SPASA Victoria fears the Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) due out tomorrow will not show a sufficient commitment to safety.
The RIS will be available at this link when it goes live on May 18 as the Victorian government commences the consultation period for changes to swimming pool barrier laws.
Many interested parties including SPASA Victoria, Kidsafe Victoria, Royal Life Saving Victoria and a series of coroners, have been calling for the introduction of mandatory three-yearly pool inspections and the establishment of a statewide swimming pool register as two of the measures to be included in the new regulations.
The Victorian Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne, has made promising sounds about considering these proposals and also of talking to the Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins where the proposals fit in her remit.
He has said he will take action to create tougher pool and spa safety gates regulations in Australia, will carefully considering a statewide pool register so that authorities know where pools and spas exist, and will propose uniform standards governing barriers and gates.
“One drowning death is one too many. It’s time for a proper overhaul of our regulations. We don’t want another family going through the harrowing ordeal of losing a child in these circumstances,” the Minister says.
“We know that bringing pools and spas up to scratch will be a significant cost, but we make no apology for taking action to prevent these tragic deaths.”
However, SPASA Victoria CEO Brendan Watkins is sceptical that the “careful consideration” will yield any positive results regarding mandatory inspections and fears the measures will be weaker than required.
“It seems like mandatory barrier inspections won’t get up,” says Watkins.
“We’ve been waiting for 10 years for this but they continue to talk about consultation not regulation.”
He believes there will be meaningful consultation with SPASA Victoria, but is unsure if they will listen to their concerns.
“A whole of lot of stakeholders have lobbied for this over the past several years, so it’s not as if they don’t know what we want.
“We had hoped to influence them before the RIS and that’s why we’ve come out strongly,” he says, referring to the consumer media relations campaign which has included a number of stints on radio 3AW.
He says mandatory inspections in other jurisdictions, particularly Western Australia and Queensland, have proven that checking barriers provides a better outcome.
The Minister has been talking about introducing regulations which will make the four-sided barrier requirement retrospective.
Watkins says that there is no evidence that will make pools safer, but it will create an impost on the industry and on home owners who will have to retrofit pools, with varying degrees of difficulty.
“We estimate there’d be at least 100,000 pools in Victoria that would have to contend with including an additional barrier fence, building permit applications and surveyors. Our concern is there is no evidence that four-sided barriers will bring a safer outcome,” he says.
“The only thing that really matters – the coronial report on drowning showed that in every case there are barriers in place and they all are noncompliant – it’s a maintenance issue. When councils go out and check the pools the vast majority – more than 90 per cent in most cases – don’t have compliant barriers. It’s not about four-sided barriers; it’s about mandatory inspections every three or four years.
“It seems a bridge too far for the government – but we haven’t seen the RIS and we hope they might have made some adjustment before it’s released.”
Watkins doesn’t specify who should carry out the inspections but says it is clear there are not enough registered industry building certifiers to check the 200,000 pools every three years.
“So it would make sense to have a class of unique inspectors just for pools.”