Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (10:14): Today is the last day of summer, but the risk of death from drowning or serious injury from near drowning continues throughout the year. The 10-year average in Australia is 281 drowning deaths, and obviously every one of those is a tragedy in its own right. Twenty-three per cent of those deaths occur on rivers and creeks, 17 per cent occur on beaches, 16 per cent occur in oceans or harbours and, perhaps alarmingly, 74 per cent of those drowning deaths are males, and quite often alcohol is a contributing factor. More than a third of the drowning deaths in Australia occur over the summer months, but it’s important to remember that 50 per cent of drowning deaths occur in autumn and spring and we must remain vigilant around the water all year-round.
I rise today to pay tribute to one organisation in particular which is completely focused on keeping Australians safe around water. The Surf Life Saving Australia movement is Australia’s peak coastal water safety, drowning prevention and rescue authority. In fact, with 168,000 members and more than 300 affiliated Surf Life Saving clubs, it is the largest volunteer movement of its kind in the world. There is perhaps nothing more iconic in Australian life than the red and yellow cap of a surf lifesaver on one of our magnificent beaches. It’s a unique not-for-profit community organisation which exists through community donations, fundraising, corporate sponsorship and, of course, government grants. Since Surf Life Saving was established in 1907, more than 650,000 people have been rescued by surf lifesavers. It’s a proud fact among Surf Life Saving clubs that no person has drowned while swimming between the flags on an Australian beach.
In Gippsland, we’re very fortunate to have four Surf Life Saving clubs, which I support personally, at Woodside, Seaspray, Lakes Entrance and Mallacoota. I want to thank them for their service over the summer months. They’re part of an organisation which performs more than 11,000 rescues across Australia each year and achieves 1.3 million volunteer hours on beaches. One aspect of the lifesaving movement which I am particularly proud and supportive of is the Nippers movement, the junior development program. I would argue that Nippers is the best youth development program in Australia today, taking children from seven and eight years old right through to 13 and 14 and giving them the opportunity to be challenged by surf conditions. They learn about first aid and develop teamwork and, without even knowing it, they develop a culture of community service. It’s a great organisation that I think every one of the 168,000 volunteers should be proud of. I want to thank the surf lifesavers in Gippsland for the work they’ve done on our beaches over the summer months. I know they’ll continue to do that until the Easter weekend, providing volunteer patrols across the holiday period. They provide a great service in terms of youth development but also in terms of the economic benefits they give to our towns, because people want to visit towns where there is patrolled beach. I thank Surf Life Saving Australia and encourage people to remain safe around the water.