BACKYARD SWIMMING POOL SAFETY
Ms ANGELA D'AMORE:
My question is addressed to the Minister for Local Government. What is the New South Wales Government doing to keep kids safe around backyard swimming pools in New South Wales?
Mrs BARBARA PERRY:
As all members of this House would agree, protecting the most vulnerable in our society is a key role of Government. It remains a sad fact that while backyard pools in New South Wales do provide safe, healthy fun, there are occasions where pools become the location of tragic deaths or injuries of young children. For 0-4-year-olds drowning is a leading cause of accidental death. Of considerable concern is a recent spike in these drownings. Royal Life Saving New South Wales has indicated that eight children under five years drowned in private swimming pools in New South Wales in 2007-2008.
Increased awareness and the tragic reminder of toddler drownings have raised community expectations and acceptance of the need to effectively fence swimming pools. The community has definitely come a long way since broad pool fencing requirements were introduced in 1992. That is why this Government is continuing its efforts to increase pool safety by bringing forward sensible reforms to ensure that a high standard of four-sided barrier fencing is consistently applied to all new pools in New South Wales.
While the Government has already introduced the highest Australian standard for pool fences, these new reforms will bring more pools in New South Wales into line with Australian standards. Changes will include the removal of automatic exemptions to barrier requirements for new pools on large, very small and waterfront properties, there will also be increases in fines for non-compliant barriers, and we will be making it clear that councils need to follow up on complaints received about pools.
As research into pool barriers has demonstrated, the risk of toddler drowning is significantly less in pools with stronger barrier requirements. That is why under these changes all new properties will need to have a poor barrier that completely isolates the pool from the house. Sensibly, especially for pools on small properties, owners will still be able to use boundary fences and house walls as part of the swimming pool barrier, as long as they meet legislative requirements and the Australian standard. For areas that need disability access, pool owners will continue to be able to apply to their local council for a special exemption if they believe that the barrier requirements are impractical or unreasonable.
To manage non-compliance the Government will increase maximum court imposed penalty amounts under the Act from $1,100 to $5,500, as well is increasing on-the-spot penalty notices from $220 to $550. Members should note that the penalties are to be provided with a compliance period so that instead of paying a fine, owners can simply choose to comply with the Act. Currently most councils investigate and resolve concerns such as these. Once the amendments are passed, however, it will be clear that all councils will be required to investigate and address complaints within a reasonable timeframe.
To further strengthen compliance, the Government is granting councils the power to enter properties and undertake remedial work to rectify barriers in situations where non-action poses a significant risk to public safety and the owner refuses to do the work. I would expect this power to be used infrequently and to be strictly limited to situations where non-action poses a significant risk to public safety. I believe, and I am sure all members of this House would agree, that there is no cost equivalent to a child's life. That does not necessarily mean, however, that measures to protect life should not be cost effective. As a Government we understand that our role in keeping kids safe around pools is limited. We understand that we can improve fence standards but we cannot keep watch over kids in their backyards. We also understand that primarily keeping kids safe around water is the responsibility of the community.
As a mother with young children I cannot emphasise enough the need to supervise your children, to teach them how to swim and to learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The sad reality of many drowning deaths is that many of them are preventable. All too often pool owners prop their gates open or fail to ensure that their fences are in good order. With the summer swimming season almost upon us, all pool owners should get out into their backyards, take a look over their pool fences, check that their latches are working and make sure that nothing is propped open that could give a child access. An unsupervised moment can cost a lifetime. Let us all work together to make this summer as safe as possible.