Swim Smart


  • Labor will ensure all children can learn water safety skills in primary school.
  • Swim Smart will mean more in-term water safety and swimming lessons and catch-up lessons for students that need it.
  • The program will significantly boost the number of students who can swim 50 metres before they leave primary school and contribute to reduced drownings over the long term.

Enjoying the water – whether at the beach, pool, river or dam – is part of Australian life.

But our love of the water can be dangerous. 249 people drowned in Australian waterways in 2017-18, including 56 young Australians under the age of 25. Almost half of all drowning deaths occur in summer.

Around 1 in 5 children leave primary school unable to swim 50 metres – an important water safety benchmark.

Currently, access to school-based swimming lessons is a lottery, with the amount of access students get varying depending on where a child lives, which school they attend and whether their parents can afford private lessons.

Too many Australian children are missing out on the opportunity to properly develop essential water safety and swimming skills.

Labor doesn’t think this is fair.

The lack of a national water safety program for primary school students costs Australia dearly. On top of the tragedy of lost life and injury, drowning costs Australia around $1.47 billion a year.


A Shorten Labor government will put in place a new national Swim Smart program so every Australian child gets the opportunity to learn life-saving water safety and swimming skills before they leave primary school.

From the 2020 school year, this will mean more swimming lessons for primary school students, catch-up lessons for those that need it and more help with the cost of transport and pool entry fees.

The new national program will be based on the Royal Life Saving Australia’s Year Four National Water Safety Standards. This includes the goal that children can swim 50 metres, tread water and know how to respond is they fall into water unexpectedly.

Labor will work with states and territories, Catholic and Independent schools to deliver the program through schools wherever possible. We will also work with local government, swim schools and lifesaving clubs to ensure all students have access.

The program will also provide additional support to children with disability, to ensure they can participate in water safety and learn to swim programs on an equal basis.

Labor’s investment in water safety and swimming will be in addition to existing state government programs.

The policy has been costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office to have a budget cost of $46 million over the forward estimates.