Pool fencing law bastardry

They say writing letters to the editor of the local paper is a sure sign of the onset of senility, along with talking to yourself and playing bingo or lawn bowls. However, I just couldn’t help myself after today’s experience with the Northern Territory’s pool fencing regulatory regime. Writing the letter is almost certainly an utterly pointless exercise (like blogging), but at least it gets it all off my chest:

The Editor
NT News

Dear Sir,

I’ve been reading with increasing bemusement accounts of the problems Darwin residents are experiencing with the Martin Labor government’s new pool fencing regime. I couldn’t believe that bureaucracy could be quite so brainless and bloody-minded as people have suggested. However, today we had our final pool fence inspection after we had spent rather a lot of money on complying (or so we thought) with the requirements as advised by the original government inspector. I discovered that the reality is even worse.

Our pool fence was failed on 3 grounds. First, a dome-shaped Telstra telephone switch box supposedly provides a foothold for an ingenious toddler to scale our fence and throw itself lemming-like into the pool. This is despite the fact that our fencing contractor had previously phoned the Pool Fencing Authority, given the measurements of the offending structure and been advised that it was no problem.

Secondly, the pool inspector discovered a tree stump in the front garden adjacent to the fence, that needs to be removed or ground down. No mention of this was made in the initial inspection report.

Thirdly, a bar area near the pool enclosure has a counter top which apparently breaches the regulations. It should be either at least 1.3 metres above the ground or 1.3 metres away from the fence horizontally. Instead it’s only 1.1 metres high and 1.1 metres away from the fence. Presumably the geniuses who devised these regulations are concerned to safeguard a hypothetical superhuman toddler who can climb a 1.1. metre bar, balance precariously on a narrow shelf, throw itself 1.1 metres sideways through the air, grasp the top of the pool fence, maintain a grip despite crashing face-first into the fence, hoist itself up and over the fence, and then plummet into the pool.

Apart from the obvious near-impossibility of such a feat for any but the most gifted junior member of the Flying Fruit Fly Circus, the regulations blithely ignore the fact that the paved area adjacent to our pool area contains numerous outdoor chairs and tables (like nearly every other garden in Darwin). Any child advanced enough to figure out and perform the athletic feats described above would be far more likely to go and get a chair, stand on it and open the “child-proof” gate latch to get entry to the pool area. Does Clare Martin intend banning chairs and tables in pool owners’ gardens? Maybe I shouldn’t have asked.

I understand these regulations are currently being reviewed. Hopefully the government will belatedly see commonsense and simply scrap the new rules entirely. Otherwise Mark Read will be offering very short odds indeed on NT Labor being a one term government.

Yours faithfully,

Ken Parish

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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wen
wen
2021 years ago

We’ve got a little tubular aluminium & blue plastic pool in our yard – about 30cm high x2m long. Which is about all you need, here. We only ever fill it halfway – but even so, unfenced, it’s actually far more dangerous to ‘stray’ (including our own) toddlers than your ‘imperfectly’ fenced-in pool. We empty it (mostly) when it’s not in use. But not the (unfenced) dog-bucket.

On another subject entirely, Ken – did you get an e-mail asking about LWDB bloggers?

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

Wen,

No, but I haven’t checked my home email today.

Dave Ricardo
Dave Ricardo
2021 years ago

Gee Ken, and I thought the David Hookes story was indescribably sad, but that is nothing compared to your tragedy. Have you thought about complaining to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission?

I don’t think Clare Martin is going to be too worried about losing the pool owners ‘ vote (most of whom, I’ll bet, already vote CLP). Any government worth its salt would, if the issue came up, talk a very convincing story about saving children’s lives, and how dare those selfish pool owners endanger those lives ,just because they are too cheap to put in the propoer fencing … I’m sure you get the picture.

bargarz
2021 years ago

I’m sure you get the picture.

I’m sure ACA or Today Tonight would be happy to provide a picture of some angelic moppet who had recently drowned.

Only to be followed the next day with a story about bloody minded council bureaucrats.

observa
observa
2021 years ago

Aaah! Civilisation comes to me old boyhood digs in the Deep North. Welcome to the rush of it all, with the Labor nanny staters and their unionised running dog inspectors. What else did you Territorians expect? Rule of Law Ken, coupled with each inspectors pet interpretation of it! You’d appreciate that, as much as the Canberra public servants I saw on TV, howling about all the Govt red tape and cost involved in rebuilding their homes after the bushfires.

David
2021 years ago

I remember the old lawless days observa – I was a kid in Darwin in the 1950’s. I still twitch at the memory.. I would get into trouble with my mother because my undies would be stiff with red mud because I was too prudish to swim in the nuddy with the black kids. Then they drained the waterhole thingy out the back of the iceworks before filling it in. The pool was deep enough to dive in, but the bottom was full of old bikes, fridges, wheelbarrows, fence posts, prams, coils of wire… even I, eight years old, was horrified.

Maybe Darwin could be kept as a kind of experiment: over generations, does an unregulated environment breed a stronger, smarter, more competitive human? If it doesn’t work, the gene pool would still improve.. :)

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2021 years ago

David,

Swimming pool fencing in Darwin was not completely unregulated prior to the Martin government’s intervention. It was simply a local government responsibility. Palmerston Council had for years imposed regulations essentially indistinguishable from the Australian Standards (isolation fencing) that apply in most other parts of Australia. Darwin City Council, on the other hand, had required only secure perimeter fencing (i.e. the pool didn’t need to be separated from the house). The Martin government intervened and imposed the isolation fencing standard universally. There is a partial dispensation for existing pool owners, but they must bring their fences up to the new standard when their property is sold or leased. For rental property owners like us (and Suzy Kruhse) that effectively means we have no choice but to achieve the new standard, however great the expense.

Unlike Suzy, I didn’t initially object to being forced to comply with the new standards. However, the mindless, inflexible, capricious interpretation and enforcement of the rules by inspectors has caused me to become an angry opponent. My letter to the editor deals with only one of our two properties with pools. The litany of “defects” they found at the other property (despite our having complied with everything in the initial inspector’s report) is if anything even more extensive and absurd.

No-one I know is suggesting that swimming pool fencing should be unregulated in Darwin, simply that sensible regulations and commonsense enforcement with a bit of flexibility are badly needed. Unlike “down south”, probably a majority of houses have swimming pools or spas (and the climate makes them an indispensible part of a tolerable lifestyle all year round), so Dave Ricardo is quite wrong in suggesting that all the people being antagonised by the fencing regime are CLP voters anyway. At least at the last election (and for the first time ever) the majority of householders in Darwin’s northern suburbs voted Labor. As things stand at the moment I can’t see it happening again in the forthcoming election (due in 2005).

David Tiley
2021 years ago

Sorry Ken, it’s your thread and I should probably have acknowledged the basic issue, particularly since it involves you so directly. I was reacting to observa who I don’t agree with at all by painting a picture of deregulation. I suppose the serious issue that flows off this for me is that regulation applied by small minded monsters just devalues regulation itself – and I think that is dangerous because I have no philosophical distaste for regulation in itself. We just agree to live by rules in order to reap the benefits of a society.

And the situation for me raises a basic issue of natural justice (besides the whole pettifogging pitifulness of it) which I have seen systemically not understood in arts bureaucracies – when you set up a system, you simply can’t ethically change the goalposts once you have entered into a transaction.

observa
observa
2021 years ago

Like you Ken we all understand the need for pool fence regulations, but can’t help hankering for simpler times (or relative pasts) The truth is that when I was a kid growing up in Darwin, noone but the filthy rich could afford pools. It was the beach or the fenced, patrolled community pool for just about everyone. You couldn’t drown in pools that weren’t there.

The part I can understand is Ken’s general frustration at being given the run around by the inspectors. This is a more general problem in an increasingly sophisticated and rule bound society. How often nowadays, do we laypersons go off half cocked on the basis of some half-truths by a lower ranking public official, only to find some expensive and time consuming rectification is required later. You get the feeling that there are an awful lot of employees who are remiss in their work attitude or just too damn stupid to do their job properly. It is a pleasure to come across a public official who is obviously well informed and helpful. You guard these contacts jealously in the building game, I can assure you. Increasing complexity does drive one to specialise however, as Ken would appreciate with as broad a mandate as Law.

Philippe
Philippe
2021 years ago

Ken,
Have you tried the old way of buying public servants ? A slab of piss in the back of their ute…cheers !

Zipper
2021 years ago

Ken,
I have a tiny little Northlakes unit with a tinier out-door 1-man spa (“half-a-man” spa if you compare my manly bod with said spa) I have a For Sale sign outside and am building up courage to do something about fencing. Please wish me luck.
PS as a driving instructor I have to deal with the vagaries of bureaucracy and my fustration is at peak level – see http://www.drivingnt.com