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September 17, 2012

Debate resumed on the motion:

That this House:

(1) notes that with more than 150,000 members and 310 affiliated surf lifesaving clubs, surf lifesaving is the largest volunteer movement of its kind in Australia;

(2) recognises the outstanding contribution made to health and safety of beach goers by volunteer and professional surf lifesavers;

(3) highlights that the economic value to the Australian economy of surf lifesaving’s coastal drowning and injury prevention efforts in 2009-10 was independently assessed to be $3.6 billion;

(4) supports the important role played by surf lifesaving clubs in developing young people’s health, fitness and leadership skills through an extensive junior program; and

(5) acknowledges the Coalition’s commitment to implement a $10 million fund if elected into government to:
(a) assist clubs to purchase vital rescue equipment, first aid and medical supplies; and
(b) extend the Beach Drowning Black Spot Reduction Program.

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (11:19): It is with great pleasure that I move the motion in relation to the outstanding contribution made to our nation by our surf lifesaving movement. In advance, I would like to thank the other speakers who are listed here to speak today. I note they represent many, many surf clubs along the Australian coastline. There were several reasons for my decision to move this motion beyond my role as a member of the Parliamentary Friends of Surf Life Saving and also my roles as club member and volunteer water safety officer for the junior program at Lakes Entrance Surf Life Saving Club, where my four children are all active participants.

I want to give all members a chance to talk about the importance of surf lifesaving in their own electorates. As we approach the warmer months and many Australians flock to our beaches, I want also to be able to assure our professional and volunteer patrol men and women that they have the complete, bipartisan support of the Australian parliament and to assure each and every one of the more than 44,000 patrolling members and the 160,000 or so total adult membership that their efforts are not being taken for granted. I also want to take the chance to highlight the opportunities for governments to work in partnership with this very successful movement to achieve even better outcomes in the future. We have every reason in this place and throughout the Australian community to be very proud of the history of the surf lifesaving movement. Any discussion of the surf lifesaving movement should recognise its remarkable history in this nation, because it dates right back to the early days of the 20th century. As Australian bathing laws were relaxed and there was increased activity on our beaches, concerns were concerns raised about safety. So much so that in October 1907 the Surf Bathing Association of New South Wales was formed, and that was the forerunner of the Surf Life Saving Australia movement.

When you walk into any of the larger surf lifesaving clubs along the Australian coastline, there is a sense of real pride in their heritage. My own club, which was formed more than 50 years ago, is a good example. We endeavour to pay respect to life members, the foundation members, and others who have achieved outstanding results over many years in competition or through their service. We do that with our honour boards and with photographs dating back to the 1960s. I think it is really important that these surf clubs recognise their heritage. It gives the younger members a sense of stability and security—that, when they join their clubs, they have actually joined something that really matters. Naturally, the key role of the surf lifesaving movement is to save lives.

Surf Life Saving Australia is Australia’s major water safety, drowning intervention and rescue authority. We have 310 affiliated clubs working to create a safe environment on our beaches and coastline through their patrols, education and training, public safety campaigns and the promotion of health and fitness. But there is a lot more to the surf lifesaving movement than just that. While water safety may be at the core of surf life saving—and, during the 2010-11 season, volunteers were involved in more than 12,000 rescues and professional lifeguards were involved in 2,394 rescues—the clubs are also critical from a social and an economic perspective. The economic importance of surf lifesaving was highlighted during last year, with the release of a PricewaterhouseCooper report which highlighted the importance of surf lifesaving to coastal communities and the wider public. The report valued the drowning and injury prevention efforts of Australia’s surf lifesaving clubs at $3.6 billion.

The report went on to highlight the key statistics, which estimated that, without surf lifesavers, there would have been an additional 596 drownings and more than 3,000 additional injuries. It also found that for every dollar the government, sponsors and the community have invested in surf lifesaving, the cost-benefit ratio was 29 to one. There is no doubt that surf lifesaving clubs are critical from an economic perspective. But, beyond that economic value, I want to talk about the role that our surf lifesaving clubs have in developing our young leaders of the future. At its core, the vision of the surf lifesaving movement is to save lives, to create great Australians and to build better communities. It is the best example that I can find of any organisation in Australia that actually introduces young people to community service early in their lives. The program that is provided through the surf lifesaving movement for personal development also allows for a whole-of-life involvement in the club movement.

I have no doubt that the program is in a fun based learning environment. They are out there on inflatable rescue boats or on rescue boards, or learning first aid skills. So, whilst I have no doubt that there is a level of enjoyment for the young people, they are also developing skills that will hold them in great stead later in life. There is competition if they want to be involved, and they can compete as an individual or as part of a team, but they must also fulfil a number of volunteer hours before they are allowed to compete. So they cannot just turn up and be competitors; they have to be making a contribution back to the club. You must be part of something bigger than yourself to be part of the surf lifesaving movement, and the clubs are very good at engendering that team spirit, that pride in the club colours, which is deeply embedded in the culture of the surf lifesaving movement.

As much as I say there are jobs for everyone of all ages in the surf lifesaving movement, there is also a very non-discriminatory environment when it comes to the involvement of men and women. The representation of women in surf lifesaving is very strong: in the 2010-11 key figures there were 70,000 female members and 90,000 male members. In addition to that there were an estimated 60,000 juniors, or nippers as they are commonly known within surf lifesaving. So it does provide a whole-of-family involvement, a whole-of-family activity which provides for sharing for people of all ages. I must say from my own perspective that the young people in my community almost live at the club over the summer months They are learning new skills, they are developing their leadership abilities, they are overcoming their fear and managing potentially dangerous situations, and at the same time they are making a great contribution to our community. It is a extraordinary opportunity to introduce young people to community service and it also keeps them out of trouble and gives them a real purpose to get involved in health and fitness.

I think the opportunity presents itself for the surf lifesaving movement—and perhaps I issue a bit of a challenge to our clubs here today—to become even more important in the culture of our nation. I think we can play an even great role in building better communities, which is something at the heart of Surf Life Saving Australia’s 2020 plan. I think there is a challenge there for us to become even more inclusive into the future, to make sure that we provide an even more non-discriminatory environment that attracts more Indigenous members to our clubs and also people from more diverse cultural backgrounds into our ranks. I am not suggesting for a second that that is something surf lifesaving has ignored in the past—I think we have tried very hard to get Indigenous volunteers and to get people from diverse cultural backgrounds into our clubs—but I do believe it is an area where there are opportunities for us to do it better. I think we can improve as club members in the way that we become more inclusive of those who have perhaps not had a strong background in the surf lifesaving movement.

I think it is at least part of the solution to some of the scenes we saw on the weekend with the racial intolerance and violence in Sydney. Part of that answer is eliminating the cultural gap, and I think the Leader of the Opposition was very accurate—and, incidentally, the Leader of the Opposition is a surf club member—when he said that newcomers to our country must leave their hatred behind. There is no place in Australia for violence. It is not the Australian way to resolve our differences through mob anger or criminal activity, and that is the sort of thing we were exposed to on the weekend. I am not trying to put all the burden on our surf lifesaving club movement but I believe our surf clubs can help to give newcomers to Australia, particularly in urban areas, a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves. The surf clubs are very good at giving people from all walks of life the opportunity to learn new skills, to improve their health and fitness, to have the responsibility of running a beach problem and to help make a difference by helping others.

So I think we can within the surf lifesaving movement become even more inclusive and attract more young Indigenous members and more members with diverse cultural backgrounds. It will strengthen our clubs, and I have no doubt whatsoever that it will actually strengthen our communities. The people from diverse cultural backgrounds will learn about the culture of the surf lifesaving movement, and our communities will be better off for the experience. So I think there is a win-win opportunity there for us. Perhaps I am an eternal optimist, but I believe that our nation’s surf clubs have proven their worth to the nation. I think they are at least part of the solution to more than just surf safety issues in the 21st century. They can continue to bring much more to our nation in terms of linking our communities together.

In the brief amount of time I have left I want to mention that the coalition has committed to providing a $10 million fund, if we win government, to assist surf lifesaving clubs with purchasing vital rescue equipment and first aid and medical supplies and also to extend the beach drowning black spot reduction program. That would partner the already great amount of effort put in by the business community and local supporters and sponsors of our surf lifesaving movement. I think there is a role for government to work with the local communities to improve the infrastructure on clubhouse buildings and associated facilities. I would also like to take the opportunity to wish all members well from my own perspective from the Gippsland region, particularly the three clubs in my electorate at Woodside, Seaspray and Lakes Entrance, as they approach the summer season. I would like to wish all the members well and for a very safe and successful season. As I have said before, perhaps the most important role played by our surf clubs is in helping young Australians to achieve their full potential, and I think the parliament should continue to work with the Surf Life Saving Australia movement to achieve that outcome.

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