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Inconsistency in rock fishing life jacket laws

WHEN it comes to boating, the NSW government makes no bones about the need for life jackets.

The government’s Roads and Maritime Services agency says:“Every year lives are lost in recreational boating incidents.Tragically, many could have survived had they been wearing a life jacket, especially in smaller vessels.”

All vessels under 4.8 metres are required to have a life jacket for every person on board, and in many cases they must be worn, and not simply kept on the boat. Failure to adhere to these laws can result in substantial fines. But when it comes to rock fishing, the government has just handed any responsibilities for life jackets to local councils, with Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant announcing an “opt-in” scheme for local government after a year-long trial in the Randwick council area.

Under the Rock Fishing Safety Act, which Mr Grant referred to on Friday, it is illegal to fish in a “high risk rock fishing location” without a life jacket. The rocks in the Randwick local government area –from Bondi to La Perouse –were declared such an area in 2016. Mr Grant says that leaving the decision to local government aligns it with other water safety initiatives, such as warning signs and council lifeguard services. This may be the case, but there would seem to be an equally compelling argument to say that the most important equivalent, in this case, is the life jacket regime for boating, which applies across the board, regardless of geography.

In our part of the world, the coastaround Frazer Park, south of Swansea, is one of the most dangerous rock fishing areas in the state, with more than a dozen people drowning in the area in the past decade.

Indeed, it was the spate of deaths there –despite the well-publicised dangers of the place –that led to coronial calls for mandatory life jackets, followed bythe Randwick trial. Given such a history, Frazer Park is one location where life jackets really do deserve to be mandatory. By leaving the decision to local councils, Mr Grant is signalling that he does not believe that life jackets are needed the length of the coast. While a council-by-council ruling might make things confusing for travelling fishers, the best thing would be to play it safe, and wear a life jacket regardless. The more that people take responsibility for their own safety, the less we need to rely on a nanny state.

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