The Courier: Editorial

Grave error

Fresh Adelaide Hills Councillor Leith Mudge has learned the power of social media the hard way.
Within days of posting online what he probably believed to be a popular opinion, he’s found himself publicly disgraced, leading him to withdraw his rash statements and voluntarily apologise – not only online – but also at a public council meeting.
And his actions could still have further ramifications, if he is found to have breached the Councillor Code of Conduct, which says that Councillors must “act in a reasonable, just, respectful and non-discriminatory way when dealing with people; show respect for others if making comments publicly; and ensure that personal comments … clearly indicate that it is a private view”.
Cr Mudge is entitled to his personal opinions – including whether or not to patronise businesses that also offer services to controversial Senators.
However, it seems that he doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of calling for a public boycott of a local business.
Business owners risk a lot to establish and grow their enterprises.
By encouraging a local boycott Cr Mudge could have harmed not just the owners, but the dozens of local staff they employ as well as other local producers and suppliers.
As Cr Mudge has since acknowledged he should have first approached the business privately, offering it a right of reply before he made his concerns public.
Signing off the public letter as an Adelaide Hills Councillor and posting it on a personal Facebook page that he uses to promote himself as a Councillor further added to the controversy.
It’s dragged the council into the fray and could have been seen as an attempt to use his position to intimidate or influence the business.
To Cr Mudge’s credit, he removed the post fairly promptly after the backlash became obvious and has since issued an apology and encouraged the community to support the Old Mill.
But while his words can be removed from social media, they can’t as easily be removed from public memory.
They are certain to outlive the post and have longer lasting consequences – possibly for the Old Mill – but almost definitely for him.

Driver warning

School holidays have begun and Easter is almost upon us, so many people will take advantage of the public holidays and enjoy a time of relaxation and enjoyment.
But it is also a time to take care on our roads.
As entire families and groups of friends pack up and head away for their holidays, the sheer number of cars on our road network can be overwhelming.
Country roads become utilised by drivers from metropolitan Adelaide who are often not used to the special skills required for long regional commutes.
Road safety should always be in the back of our minds, but extra care must be taken during times of heightened traffic and when using unfamiliar roads.
At total of 36 people have been killed on the State’s roads since the start of the year, while another 123 people have been seriously injured.
This figure amounts to almost half of last year’s total road fatalities.
The story of Holly Scott featured on page one of today’s Courier is a timely reminder of how lives can be irreversibly changed in a split second.
In 2017, the now 23-year-old Mt Barker woman was involved in a life-threatening single-vehicle crash just one street away from her boyfriend’s home near Echunga.
She made a simple over-correction error and slammed into a tree.
She suffered horrific injuries and her distraught family was told she wouldn’t survive.
However, Ms Scott defied all those predictions and is now using her tragic experience to help educate young road users about the potential dangers of driving.
What stands out about Ms Scott’s story is that she is relaying the usually untold impacts of a serious crash.
She is sharing details of her long and strenuous physical and emotional rehabilitation, the injuries that will affect her life forever and the emotional turmoil experienced by her loved ones.
The impacts of Ms Scott’s crash will last a lifetime and she will never fully recover.
Easter and school holidays are times to connect with friends and family and to escape from day-to-day routines, but they are also times for all road users to be cautious.
As the saying goes, it is better late than never.

Modern living

It’s one of the common stories of modern development.
Everyone wants better services and improved infrastructure … unless it’s next door to them. The latest dispute in Cherryville is no exception.
It’s undeniable that the stark metal frame and imposing height of mobile phone towers can be intrusive on natural landscapes.
But, like highways, airplanes and train lines, they have become part of modern life.
In a society that relies so heavily on communication for business, education and even safety, the lack of efficient, reliable connection puts some members of the community at greater risk than those living just minutes away.
Better mobile and internet reception is not just about access to luxury services like music streaming and Netflix.
Living just 20km from Adelaide’s CBD, it’s not unreasonable that Cherryville residents would expect to conduct business from home or call an ambulance in an emergency without having to find a slither of reception for a patchy phone call.
The community’s concern over the aesthetics of their region – which hosts the Heysen Trail – is not without merit.
But the 1200km Heysen Trail already winds its way past three of these towers at Mt Lofty.
Views from the Mt Lofty Summit and the nearby Mt Lofty Botanic Gardens have long been punctuated by the television towers and a 34m tall fire tower.
Yet they remain two of the region’s most popular and picturesque spots.
While opposition to the imposing development is understandable, as time passed the tower would have likely become less obtrusive to residents – just like people living in a flight path or near a main road eventually don’t notice the extra noise.
Anti-tower residents say the tower isn’t guaranteed to significantly improve communication in the valley, with other spots just as viable.
But Telstra says it’s exhausted its options and has backed out all together.
It’s a great shame that some residents may have permanently missed out on an opportunity for better infrastructure and quality of life.
And it’s also a shame that such outcomes may not reflect well when the region seeks future Mobile Black Spot funding.
But what’s even sadder is the way the dispute has divided a community.

Shop thieves

There must be few things more disheartening for a small business owner than arriving at their workplace to find windows smashed and merchandise stolen.
After a spike in attacks on Mt Barker businesses, it’s not unreasonable or surprising that local shop owners want change.
The recent string of break-ins were not isolated events, but brazen attacks occurring over just a couple of weeks – affecting at least five local businesses.
Most business owners have their own alarm systems and the council says it’s working on ways to create an interesting night-time environment and increase night-time activity along the main street – measures that it hopes will improve security in the town centre at night.
But a vibrant main street may not be enough to deter an attack in the early hours of the morning.
Main street business owners face a set of security challenges to which businesses in secured shopping centre complexes are less vulnerable.
While most shopping centres are armed with CCTV, alarm systems and even security guards, many street front shops are left to manage their own security.
If the council wants to preserve the vibrancy and profitability of the town’s business and retail district, perhaps there is more it could do to support those business owners.
This could include installing more lighting and even public security cameras – like those seen in other business districts, such as Rundle Mall.
Mt Barker police have already committed to increasing patrols around the town’s centre but business owners also have a role to play.
There are many cost-effective security options available, including cameras that can help identify and prosecute offenders.
The actions of the perpetrators of the last fortnight’s attacks have had frustrating and – in some cases – devastating effects on local shop owners.
But the spate of break-ins has also created an opportunity for business owners, the police and the council to work together to make the town’s centre a better place.
Law-breakers should be held to account and, with a joint approach, Gawler Street and its surrounds could become a better place to do business.

Aldi in Stirling

Over the more than 150 years since it was founded, Stirling has grown to become one of the most picturesque towns in the Hills – a peaceful village to those who live there and a quaint destination for the thousands of visitors who flock there each year.
Part of Stirling’s appeal certainly comes from its shady streets lined with exotic trees and its manicured gardens that add a splash of color during spring.
But a large contributor to the town’s quaint village atmosphere has also been the preservation of Stirling’s heart – a main street lined with boutique-style stores, cafes and restaurants, free from the commercial pollution of expansive grey parking lots with garish Neon signs and big brand names.
It is to be expected therefore that many residents and visitors would oppose big, new developments in the town – such as the proposed Aldi store – which could threaten the character and aesthetic appeal that make Stirling what it is.
Of course, like most small towns around Australia, Stirling has not been immune to mainstream developments and some of the nation’s – and the world’s – largest chains have already found their way into the heart of the village.
Some of these developments, like the proposed Aldi, were met with strong opposition from the Stirling District Residents Association.
Many of them still went ahead.
But without the fierce advocacy of groups like the association, Stirling could have a very different feel.
Stirling is already home to two major supermarket chains but such is their design and setback from the main street, they offer shoppers the convenience of choice, without detracting from Stirling’s village appeal.
If the proposed Aldi development goes ahead, the challenge for the German supermarket giant will be to hear the concerns of the residents and the residents association and ensure that the development is pursued in a way that is sympathetic to its surrounds and addresses the very real environmental concerns.
Stirling is not just another metropolitan concrete-jungle suburb.
So any new development should not be another city-style painted concrete box with a sea of car parking out the front.

Creeping racism

The mass murder of 50 innocent men, women and children at the hands of a radicalised gunman in two Christchurch mosques last Friday has shocked people to the core.
It is a tragedy which has deeply affected many, both in NZ and in Australia – the home of the alleged perpetrator.
The wider finger pointing has already begun, with white supremacists, neo-Nazi extremists, the media and even political leaders all sharing some of the blame.
While it is believed only one man pulled the trigger, the casual racism that can creep unseen into the minds of ordinary people needs to be identified at a moment like this.
A climate of fear of Muslims has steadily been brewing in Australia.
We have been actively at war with Muslim extremists for the best part of 20 years and the political demonisation of Islam has, for most of that time, been both subtle and sustained.
Labeling people “illegal immigrants” when they are lawfully seeking asylum, or political leaders questioning whether Muslims should be allowed to settle in Australia, or the race card being played at election time are all markers of this demonisation.
While the national condemnation of Federal Senator Fraser Anning’s attack on people of Muslim faith has been swift and severe, many of us fail to see that the angst and division has been steadily and insidiously building under the guise of political debate over “border security” and “population control”.
People such as Senator Anning who peddle hate speech hide behind the right to freedom of speech.
This is disingenuous and should be called out for what it is.
But sometimes the messages from other leaders are subtle enough to trickle through society with the resulting ‘quiet racism’ taking root in all but the most alert of minds.
The result is that people of the targeted ethnicity or faith are marginalised, isolated and made to feel unwelcome.
We have lost the art of respectfully disagreeing with each other and compassion and empathy have been drowned out by the baying cries of the political extremes.
In the wake of this latest tragedy let us all take a moment to reflect and identify what we can change within ourselves to ensure our country remains a rich, multicultural society from which we can all benefit.

Aged care change

The State Government’s decision to consult with Strathalbyn residents about the future of aged care in their town is a positive move.
The sudden closure of the Kalimna aged care hostel was sprung on the community by the former State Labor Government in 2017 and upset a large number of the town’s residents.
Its closure was reasonable – it didn’t meet modern safety standards – but it wasn’t handled with appropriate sensitivity and failed to recognise the huge amount of grass-roots community effort that went into fundraising and establishing the hostel in the first place.
The newly elected Liberals have learned from Labor’s mistake and acknowledge the importance of community consultation in expanding the town’s aged care facility and the future use of the Kalimna hostel.
However, it is vital it does not become community consultation in name only.
Whether or not the Government acts on the data it collects from the public forum and the overall engagement process remains to be seen.
Aged care in Strathalbyn – like the wider region and the rest of Australia – is not an issue with a short-term fix.
With an ageing population and ever-increasing strain on the resources and facilities required to properly care for older residents, the decision to effectively consult with residents is a step in the right direction to ease some of the stresses on this industry.
Allowing those who are going to use these facilities to have their say on what they feel they need to enjoy their remaining years is important.
Ensuring the community is part of the solution will no doubt make for a better outcome, even if some people’s wishes are not adopted.
As people who live in communities like Strathalbyn get older, they want to stay in the places they love.
When Kalimna was closed, its residents were displaced – some were moved into temporary beds at the Strathalbyn hospital, others were forced to relocate to facilities in different parts of the State.
These people want to stay close to their families, friends and familiar environments and this consultation period might help create a blueprint for other communities to ensure older residents are able to enjoy their remaining years in comfort and stability.

Fight for funds

With another Federal election looming, the Mt Barker Council has seen an opportunity to push for community gain and seized it with both hands.
The council’s $54m priority project wish list has been handed to both sitting Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie and her main opponent, Liberal candidate Georgina Downer.
Mayor Ann Ferguson and council staff have also spruiked its contents to Labor Leader Bill Shorten and several members of his Shadow Ministry.
It has seen the advantage of a marginal seat and is using the opportunity to leverage as much as it can for the advantage of the district.
While some might criticise the list and any grants that may follow as classic pre-election pork barreling, it shows careful consideration and planning on the council’s part. Last year’s by-election in Mayo netted $15.5m to aid projects backed by the Mt Barker Council.
Already this year the region has secured $8.6m from the Federal Government for the expansion of Mt Barker hospital’s emergency department, which arguably may not have been delivered had Mayo been a safe seat.
But, in a district where the population is set to grow by more than 20,000 over the next two decades, that kind of money is just the tip of the iceberg.
A $54m request sounds audacious, but the total cost of these six projects alone is a whopping $106m. Many of these projects are big-ticket items that the council could never deliver on its own.
Yet items such as the connector road and sports hub are vital for the long-term connectivity and future wellbeing of both existing residents and the thousands of new people coming into the town.
This list also represents a small fraction of the infrastructure and facilities needed by 2036 to counter Mt Barker’s growing pains.
Federal and State Government support are going to be vital over the next 20 years to deliver major projects for this community.
The council’s fears this week about a looming public education crisis are also a symptom of rapid growth forced on a country community.
While any Federal Government grants the council can secure ahead of this year’s election will likely be welcomed with open arms, it also needs the State Government to step up and help deliver on these projects and many others.

Long Valley Road

The State Government’s commitment to review the safety of Long Valley Road is a welcome decision that is overdue.
The road has long been a point of concern for both the Mt Barker and Alexandrina councils, which have contacted the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure to raise their concerns in recent years.
Increasing traffic volumes, the road’s limited overtaking opportunities, sweeping bends and narrow shoulders, as well as a number of minor intersections with poor visibility, contribute to its dangerous nature.
The cause of the two fatality crashes that occurred along the road over the past three months are still being determined.
However, the senseless loss of life demands action.
It will be interesting to see what the promised review reveals, but statistics alone show there is need for improvement.
Alexandrina Mayor Keith Parkes believes the answer is not a reduced speed limit, but that improvements should include more safe overtaking opportunities, sealing of minor roads approaching Long Valley Road and improved lines of sight at intersecting roads.
Such changes may not have prevented the deaths but they are sensible measures that would improve road safety for all.

Rookie errors

Georgina Downer presenting a giant novelty cheque dripping with Liberal branding to an organisation that is the recipient of a Federal Government grant is just another rookie error by the would-be Member for Mayo.
Coupled with basic mistakes such as using a former Liberal staffer in a Facebook video decrying a Labor Party policy without declaring his background and turning up to an Anzac Day service wearing ‘vote for Georgina’ insignia, it is clear that Ms Downer needs more guidance if she is to win the hearts and minds of local voters.
It must be said that she is doing the old fashioned hard yards in door knocking and going to as many events in the region as possible – and that is to be commended.
But much of that hard work is being undone by simple errors which can develop into an avalanche of negative attitudes that can sweep up undecided voters.
The cheque, approved by the State Liberal Party hierarchy, was an easily avoidable blunder which should have been blindingly obvious to everyone, Ms Downer included.

Border security

Australia’s border control dilemma is a double-edged sword.
It’s easily arguable that keeping refugees locked up indefinitely on isolated islands with limited services is inhumane.
The conditions in Australia’s off-shore detention centers have long drawn criticism, with reports that even children have attempted suicide.
But on the other side of the coin, the Federal Government’s hard-line policy on border control has, in all probability, saved the lives of hundreds of people who could otherwise have perished at sea attempting to reach Australia in leaky boats.
It’s fundamental the Government maintains tight control of our borders and carefully scrutinises the claims of those who seek asylum. The issue of border control divided the nation for many years and was only repaired after the Coalition took a hard line stance to fix the debacle which had developed under Labor, with that party eventually agreeing to prevent maritime arrivals from reaching the mainland.
Now, again, border control seems set to become an election issue. Politics is being played.
Despite the fact that 34 boats have been turned back since 2014, any boat that attempts to enter our waters from now will be heralded by the Government as evidence of “weakened” borders.
In the midst of such political games, it is important to remember that the changes made last week are, on the whole, minor.
The nation’s resolve to keep boat arrivals from ever obtaining permanent residency has not moved.
However, the other edge of the sword is that the new legislation does raise some unanswered questions.
Since the introduction of the Liberal Party’s Sovereign Borders, the nation’s hard-line approach to boat arrivals has shifted ever so slightly – firstly when the Government removed all children from Nauru and Manus, and last week through the medivac Bill.
It could be suggested that this indicates a willingness by some in Parliament to – ever so slowly – compromise the hard-line Sovereign Borders policy.
Parliament made it clear that denying appropriate medical care to off-shore detainees is unacceptable.
That could raise the question, if the boats do start again, will the next step be to extend the medivac legislation to all new arrivals and if so, what comes next?