The Sunday Times - - NEWS - KATE CAMPBELL

PORTABLE pools are dis­as­ters wait­ing to hap­pen and should be banned from Aus­tralian shelves, ac­cord­ing to Com­merce Min­is­ter Bill John­ston.

Mr John­ston slammed the pools and retailers who stock them ahead of a na­tional cam­paign to warn peo­ple of their dan­gers.

The cam­paign, which be­gins on Thurs­day, will in­volve ma­jor retailers and pro­vide peo­ple with point-of­sale in­for­ma­tion and warn­ings about the risks and le­gal obli­ga­tions in set­ting up the pools.

A WA Om­buds­man in­ves­ti­ga­tion found four chil­dren drowned in portable pools in WA — a quar­ter of the 16 WA child drown­ings in pri­vate pools be­tween 2009 and 2015. Mr John­ston told The Sun­day Times he be­lieved the “quite so­phis­ti­cated” but af­ford­able portable pools should not be sold in Aus­tralia.

But he said chang­ing con­sumer laws needed sup­port from all States and Ter­ri­to­ries and the Com­mon­wealth.

He said while adult su­per­vi­sion and ac­count­abil­ity were crit­i­cal to pool safety, retailers also had a big re­spon­si­bil­ity, and some were shirk­ing it.

“The per­son who would buy a $500 portable pool . . . is go­ing to be the sort of work­ing peo­ple that I’m in pol­i­tics to help,” he said.

“No­body is go­ing to buy a $500 pool if they also need to build a $2000 fence.

“My view is that retailers have been taking ad­van­tage of peo­ple in this cir­cum­stance.

“I’ve writ­ten to every re­tailer we can work out sells portable pools and en­cour­aged them to no longer do it.

“Many of them ac­knowl­edge the point I’m mak­ing, but don’t agree.

“I don’t un­der­stand why a rep­utable na­tional re­tailer with bil­lions of dol­lars of turnover is wor­ried about a $500 plas­tic pool.

“It doesn’t make sense to me.

“I don’t see how there won’t be a tragedy aris­ing from this prac­tice.”

Un­der WA law, a bar­rier has to erected around any “pool” deeper than 30cm, while a build­ing per­mit is needed for a portable pool or spa that re­mains set up for more than a month.

With in-ground pools, the in­staller has to en­sure there is ad­e­quate fenc­ing.

But noth­ing ex­ists to en­sure portable pools are fenced. Some of the portable pools come with fil­tra­tion sys­tems, mean­ing in many cases they can re­main set up and filled with wa­ter through­out sum­mer.

Tragedy struck in December 2015 when tod­dler Eli Wi­rangi al­most drowned in a portable pool set up each sum­mer by his grand­par­ents in No­randa. He sur­vived, but suf­fered ir­re­versible and cat­a­strophic brain dam­age. In December last year af­ter a twoyear bat­tle, Eli died just shy of his fourth birth­day.

His mother, Phillipa Wi­rangi, said portable pools did not need to be banned, but peo­ple needed to be more aware of how dan­ger­ous they could be if chil­dren were un­su­per­vised.

“They are fun and things them­selves don’t hurt or kill peo­ple,” she said. “Hu­man neg­li­gence and hu­man er­ror does.”

Mr John­ston said the aware­ness cam­paign was the “first step” to stronger ac­tion.

“At this stage, the other States don’t sup­port an out­right ban like I would,” he said. “But I’m per­son­ally de­ter­mined to see fur­ther ac­tion.”

The Sun­day Times con­tacted Clark Rub­ber, Tar­get, Kmart, Big W and Bun­nings, which all sell portable pools.

Big W had in­tro­duced point-of-sale in­for­ma­tion on in­flat­able pools and rolled out ad­di­tional pool-safety train­ing ma­te­rial to staff. Bun­nings said it was com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing prod­ucts fit for pur­pose and safe when used cor­rectly.

Sad end­ing: Left, Phillipa Wi­rangi with son Eli. Above, a tem­po­rary back­yard pool of the kind Bill John­ston, top right, wants banned. Pic­ture: Getty Im­ages

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