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Australia treading water as drownings rise

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September 12, 2017

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report has found drownings increased in the last year.

Drowning rates continue to increase in Australia with new migrant communities especially at risk.

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report launched on Tuesday found drownings had increased by nine to 291 last year, on top of an estimated 685 near misses.

"One life is too many. Another nine is unacceptable and 291 is tragic," Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

Mr Hunt announced he would be asking the Water Safety Council to conduct a review of the adequacy of water safety strategies, and was hopeful of a response before summer.

"Whilst we do an incredible job as an aquatic nation, we can do a better job," he said.

The health minister was seeking cooperation between the Commonwealth, states and the volunteer sector in addressing the report's "sobering reading."

Asked whether the government would commit more funding towards a water safety strategy, Mr Hunt said: "I think we have to. I think we have to consider it."

Royal Life Saving CEO Justin Scarr, said there had been a number of high-profile drownings involving international students during the past 12 months.

"Many of those students are coming from nations in Asia where the drowning rate is about 15 to 20 times higher than in Australia," he said

"There is a total lack of water safety culture. So there's something we can do there."

The most effective way to prevent drownings was to get involved in communities.

"Working with local ambassadors, recruiting local community members as pool lifeguards, life savers, as swimming instructors," Mr Scarr said.

A group of Sudanese refugees in Victoria, who had only been in Australia for a few years, had been recruited and were making their mark on water safety in the country.

"Now they're working as pool lifeguards, earning a good income, being local leaders, talking to their local community, encouraging water safety more broadly," he said.

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