Children's lives or garden aesthetics? A case study in public health advocacy

Aust J Public Health. 1994 Mar;18(1):25-32. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-6405.1994.tb00190.x.


Following a decade of accumulating clinical reports on child drowning in domestic swimming pools, paediatricians began advocating legislation that would require all pools to be 'isolation' fenced. In 1990, the New South Wales Government introduced and then repeated such legislation following intense lobbying and media advocacy from a group of pool owners. This paper reviews the ways in which isolation fence advocates and opponents framed their public arguments. Five main areas of competing public discourse are identified: why pool drownings occur; the effects of fencing; expert views and community support; the role of the state in prevention; and personalised references to the value systems of those involved in the debate. Two factors seem likely to have contributed most to the overthrow of the legislation: fence opponents inhabiting the same noninterventionist ideological frame of reference as the government; and fence advocates' refusal to compromise on retrospective fencing seems likely to have inspired a commitment in opposition which would have been absent if an incrementalist, prospective fencing policy had been adopted.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Drowning / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • New South Wales
  • Swimming Pools* / legislation & jurisprudence