The Courier: Editorial

Light on dark past

The Adelaide Hills is a beautiful place full of caring, tight-knit communities so it can be difficult to hear about sordid aspects of the past.
The former Salvation Army-run Eden Hills boys home at Wistow was a dark blot on this region’s history.
Even a Supreme Court Justice questioned how such a “horrific place” could operate for such an extended period “virtually under the noses of the community of this State”.
There are probably many reasons but one victim, Graham Rundle, would just like the community to do one thing – give him the courtesy of acknowledging it happened.
He has written a book about his childhood and it is hard reading.
In an interview with The Courier he said he didn’t want Eden Park, now an organic farm, to always be known as a horrible place.
Nor did he want the community of today to take responsibility.
However, he believes the community should never forget. This didn’t happen a centuries ago, this happened within living memory of many residents today.
We should also be wary of falling into the trap of dismissing institutionalised abuse as a relic of the past.
You only have to see this week’s headlines about the SA Government worker charged with sexually abusing preschool children in residential facility to realise that we can never become complacent about protecting our most vulnerable citizens.

Tragedy not a first

The deaths of almost 300 innocent people aboard the Malaysia Airlines flight last week have shocked the world and the situation has the potential to escalate into a full-blown international crisis.
It is only right that the perpetrators of this mass murder be brought to justice.
Our Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reportedly left the Russian President in no doubt as to this nation’s anger towards those responsible and his strong desire that justice be done.
The horror experienced by those unfortunate souls 10,000m in the sky is almost too awful to imagine.
Sadly, this is not the first time a passenger jet has been shot down in error.
In 1988 a US warship in the Persian Gulf mistakenly shot down an Iranian airliner killing 290 innocent civilians.
The US government subsequently paid out millions in compensation to the families of those killed but has never admitted responsibility or apologised for the tragedy.
Just how forceful the US administration becomes at this time will be an interesting side issue.

Persistence pays

Mt Barker is finally about to get a second freeway interchange and it is largely thanks to the dogged persistence of the town’s council.

The Mt Barker Council has for years been tirelessly lobbying both State and Federal governments to support the project.

When doorknocking Ministers and department officials failed to secure any financial commitments it went a step further.

For much of the last decade the council has been quietly working to do everything in its power to make the interchange “shovel ready”.

It bought land on all four corners around the Bald Hills Road tunnel.

It has, stage by stage, upgraded Bald Hills Road itself to prepare it for the anticipated traffic increase.

It worked with the State Government to design concept plans, took them to public consultation and handed the Government the results of that feedback.

Its persistence has paid off with the help of Mayo MP Jamie Briggs, who has also been a resolute campaigner for the project.

The co-operation of the State Government in working with both the council and Federal Government should also be applauded, as should its commonsense decision to include the upgrading of the Old Princes Highway/Bald Hills Road junction as part of the project.

Eyes of the world

The Tour Down Under (TDU) international cycling event has become an institution in SA and for the past 15 years the Hills have played a major part.

The region’s steep and winding roads – interspersed with straight stretches for the sprinters – continue to appeal to race organisers.

Our beautiful bush scenery and quaint villages so close to Adelaide are also an attraction and two key reasons why Stirling hosts a stage finish just about every year.

Next year is no exception with another Stirling finish for Stage 2.

But unlike last year where the region was mainly part of the stage journeys rather than being the main destinations, the Hills is hosting two more finishes at Paracombe (Stage 3) and Mt Barker (Stage 4).

All three events are expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors.

Stage 4 also incorporates the Bupa Challenge for amateur riders which last year attracted 6600 cyclists.

It could be easy to be become complacent about an event that keeps on coming back, but as a community we should embrace and celebrate the fact that the eyes of the world will be focused on the Hills come January 2015.

A tough choice

Mt Barker Councillors faced a difficult decision this week when they elected to raise their rates by an average of 5%.
With increasing Federal and State Government fees and charges and cuts to entitlements, many ratepayers are set to feel the financial pinch and several had pleaded with the council to minimise the burden it would place on their hip pockets.
No doubt they will be disappointed – some bitterly so – with the result that leaves the rate hike for 2014/15 as planned.
As Cr Simon Westwood said, it won’t be a popular decision.
The split in the vote (four voting against the budget, five for it) shows the difficulty the council faced in making the choice, weighing up compassion and concern for its community against the pressures impacting on its bottom line.
But governments, including councils, are elected to make the tough calls to secure the best outcome for their communities.
For several years the Mt Barker Council has minimised its rate rise, and on occasion lowered it at the community’s request.
However, now the council finds itself in an unenviable position.
It cannot ignore the demands placed on it by the State Government’s decision in 2010 to rezone enough land to more than double the town’s population.
As Cr Susan Hamilton points out, it must look to the future: not the next 12 months, but beyond to the next decade.
It will be a time of growing pains as the district struggles to provide the new infrastructure and services required to meet that growth.
But, as Cr Hamilton also pointed out, delaying those projects will not make them any cheaper in future.
Instead, it would arguably place the community at a greater risk of much larger rate increases in coming years.
It is a hard truth but Cr Trevor Corbell is also right when he says that the council is not a “de facto welfare agency”.
It has a very limited budget and a very lengthy list of responsibilities that continues to grow with Federal and State Government cost-shifting.
It cannot ignore those responsibilities simply because the top two tiers of government have made unpalatable choices with far-reaching consequences.
In fact, the council itself is a victim of those decisions, losing $239,000 in road funding.
It has had to make cuts and has chosen to do so in response to community concerns, for example axing $80,000 for the Hoot! Jazz Festival.
No council would enjoy raising rates – least of all in an election year. However, it made the difficult decision not to go into debt to deliver ratepayers a modest saving.

Intersection delay a dereliction of duty

News that work will start on a new Mt Barker freeway interchange has been overshadowed by the revelation that a nearby major intersection may not be fixed at the same time.
The Bald Hills Road/Old Princes Highway T-junction between Mt Barker and Nairne is a dangerous bottleneck at peak times.
It has been the site of numerous crashes, including several serious injury accidents.
Add hundreds more cars from a new interchange, however, and it risks becoming a nightmare for motorists.
The Mt Barker Council understands this and has lobbied the State Government for several years to upgrade the dangerous junction.
It maintains that doing so before the new interchange opens is essential to stop it becoming even more of a risk to community safety.
The council wants a “significant upgrade” now, most likely in the form of a roundabout.
However, the Government has confirmed it has no money allocated for any improvements to the intersection for the 2014/15 financial year.
Instead, it says it is still “considering potential upgrades” at the site, but any project would not be built at the same time as the new interchange.
That is deeply concerning.
It is blindingly obvious that the efficiency of the interchange would be crippled by the T-junction in its current state.
Mixing peak-hour traffic from Mt Barker with that heading to or coming from Adelaide would place enormous pressure on the intersection.
Many motorists using that interchange would be from Nairne and Woodside or further afield, travelling to the city for work.
The evening peak hour in particular would loom as a real nightmare, when many would want to exit the freeway and expect to turn right onto the Old Princes Highway.
Delaying the upgrade of the T-junction until after the interchange is built presents a huge potential risk to drivers’ safety and is  a dereliction of duty on behalf of the State Government.
The Old Princes Highway is a State Government controlled road and any decision to fix the intersection rests with it.
Frustratingly, the Government does recognise the need for work to be done at the site because it included the junction in its transport deed – an agreement it struck with developers whose land was recently rezoned to provide money for major transport infrastructure projects.
The time has come for it to make the project a priority and ensure the work is done before the new interchange opens.

Triple budget hit

The community has been hit by three harsh realities in a row of late – the Federal budget, the State budget and council budgets.
All three tiers of government appear to be giving less and wanting more and it is those on fixed incomes who appear to be bearing the greatest burden.
The story in today’s Courier highlighting Mt Barker pensioner Laurence Gellon’s personal financial situation is a timely example of what the future holds.
Mr Gellon, a retired Commonwealth public servant, estimates he will be more than $1600 a year worse off after the latest belt tightening of authorities.
He will suffer a Federal Government hit of $1100, a State Government hit of almost $400 and a local government hit of $150.
Mr Gellon’s story comes on the heels of an address to a Mt Barker business meeting last week at which Mayo MP Jamie Briggs said his Government’s “unpopular short-term budget” was forced by a massive growth in national debt.
He said Australia had gone from having no debt in the late 2000s to a $667 billion debt today which was attracting an interest bill of $1 billion a month.
Mr Briggs said the nation’s problem had been compounded by the changes to the mining industry which had moved from a construction phase, producing 8-9% of national GDP, to a production phase producing 2% of GDP.
This, he said, had forced the Government to examine Australia’s “entitlement regime”.
He said 13% of Australian households relied entirely on the government for their income which was the basis for the Coalition’s toughening up of the welfare system and implementing the “earn or learn” philosophy for young people.
Mr Briggs described Elizabeth as a “government run entitlement suburb” in which some households had been on welfare for five generations.
“We can’t have people just sitting around not working,” he said.
What he didn’t make clear was that the 13% included aged pensioners – those hundreds of thousands of hard working Australians who had diligently paid their taxes and earned a reasonable retirement.
To regard these people as a problem is unfortunate. These are the people whose blood, sweat and tears paid for the free university education for most MPs.
There is little doubt that times are tough for all businesses and households which must cut their cloth to match their income.
The challenge for government in tough times is to do the same while also spending enough to create stimulus when the business sector cannot.
Let’s hope the tightening is not too severe as to strangle the economy completely.

Rezoning plan

The push to have land rezoned to accommodate a supermarket, specialty shops and possibly a petrol station and other services away from the Strathalbyn town centre has understandably caused concern in the community.

The town’s traders have genuine fears that fragmenting the town’s retail precinct will be bad for existing businesses and the Alexandrina Council Mayor Kym McHugh was left in no doubt as to the mood of the public meeting last Friday.

Of the more than 250 people at the Town Hall only a handful indicated their support for the proposal.

It was a shame there was not better representation at the meeting from both the council and developers. That may be partly due to the haste with which the meeting was arranged in order for it to be held before the June 20 deadline for public submissions to the new Strathalbyn Town Plan.

However, there was no information available from two surveys into the future retail requirements for the growing town and it was clear from the confusion some people had not read the rezoning application or understood the approval process.

The meeting was billed as an opportunity to oppose the plan rather than an opportunity to learn.

Perhaps it was an opportunity lost.

Losing faith

Children learn more than reading and maths at school.

Schools are also a social classroom (or a minefield) and, like a workplace, they are sometimes not very productive environments if there are problems going on at home.

That’s where the national school chaplaincy program steps in.

A good chaplain is someone outside the authority structure who can provide students with a listening ear, sound advice and referrals to specialist services when needed.

The Coalition-inspired program must have proved its worth because the Labor Government kept it in 2011 – but added provisions mandating minimum qualifications and the option for schools to have a secular student welfare worker instead of a faith-based chaplain.

There were sound reasons for introducing those provisions and it is puzzling why the Federal Government would now remove the secular option from a public school system that is very definitely secular.

Under the current system, chaplains cannot prosthelytise their religion in the provision of emotional support.

Therefore, it should make no difference to the Government if the people on the ground delivering its program are faith-based or secular.

End of an era

The decision by State MP Iain Evans to retire marks an end of an era.
With his 21 years as the Member for Davenport preceded by his father Stan’s 25-year stint in the electorate, the two generations have given nearly half a century of political representation to the Hills.
The Evans name has left its mark on many issues and projects in this region and the State.
Both father and son are undeniably proud of that legacy and they should be congratulated for their dedicated service.
Iain Evans should also be congratulated for the manner and timing of his decision.
It takes an honest man to realise that he doesn’t have the energy or enthusiasm for not just another four years in opposition but a further four to eight years of active political service thereafter – if his Party wins office.
Mr Evans said the time had come for new faces to step up and reinvigorate the Liberals.
He’s right. If ever there was a time for fresh blood to step into the harsh arena of politics, it would be now – while the Liberals are in Opposition and trying to climb back into a winning position once again.
It might also be the time for other Liberal stalwarts to consider their future and their commitment to another four, eight, 12 years in politics.
If the energy and political hunger are not there now, chances are they won’t be there for another election.
And if there’s going to be a spate of by-elections, better to have them together with a co-ordinated approach.
Unlike his counterpart Martin Hamilton-Smith, Mr Evans will depart from active Party duty while still holding the respect of his colleagues.
He has also given himself time to build a new career away from the political spotlight.

Skilled service

The Queen’s Birthday honors are a reminder of the diversity of talents hidden from plain view in the Hills.
Among the recipients is council chief executive John Coombe who has given years of service to grass root government issues, former principal Bob Brooksby who has a long list of volunteer service and dancer and teacher Carole Hall-Dunstan who has shared her passion for the performing arts with so many.
Then there is Superintendent Tom Rieniets who was awarded the Australian Police Medal for nearly 50 years of policing, specialising in emergency management.
All these residents have given their community very different skill sets but all have served to the best of their ability.

Town vision vital

It’s not hard to see why the recent proposal to build a 24-hour service station on the main street of Littlehampton has raised the ire of many residents.

If it goes ahead, the development would result in four petrol stations within 1.5km of each other.

This number does seem a bit excessive, especially when you consider that a new freeway interchange is going ahead at Bald Hills Road which will reduce traffic along North Terrace (the main street).

Residents are worried that North Terrace could soon become the Grand Junction Road of the Hills and it’s easy to see why.

Anyone driving through Littlehampton could be forgiven for mistaking the town for the entranceway to Mt Barker.

Unlike many other townships in the Hills, it lacks the distinct village feel that makes living in a small town so special.

In recent years the Mt Barker Council has put a lot of time and effort into planning for the future of Mt Barker, Nairne and, more recently, Macclesfield’s main streets.

But for some reason Littlehampton seems to have fallen behind.

Maybe this proposal has highlighted a need for some forward planning and consultation with the community to devise a clear vision for the future of the town before it is lost altogether.

Pedestrian safety

New crossings on Hahndorf’s Main Street would be a welcome improvement to the busy shopping strip.

For years the town’s residents and traders have argued for changes to make the road safer for pedestrians.

They would like to see heavy vehicles stopped from using the thoroughfare, but the Hahndorf Community Association believes the State Government’s proposed new crossings will go a long way to improving the situation.

With over one million visitors a year, Hahndorf’s Main Street can be a congested and potentially dangerous mix of pedestrians, cars, buses, trucks, motorhomes and caravans.

There are also many school children and elderly nursing home residents who struggle to cross the street to access shops and services.

The two extra crossings, one at each end of the road, will greatly improve their safety.

Slowing the speed limit to 40km/h – a speed drivers can rarely go above anyway due to congestion – will remind motorists to be more aware of their surroundings.

However, these changes are not guaranteed and if they are wanted, the community must speak up now to ensure the Government goes ahead with the changes.

Town square plan

The Mt Barker and District Residents’ Association’s proposal for a town square on privately owned land in Mt Barker’s town centre is extremely ambitious.

Asking a major retailer like Woolworths to gift land to the community is being breathtakingly hopeful.

Expecting a cash-strapped Mt Barker Council or State Government to pay millions to acquire it may also be in the realms of fantasy.

But there is no denying that such a public space is exactly what Mt Barker’s town centre is lacking.

For years it has struggled without a public “heart”.

Historic Gawler Street is a drawcard, but there are few sheltered spaces for people to meet, relax and socialise outside the nearby businesses.

Visit most other regional towns of a similar size and you will find a central public space where children can safely run around, workers can escape the office for lunch and people can gather together for special community events.

While Mt Barker has the well-used and much-loved Keith Stephenson Park, as well as beautiful green spaces along its linear trail, both are too far from the retail hub for most people to use regularly during the day.

As Mt Barker has grown in size its sense of community has diminished and the provision of a central public hub as suggested by the association may help address this social shortcoming.

The site is already one of the most talked about in the town, with high community interest in its future ever since Woolworths proposed its $40m Big W shopping complex.

That development was rejected by the council in 2012 because it didn’t comply with key planning controls.

At the time the council made it clear that it wanted to see a high-quality development that would make the most of the town’s last undeveloped block.

Woolworths is yet to unveil any new plans for the land.

As the owner of the bulk of the block it is well within its rights to build whatever it chooses, subject to planning approvals.

However, it seems to recognise the significance of the site and appears to be open to hearing the community’s ideas.

As the association points out, there is just one chance to “get it right” on that site.

So while the town centre vision may be ambitious, it is worth investigating.

It may be a long and difficult process involving complex negotiations between landowners, the council and Government that may lead nowhere.

But the only real way to guarantee such a proposal falls over is by failing to fight for it in the first place.

Road funding

It’s a common pattern with government budgets that the really nasty bits are strategically leaked to the media beforehand to soften the blow of the main event.
This budget seems to buck that trend, delivering bad news like a bandaid being pulled off slowly.
It could take weeks or even months for the full effects of the cuts to be realised at a State and local level.
One major blow we do know about is the axing of the supplementary local road funding.
Introduced by the Federal Government in 2004, it was meant to give SA a fairer share of Commonwealth funding for council roads.
The State has 11% of the country’s local roads but under the formula received only 5.5% of the grants.
Regional councils in particular were hard hit, having small populations to pay for the upkeep of large networks of roads.
Now the extra money is gone.
Packaged as time-bound grants, the contract for the latest round of supplementary road funding expires at the end of June.
For this region the loss represents about $900,000 across three councils which is a third of their usual grant monies for roads and represents about 1% of their rate incomes.
Losing a third of anticipated income is a significant hit and ultimately it will have to be paid for by residents.
The easiest way to pay for it will be to increase rates.
For pensioners on fixed incomes already facing the prospect of losing a concession of up to $190 per year on their council rates due to the Federal budget cuts, an extra 1% rate hike would not be welcome.
But unlike the Federal budget (and the State budget), ratepayers do have a say on their council budgets.
Councils are required by law to put their annual business plans out for public consultation before adoption.
The budgets are out now with the Adelaide Hills, Mt Barker and Alexandrina councils proposing rate rises of 2.9%, 5% and 5.5% respectively.
If residents don’t want that to turn into 3.9%, 6% and 6.5%, then they need to come up with some constructive ideas for cutting $300,000 worth of ongoing costs.
It might mean selling assets to reduce ongoing depreciation or reducing spending on sport and recreation.
Cutting road maintenance is not the answer, however.
Significant pressure could also be applied to the local Federal member requesting a strenuous representation in Canberra to have the road funding decision reversed.
Either way … the community has the opportunity to respond.
Time will tell if it has the resolve.

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