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Pool owners face fees for fences and inspections

MORE than 300,000 households with swimming pools in NSW face fees for random inspections and pool fencing, as the state government comes under pressure to consider recommendations from several coronial inquests.

MORE than 300,000 households with swimming pools in NSW face fees for random inspections and pool fencing, as the state government comes under pressure to consider recommendations from several coronial inquests.

The Deputy State Coroner Paul MacMahon last week reiterated recommendations he has made for the past two years - that all pool owners should register their pools with their local council, have child-resistant fences, and be subject to random safety inspections by council officers.

A loophole now exists under which pools built before 1990, or on large properties, are not expected to be fenced. An estimated 90,000 pools in NSW were built before 1990, and would require safety fences if the changes were approved.

The Minister for Local Government, Don Page, was considering all of Mr MacMahon's recommendations in the inquest of the drowning victim Isabela Fresco, a spokesman said. Isabela was one year old when she drowned in January last year, after opening a faulty gate in her family's backyard.

She was found floating face-down in the pool. In his findings for Isabela's inquest, Mr MacMahon said many backyard swimming pools were "death traps" for young children.

"The experience of police and coroners is that it is not good enough to simply say that it is the pool owner's responsibility to ensure that the safety fencing surrounding a pool is compliant with the Pools Act," Mr MacMahon said.

"Something more needs to be put in place to ensure that this occurs," he said. "Isabela's death is just the latest of a large number of similar deaths of young children in backyard swimming pools in NSW."

Michael Morris, from the drowning awareness charity, the Samuel Morris Foundation, welcomed the coroner's findings. "From our perspective there haven't been any significant shifts since 1992 ... to help reduce toddler drownings," he said.

"At the moment there is no ongoing mandatory inspection, and there is no register of pools."

Mr Morris started the charity after his two-year-old son son suffered hypoxic brain injury after almost drowning in a pool in 2005.

The Swimming Pool and Spa Association supported many of the coroner's recommendations, except for one that gives pool inspectors the right to enter a property without the owner's consent.

"Most swimming pool owners are responsible people, and I think this is an aggressive approach," said Spiros Dassakis, the chief executive of SPASA NSW.

Mr Dassakis also warned that if the coroner's recommendations were adopted in full by the government, it could end up with an industry of rogue pool inspectors.

He gave the example of similar recommendations in Queensland, where pool owners were forced to pay between $200 and $350 to have their pools inspected.

A spokesman for the Royal Life Saving Society, Justin Scarr, said he "stands behind" each of the coroner's recommendations, and hopes they will "increase state government action".


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