Life jacket campaigner, Wear It Courtney’s Rule, Cathy Simon was given New South Wales parliamentary air time by Independent Member for Lake Macquarie, Mr Greg Piper (MP) recently who highlighted her Wear It activities and requested government representatives to afford the time to listen to her. The following is the private members statement Mr Piper presented in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly recently.
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) [12.40 p.m. 26/02/2013]: It is fitting that I follow the member for Lismore who spoke about a local hero, Les Watson. I draw attention to the important and inspirational work of one of my constituents, also a hero to Lake Macquarie’s community, Cathy Simon of Toronto. Cathy is campaigning for the compulsory use of life jackets following tragic drowning incidents on our waterways. On 11 June 2011 Mrs Simon’s 14-year-old daughter, Courtney, set out on a small boat with her 16-year-old boyfriend and a 17-year-old male friend. They were headed for Elizabeth Island. Inclement weather and rough water conditions were forecast. The boat was overloaded, overpowered and unregistered. The teenage skipper was unlicensed and, despite being minors, the party had an esky full of beer.
It was the perfect storm: trouble was inevitable and, sadly, that is what came to pass. The boat capsized and the three teenagers were thrown into the water. Two of the youths made it back to shore, but Courtney did not. Her mother later received news that no parent would ever wish to hear: her daughter was missing, presumed drowned. Courtney’s body was not discovered for another ten days. She had not been wearing a life jacket and struggled for hours in an attempt to reach the shore. Her boyfriend, who had stayed with her throughout the ordeal, said she appeared to suffer a seizure before she died. The coronal inquest was held last year. The Deputy State Coroner, Mark Buscombe, was critical of the adults who drove the young trio to the boat ramp, but ruled there was insufficient evidence for a charge of manslaughter by criminal negligence to be considered against the teenage skipper. Mr Buscombe described Courtney’s passing as a tragedy that should not have happened. According to figures for the 10-year period ending June 2012 that were published in Boating Incidents in NSW, Courtney was one of 103 people who had drowned as a result of a boating incident. More than 90 per cent of the victims were not wearing life jackets.
Cathy Simon wants her daughter to be remembered for something more than a grim statistic. She has resolved to take action against others senselessly losing their lives as Courtney did. The effectiveness of her personal campaign is a measure of her character and determination. Mrs Simon is lobbying for legislative change, known as Courtney’s rule, which will make the wearing of life jackets compulsory for anyone on board a vessel more than 100 metres from shore. Currently under New South Wales law only children under 12 must wear a life jacket at all times on boats under 4.8 metres in enclosed waters. Those over the age of 12 need only wear a life jacket when boating at night or alone.
Mrs Simon has promoted her cause prominently on social media such as Facebook and Twitter and in press interviews and she has made appearances at local boating functions such as the Lake Macquarie Classic Boatfest. She has met with governmental staff to discuss her proposed change to the law and has worked closely with fellow life jacket advocate Peter Hackett, who runs the prominent Wear It Australian campaign. Mrs Simon has produced stickers and posters advertising Courtney’s rule, which she distributes among the boating community. She has worked tirelessly to increase the awareness of the importance of people of all ages wearing life jackets on the water. To this end she is on the same page as the Minister for Roads and Ports, Duncan Gay, who launched a water safety campaign in December emphasizing the uniform use of life jackets by boaters and other recreational users of our waterways.
The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia is also in favour of tighter legislation. It has called for an increase to 18 years for the compulsory wearing of life jackets. It takes a special person to be able to pull themselves from a mire of grief and to make something constructive of an inexplicable tragedy such as the loss of a child. I commend Mrs Simon for her work. I pay tribute to her effort to ensure that no other life is tragically lost in this way. Perhaps lives have already been saved by her efforts. I trust that the raising of the matter in the Legislative Assembly will bring more attention to Cathy’s cause. I ask that her representations be considered by the department in any review of life jacket legislation.
Thank you to Mr Greg Piper (MP) for supporting Wear It Courtney’s Rule… Wear It Australia!