Calls to update ACT’s pool fencing laws as warmer weather arrives

Lachlan Roberts 10 August 2020

Royal Life Saving ACT has once again called on the Government to create more consistent backyard swimming pool safety regulations. File Photo.

As the weather starts to warm up and more kids prepare to jump into backyard pools, Royal Life Saving ACT is once again calling on the ACT Government to strengthen its safety regulations to ensure all swimming pools in the ACT have boundaries.

Two years after an inquest into the tragic drowning of toddler River Parry in a Canberra backyard, which strongly recommended the need for improving pool safety laws, Royal Life Saving ACT CEO Cherry Bailey said she is concerned about the lack of progress.

“Royal Life Saving ACT has been trying to work with the Government and has been lobbying and advocating for an improvement to our current backyard pool safety legislation,” Ms Bailey said.

“We have made the same recommendations multiple times and those have been echoed by the coroner’s findings for the case of River Parry’s drowning three years ago. We are a little surprised and disappointed that it has taken this long to actually act on anything.”

In December 2015, 21-month-old River Parry tragically died after drowning in an unfenced swimming pool in a Canberra backyard. During an inquest into his death, Coroner Beth Campbell said the death highlighted safety concerns surrounding ACT’s “inadequate and confusing” pool safety laws and recommended a central database for all swimming pools in the ACT.

In March this year, the ACT government said it was developing a scheme to bring all pools up to the same standards, but it might be years away as the Government looks to give reasonable time for pool owners to bring their pools in line with standards.

While all new pools are required to have fences surrounding it, there are no requirements to upgrade existing pools. This means that in many streets and neighbourhoods there are pools that are easily accessible and pose real dangers.

Though fences and boundaries are compulsory on every pool in Queensland and New South Wales, the Government said it needs to establish its own legislation and an operational scheme that works with other laws and systems in the ACT.

Minister for Planning and Land Management Gordon Ramsay said consultation on the issue began in June this year with industry stakeholders but gave no indication when the legislation might be enforced.

“In March this year, the ACT government acknowledged that the process to develop and legislate an inspection regime would take time to develop,” a Government spokesperson said. “It requires a greater understanding of the design and use of current backyard pools across the Territory – information that the Government does not currently have.”

The ACT Government’s annual backyard lifeguard pool safety will be launched in December, which Mr Ramsay said will help garner information on current safety pool standards.

“Like previous years, this campaign will emphasise that backyard pools should have appropriate safety fencing,” he said. “The Government will also use the campaign as an opportunity to engage with pool owners to gather more information on current pool safety standards.”

Ms Bailey said Royal Life Saving ACT appreciated the Government’s campaigns about backyard lifeguard pool safety every summer but said the Government needs to do more.

“Every pool owner has a level of responsibility to make their pool safe but I believe it is the Government’s responsibility to outline what the standard of safety is so that people have a very clear idea on what they need to do and by when,” she said.

“There is no register of pools in the ACT, so neither we or the Government have any way of determining where the pools are or how many there are.”

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