Rock Fishing Safety Bill 2016

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT ( Prospect ) ( 17:37 ): I support the Rock Fishing Safety Bill 2016, with amendments. Rock fishing is Australia's deadliest sport. On average, eight people die each year while rock fishing and it accounts for 26.7 per cent of coastal drownings. According to Surf Life Saving NSW, none of the victims were wearing life jackets. About one-third of rock fishers report having been swept away by waves at some time while they have been rock fishing. A life jacket is a simple way of reducing drowning deaths. Much like the wearing of seatbelts in cars, life jackets offer the possibility of reduced fatalities. Just as seatbelts are compulsory, the wearing of life jackets should be mandatory when rock fishing. Some may suggest that the majority of drowning deaths are due to rock fishers not being able to swim. This is not the case. Some 92 per cent of rock fishermen surveyed by Randwick City Council said that they could swim. But all 27 of the rock fishers who drowned between 2011 and 2014 were not wearing life jackets. Additionally, not one of the 10 victims in the past year wore a life jacket.

Whilst 8 per cent of surveyed rock fishers could not swim—a figure far too high—mandating the wearing of life jackets is undeniably the best way to prevent deaths. Not even Olympic swimmers like Michael Phelps would be able to beat a strong ocean current after being injured by falling onto sharp ocean rocks. Eighty per cent of drowning deaths are male, with by far the largest demographic of drowning victims being men aged over 55. Sadly, the number of drowning deaths has been consistent over the past decade.

The focus must shift to general water safety and funding must be increased for public awareness campaigns regarding the need to wear life jackets when undertaking high-risk activities such as rock fishing. Just like the seatbelt argument of the 1970s, there will be resistance to implementing this law. Back then many believed they were good enough drivers never to need seatbelts and many took this belief to their graves. And just like the seatbelt reforms of the 1970s, I believe the number of rock fishing related drownings will drop dramatically once the New South Wales Government implements both a public awareness campaign and penalties for rock fishing without a life jacket.

The lower number of young people who drown compared with older people suggests several possibilities: first, that safety education campaigns in recent decades have been effective; and, secondly, that many drownings could be due to overconfidence on the part of those engaging in a water-related activities. Demographically, the least likely to follow instructions are men aged over 55, and it is they who are at most risk of drowning. As the vast majority of drowning deaths occur in inland rivers and streams, followed by the ocean and in harbours rather than in controlled environments such as fishing pools, the data suggests that most people who drown are caught by surprise, having underestimated the danger that the water represents.

Royal Life Saving recommends five key steps to greatly reduce the risk of drowning in men aged over 55: that they be aware of their physical limitations and fitness; that they be aware of any medical conditions; that they do not drink alcohol while undertaking activities in the vicinity of water; that they wear a life jacket; and that they learn lifesaving skills such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The consumption of alcohol is a major factor in drowning deaths. Two-thirds of men aged 45 to 55 who drowned were found to have blood alcohol concentrations of 0.2 per cent—four times the legal limit for driving.

Approximately half of all surveyed rock fishers speak Chinese or Korean as a first language. This means that future campaigns run by the New South Wales Government in relation to life jacket requirements must be communicated in a range of languages. The facts show that rock fishing is dangerous for everyone, regardless of ethnic origin. The message of mandatory life jackets must be made clear for everybody. Both the Recreational Fishing Alliance of NSW and the Australian National Sportfishing Association agree that the bill does not address adequately the issue of life jacket standards. I thank the rock fishing groups who have worked with the community to promote water safety and the importance of wearing a life jacket.

Despite the enormous safety advantage that life jackets offer, there are no purpose-made life jackets manufactured in Australia that meet the appropriate standards for rock fishing. Overseas models are purpose made and regarded as the best personal floatation devices available for rock fishing. However, none of the overseas models are tested to the Australian Standard 4758, as required by the bill. That Australian standard has been criticised as being too low for rock fishing. The flotation grade required for that standard, known as 50S, requires the wearer to be an able swimmer and to have a means of rescue close by. Obviously, for rock fishers who are not strong swimmers, those who are strong swimmers but are injured, or those fighting against a strong current and requiring rescue by boat or helicopter, or a combination of all those factors, a life jacket that requires the wearer to be able to swim may not be of an effective enough standard to prevent drowning.

Imported rock fishing life jackets that are of a better standard than the general-purpose personal flotation devices presently available will not be legal under the bill. Commonsense must prevail. A provision must be included in the bill as an amendment to include a higher standard and the testing of life jackets from overseas to meet this higher Australian standard. The New South Wales Opposition does not oppose the bill but the shadow Minister will seek to amend it. It is extremely important that this legislation's trial extends beyond the Randwick local government area [LGA]. The trial should expand to include the Munmorah State Conservation Area in the Wyong-Lake Macquarie LGA and dangerous waters in the Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama LGAs, where rock fishing fatalities have occurred. Relevant education targeted at all ages and given in all relevant languages must be improved. The Wet'n'Wild Water Park in the Prospect electorate does a wonderful job supporting Royal Surf Life Saving's Nipper program.

Ms Meli nda Pavey: It is Surf Life Saving, not Royal Surf Life Saving.

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT: I thank the member for Oxley. Surf life saving teaches Western Sydney children beach safety. The Nipper program is the same as that which takes place on beaches around New South Wales every weekend. However, it offers Western Sydney children greater access to water safety education.

Mr David Elliott: What has this got to do with rock fishing?

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT: Listen and you will find out. Programs such as Nippers should be expanded and continue to be funded by the New South Wales Government. The message must be conveyed that all people are vulnerable to drowning, regardless of ethnic origin, swimming ability, age, gender or postcode. However, extra effort must be taken to ensure that those who do not come from areas where rock fishing is common, such as Western Sydney, heed the water safety message. Additionally, this legislation must be enforced. Presently it would be unthinkable to drive without wearing a seatbelt, and I hope that in the future it will be unthinkable to go rock fishing without wearing a life jacket to the appropriate standard. The sea does not discriminate. Not being aware of the danger of rock fishing is no excuse for not wearing a life jacket. Therefore, the onus is on the New South Wales Government to ensure that this message is communicated clearly and effectively to everybody. No fish, no matter what its size, is worth dying for. I commend the Rock Fishing Safety Bill 2016 to the House.

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