without patrolled beaches, the tourism industry would collapse in many parts of regional Victoria. Parents demand that when they come for a beachside holiday their children are safe. The provision of a patrolled beach is of critical importance to towns like mine, Lakes Entrance, and also to other beaches which are patrolled in East Gippsland at Seaspray and Woodside.

It would be remiss of me today in the nature of this motion not to reflect on some efforts of some of the young people in my own community who quite recently were recognised with Pride of Australia nominations for outstanding bravery in their efforts to try and save two men who got into great difficulty on Ninety Mile Beach last summer. In doing so I would like to recognise some teenage boys who are members of our club, in Oden Shepherd, Connor Dostine, Lucas Webb and also an older gentleman of about my vintage who goes by the name of ‘Surf Shack Phil’. He runs a surf supply business but his real name is Phil McEntee. Phil and the three boys attempted the rescue of two people in quite atrocious conditions last summer on Ninety Mile Beach. Tragically they were not able to resuscitate one of the gentlemen, whom they were able to retrieve. The other fellow could not be located in the surf in the conditions of the day and he also died. But their bravery in the circumstances and the training they put into practice on that day was extraordinary. I commend all three of the young men and also Phil for their efforts on that day.

The member for Bass did touch on what is an important issue in the context of international visitors to our shores and the role the surf-lifesaving clubs play in helping to minimise the drowning risk as much as possible. It is also a significant issue for us with our migrant population. We have more and more people coming to our beaches during the summer season who do not necessarily have the background in understanding conditions and the capacity of beaches to change at a moment’s notice. We need within our surf-lifesaving clubs to broaden our message to people of different cultures who may not necessarily have English as a first language and who may not necessarily recognise some of the symbols we have taken for granted as kids growing up on the beach. For example, the surf-lifesaving movement’s important key message of swimming between the flags may not necessarily be understood by people from different cultural backgrounds. The Gold Coast deals with the issue well by using different languages on their signs. But in some of our regional communities we assume everyone understands what the flags are all about. It is a challenge for us to educate people in that regard and to make sure they understand the need not to enter the water alone, how to understand the surf conditions and the fact that the conditions may change quite dramatically.

I mentioned the role of young people in my own surf club at Lakes Entrance and it always amused me that the local police would say that the young people from the surf-lifesaving club have never caused any trouble. I do not know if that is because we work them so hard on the beach all day and they are that tired by the end of the day that they cannot get out and cause much mischief, but I would like to think it is more positive. They are learning a culture of community service and learning that they can have an important role in our community. As the member for Bass indicated, as a 17-or 18-year-old he was taking on senior roles in his own club with leadership responsibilities as secretary and as club captain. We have that today in Lakes Entrance where we have young people stepping up to the plate and taking on very senior roles within the organisation.

The young people are not only participating in community service but also participating in a healthy lifestyle and they are learning skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives, whether it is learning how to use the surf craft and inflatable rescue boats or whether it is first aid or simple surf safety techniques. They are not only learning skills for life but also learning the importance of being a part of a team and of being a part of something that is bigger than themselves. They are able to look outside their own particular interests and work as part of a team to achieve great things in the community. One of the great things about the surf-lifesaving movement is what it does for young people in boosting their confidence and giving them the self-esteem they so desperately need to then take on other challenges outside the beach environment. I have no hesitation in saying that many of the Australian leaders of tomorrow are on our beaches now enrolled in nippers programs. It is that important to us.

My home club has been around for 50 years. I note that in the member’s motion he reflects upon the fact that the surf-lifesaving movement is defying the trend of getting more members involved. It is a similar experience in Gippsland where the Lakes Entrance club, the Woodside club, and the Seaspray club are all growing their memberships and getting a new breed of younger people involved. And it is not just in the nippers program; they are keeping youth involved in the 13- to 17- and 18-year-old mark, and it is often really difficult to keep those young people involved in the community. I think the surf club environment is a very healthy one and because it challenges kids it is managing to keep them involved for a lot longer. I think it is one of the great things about the surf life saving movement.

The Lakes Entrance club in particular has had a lot to celebrate in recent years. In 2009 it was recognised as the Australian Surf-Lifesaving Club of the Year. It also hosted the Victorian junior titles in 2008 and both the senior and junior titles in 2010, and we are looking forward next summer to hosting both the senior and junior titles again on our beach in March. One day we aspire to perhaps host the Australian titles, and maybe with a bit of home beach advantage we may be able to pick up a few medals. It is always very difficult to win those medals at the Australian level.

The government, to its credit—and in particular I refer to the state government—this week is opening new facilities at the Lakes Entrance Surf Life Saving Club. A grant in the order of $400,000 was given to help provide the second stage of the development of the clubhouse. Unfortunately, I will be here in parliament on that occasion, but I am sure that there will be time to celebrate with the members over the summer months.

I will not name the individuals who have been involved in that program because there is always a risk with surf-lifesaving clubs where there are so many people doing so much behind the scenes. But I will give genuine credit to the committee that has worked very hard to achieve that redevelopment and also the members who will be putting on their caps this summer and supporting not only their own children in the nippers program but also the touring public and the local residents who have come to expect safe beaches at Lakes Entrance and Seaspray and Woodside.

I think it is worth noting, in the time that I have left, that to the best of my knowledge there has never been a drowning on a beach in Victoria when a person has been swimming between the flags. I am almost positive that is a fact, and it is a very proud record that the surf-lifesaving movement has. The safest place to be on any beach is where our volunteers are patrolling. It is not just my club at Lakes Entrance; the Seaspray club and the Woodside club are also gearing up for a busy season. Even though we are only about an hour apart, there is a great spirit of competition, and the kids all compete quite fiercely. But at the end of the day there is a barbecue and the social environment and I think it is a really positive environment for young people to be in.

The plan that the member has put forward here for the establishment of a bipartisan Friends of Surf Lifesaving association amongst members of parliament and senators is, I think, a great idea. I am not sure where the idea came from but, if it was the member for Bass’s idea, I think it is a great idea and I congratulate you for that. I look forward to being a part of that association in the months and years ahead. Our surf-lifesaving volunteers right across our nation do such an extraordinary job. It is a task that is often dangerous—and you referred to the death of the young fellow at the Australian titles this year. While it is a task that can be dangerous, the members are always up to the challenge. When given the training and support by governments in terms of new facilities, new infrastructure and new equipment when required, I think it is such an important task they fulfil. As governments, by supporting our surf-lifesaving clubs, we are also sending a very positive message to our young people again that their role in those clubs is valued—and that is something I will never argue against in this place; that is for sure. Any funding that can be made available to Surf Life Saving Australia and its member clubs, I think, will be unanimously supported on both sides of the House. So I congratulate the member on bringing the motion to the House.

(Time expired)

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