Who pays to keep beaches patrolled

By Ross Pringle

1 comment


Things are never quite as black and white as we would like.

Take the vexed issue of lifeguards patrolling our beaches on Christmas Day. District councillor and businessman Ray Stevens believes the flags should have been up and guards in position. Surf lifesaving spokesman Phil Gilmore argues that the guards have never worked on Christmas Day and that people should take responsibility for themselves.

There is always debate about the extent to which our beaches are patrolled, including the commencement and ending of the season, and the time of day guards are on duty.

Locally lifesavers began patrols at Castlecliff and Mowhanau beaches the week before Christmas and December 25 is the only day there are no patrols through summer.

Many people would be understanding of the desire to give the guards their day off to celebrate Christmas in whatever way they choose.

But what if there was a tragedy, on whom would we apportion the blame? The guards for not being there on their day off, or the council for not funding them to enable adequate resourcing to provide cover?

That's where Mr Stevens' argument that lifeguards be treated in the same way as nurses, police, doctors and ambulance staff might deserve some consideration.

As much as we might like to discuss personal responsibility about staying safe, the reality is people are not that good at taking care of themselves. They get drunk, break laws, fail to identify hazards and can even be downright stupid. That is the basis for many of the laws and bylaws we abide by. Ask those on the frontline: police, ambulance workers and emergency department staff how many incidents where a person suffers harm could have been avoided and they will likely respond most of them.

But an important point of distinction needs to be made that the lifeguards are not like the police, nurses or doctors. Those are professional, paid fulltime occupations. The lifeguards are paid only a limited amount - funding comes from Wanganui District Council among other sources - and they have a short season of work.

They have a right to time off as well, regardless of how much we might want the protection of a patrol. But many people do still work on Christmas Day, especially when there is a higher calling such as public safety or other - think of the City Mission luncheon and those who work to make it happen.

We could allow the status quo and accept that people will inadvertently put themselves in harm's way or behave foolishly - the consequences, however, could be tragic.

Alternatively, the community could insist lifeguards provide cover on Christmas Day. That would mean proper pay and conditions and being treated like other emergency service professionals.

Perhaps Mr Stevens should put that before the council table to allocate sufficient ratepayer contribution, and put the matter to the public. Then we would know the extent to which our community perceives a need for this extra level of service and the extent to which it will pay.

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