13. Priority Area: Activities

Focus: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples

Why is this an area of focus?

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have a close cultural connection with country (land and water), which includes waterways. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples also experience higher rates of drowning and injury-related mortality and morbidity. Aboriginal children are known to have a higher rate of fatal and non-fatal drowning compared with non-Aboriginal children, and many lack access to swimming and water safety programs.

Concerted effort has been made to address drowning in remote Aboriginal communities. Swimming pools in remote locations and in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities provide an opportunity to improve overall health and social outcomes among people of all ages. Extending the reach of these programs and evaluating their effectiveness is both an opportunity and a key challenge.

Key data (2009/10 to 2018/19)

151 drowning deaths

Average of 15 deaths per year

1.95 deaths/ 100,000 population

Top 3 locations

47% River/creek
13% Swimming pool
11% Lake/dam

Top 3 activities

25% Swimming and recreating
21% Fall
10% Non-aquatic transport/Unknown

Top 3 age groups

17% 0-4 years
11% 45-49 years
10% 20-24 years

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples account for 5% of all drowning deaths but 3% of the Australian population

38% Remote and very remote compared with 10% among non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Key activities 2021-2025


  • Support Aboriginal and Torres Islander-led and community engaged research, including qualitative research
  • Investigate contributing factors to drowning in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of relevant campaigns, programs and services


  • Strengthen availability and sustainability of swimming pools in remote Aboriginal communities
  • Align water safety to health, education and employment policies and programs, including Closing the Gap targets


  • Campaign for improved access to culturally appropriate programs and services
  • Advocate for increased investments in water safety for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • Encourage organisations to develop a Reconciliation Action Plan


  • Establish a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Water Safety Reference Group
  • Reinforce local partnerships with community members and organisations
  • Develop drowning prevention strategies and programs that are led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and supported by the water safety sector


  • Increase accessibility and availability of culturally appropriate water safety, swimming and lifesaving programs
  • Deliver culturally safe and responsive swimming and water safety programs that are co-designed with, and delivered by communities
  • Deliver community education with a focus on adults aged 45+ years, alcohol and
    river safety

Safe environments

  • Advocate for increased access to a range of safe swimming environments
  • Acknowledge and recognise the deep connection Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have with the land and water when planning and implementing strategies and programs


  • Strengthen pathways to education, training and employment across the aquatic workforce Create a more culturally competent and diverse workforce

Creating medium term changes in


Data quality, understanding risk factors, intervention effectiveness and appropriate evaluation strategies


Alignment of water safety and drowning prevention outcomes to broader policies e.g. Closing the Gap targets


Employment in the aquatic workforce, as well as participation in the development and delivery of programs and services


Drowning risk factors and preventive measures


Participation in swimming and water safety programs, and a reduction in risk-taking behaviour

Targets 2030

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in the aquatic workforce is proportional to population

Drowning rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples reduced by 50%