Government flounders as SOS push gains momentum


LEGENDARY swim coach Laurie Lawrence says it is "ludicrous" Queensland kids are not taught how to swim at school as Education Minister Grace Grace tried to play down the state's swimming crisis highlighted in the The Courier-Mail's S.O.S. campaign.

As calls to introduce State Government-funded swimming lessons in primary school gained momentum around the state yesterday, Ms Grace said it was parents who should take responsibility to teach their kids how to swim before they started school.

Awkwardly, Ms Grace also said the government had taken advice from experts - referring several times to Lawrence - that the earlier children learnt to swim the better.

However, the swim legend has fully backed The Courier-Mail's calls for compulsory swimming and water safety lessons in schools and said the State was failing school-aged kids.

"To see the government drop out of helping teach schoolkids how to swim is ludicrous," Lawrence said.

"Every single kid in Tasmania learns to swim and it's paid for by the government.

"We're the No. 1 swimming state in Australia and we can't get our kids taught to swim at school.

"Give me a break Queensland."

Legendary swimming coach Laurie Lawrence joins the campaign to get kids in to swimming lessons. Picture: Adam Head
Legendary swimming coach Laurie Lawrence joins the campaign to get kids in to swimming lessons. Picture: Adam Head

He said while it was vital to teach kids how to swim prior to them coming to school, not all families can afford to send their kids to swimming lessons, even with State Government vouchers.

"I have always tried to get kids in to swimming before they even get to school (through his Kids Alive program and Laurie Lawrence swim schools), but not every parent can afford to do that."

"But now, the only school kids who are learning to swim at school are the ones who are lucky enough to have access to a school pool.

"We used to get bus loads of schoolkids turn up for 10 free lessons, which was all paid for by the government."

Since the Save Our Schoolkids campaign launched across 46 News Queensland papers simultaneously yesterday, there has been a wave of support to introduced swimming lessons in primary schools that are benchmarked and funded by the government.

As calls came from across the state - including pleas from parents who had lost children to drowning - to commit funding in line with other states, Ms Grace was left to front the media for the Government.

While she said she was "open to all options", the minister did not address criticism that Queensland was the only state without a compulsory or comprehensive swim program in schools that was funded by the government.

"All options are on the table and we can see what other states are doing but Queensland is a large diverse state. It is very hard to have a compulsory swimming program in a controlled environment where there no pools available in some very remote areas,'' she said.

However, Western Australia, which is nearly 50 per cent larger than Queensland has introduced a successful swimming program in schools which has a participation rate of 97 per cent.

"I think swimming is an important part of our lifestyle here in Queensland so together with stakeholders and Surf Life Saving Queensland, we are open to discussing all options in relation to what best equips children to be safe around waterways and swimming pools," she said.

"We've already increased funding, we have already looked at this issue with Surf Life Saving Queensland and my Department is already working on this matter to include stakeholders about how best we roll out the best of a school swimming program.

"If you take Laurie Lawrence's advice you should start very early, so although schools have a significant role to play in swimming lessons, quite clearly the advice from experts is we should be starting much earlier than school.''

Regional crossbencher Robbie Katter yesterday put his party's support behind the campaign saying all Queensland school aged kids deserved to have basic swimming skills.

"If Queensland kids aren't learning basic water safety in school I think there is a real issue," he told The Courier-Mail.

"We need to ensure all children have the opportunity to learn basic skills which will allow them to have confidence in the water and ensure they can identify danger, such as rips and undertows.

"We seem to have skipped a generation where all Australian children felt confident being in the water.

"Increasing water skills and safety levels for children will need Government support and funding, not everyone can afford to pay for private swimming lessons for their children."

Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham said Queensland needed to follow the lead of southern states and provide lessons in schools, especially for families who could not afford it.

"Plenty of other states have found ways to ensure water safety and swimming programs are accessible, no matter how remote students may be," he said.

"Wherever possible, families should be taking the prime responsibility to help children to learn to swim. This was certainly a priority for my wife and I with our two daughters, who could both safely swim before they started school. But in situations where families can't afford lessons or the parents don't have the skills or abilities, other states have found ways to ensure school students don't slip through the cracks."