The Courier: Editorial

Staggering poll

It’s no wonder Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) candidate Rebekha Sharkie expressed surprise at The Weekend Australian’s Newspoll results for the Federal seat of Mayo.
No political hopeful can afford to go into a campaign with a defeatist attitude, but to go from the position of a rank outsider to attracting an estimated 38% of the primary vote is nothing short of staggering.
Ms Sharkie’s support has come at the expense of all other candidates.
The Greens vote has halved to 7%, Labor has dropped from 21% at the last election  to 9% and support for Mr Briggs has fallen from 54% to 42%.
If those results were repeated on polling day it would complete a staggering turnaround in a safe Liberal seat held by a 12.5% margin.
There are 11 days left in the campaign and things are starting to get serious.
The major Parties have released their attack ads and this time everyone has NXT in their sights.
Both Labor and Liberal are clearly worried.
It is interesting to note that what the polls suggest is happening in Mayo is being replicated in other seats across the State.
The safe Liberal seat of Grey is in danger of falling to the NXT and even the people living in the Labor heartland of Port Adelaide are flirting outrageously with an alternative Party.
The political dynamics of Port Adelaide and Grey are different to Mayo but the common denominator appears to be that voters are dissatisfied with the style of politics offered by both major Parties.
Both quite correctly argue that it’s easy for NXT to be a “third Party” when it doesn’t  have to form government or come up with policies on unpopular issues.
They have consistently attacked Senator Xenophon as a “personality cult” with a Party of unknown and potentially maverick candidates, citing Australia’s brief fling with Queensland businessman Clive Palmer as a warning.
Indeed, a valid point.
Voters might not be familiar with all the NXT policies or their candidates but they like what they have seen of Mr Xenophon over many years and he presents as the anti-politician – even though it’s in his DNA.
He occupies the middle ground and the NXT is not too far left or right to be considered much more than a protest vote.

Traffic gridlock

The need for the opening of the new Bald Hills Road freeway interchange at the earliest opportunity becomes glaringly obvious when one is stuck in traffic on Adelaide Road in Mt Barker, usually on a Friday afternoon.
Motorists at that time are often brought to a standstill in both directions as hundreds of drivers try to navigate their way in and out of the town’s limited exits and entrances.
The Courier is aware of numerous anecdotes from the regular traffic snarls which include one driver who spent 25 minutes trying to make the 1.7km journey from Cornerstone College, via Cameron Road, Druids Avenue and Adelaide Road, to the city-bound freeway on-ramp.
In the end it took them less time to reach the city than it did to navigate the traffic in Mt Barker.
Other drivers have told of a complete gridlock on the bridge over the freeway.
Last Friday, on the eve of the long weekend, the traffic congestion again returned as cars crawled bumper-to-bumper along Adelaide Road from about 3.30pm.
Calls by Mt Barker Councillors Lindsay Campbell and Carol Bailey for a redesign of the freeway intersection on Adelaide Road are valid – but only if the new interchange offers no substantial relief when it opens in September.
If the new junction makes little difference, the Mt Barker Council and transport authorities must quickly develop a strategy to free up this precinct – perhaps by creating slip lanes for right-turning drivers.
Until significant improvements are made drivers must keep enduring the traffic frustrations and hope no catastrophic incident – such as a bushfire – unfolds in Mt Barker.
The Adelaide bound on-ramp is the only fast way out of the town and as Cr Campbell put it, “trying to squeeze everything through the one bottle top” is already proving difficult.
The traffic snarls are a result of Mt Barker’s growing pains, which have also put a strain on parking facilities in the town’s CBD.
If Mt Barker’s traffic and parking is bad now, wait until the district hits its predicted population of 52,000.

Centre of attention

Prime Ministers from both sides of politics have visited the Federal seat of Mayo over its 32-year history.
Even Labor leader Julia Gillard snuck into the district a few years ago to take a peek at the defence housing at Inverbrackie before announcing her intention to turn the place into a detention facility.
But The Courier cannot recall a Prime Minister doing any active campaigning in this traditionally safe Liberal stronghold over the previous 12 elections.
Now in the space of five days the region has had a visit from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull offering $3.75m for a much-needed regional sports hub in Mt Barker, and a visit from one of Australia’s most popular former Coalition leaders, John Howard, warning voters about the dangers of flirting with a minor Party and deviating from the two-Party preferred system of government.
Even if the internal polling for sitting member Jamie Briggs is not as dire as his opponents would like, SA Senator Nick Xenophon is right – the Liberals are spooked.
Mr Briggs was re-elected in 2013 with nearly 54% of the primary vote and held the seat with a 12.5% margin.
He shouldn’t be worried.
Other Liberals in more marginal seats have greater cause for concern but Mr Howard chose to spend some very public time in Mayo.
That could be because Mr Briggs was his former adviser and was Mr Howard’s “captain’s pick” for Mayo when former member Alexander Downer resigned in 2008. Mr Howard was certainly at pains yesterday to point out his admiration for Mr Briggs.
However, what is more likely is that Liberal polling shows support for the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) is high enough to be considered a threat.
Mr Xenophon is seen as someone who stuck up for SA when the major Parties showed little conviction in addressing the State’s looming jobs crisis.
With his centralist politics more palatable to traditionally conservative voters, his willingness and ability to negotiate and a perceived level of dissatisfaction with Mr Briggs in the electorate, his NXT candidate Rebekha Sharkie could well secure enough votes to shake up Mayo.
If that means more attention on this region, then bring on marginal status and more visits from PMs – past or present.

Vision for the future

The $113m crowdfunding campaign to secure the last vacant block of land in Mt Barker’s CBD and develop it into a town square is an exciting venture but with many significant hurdles to overcome.
The Mt Barker and District Residents’ Association hopes it can drive enough interest from both local and overseas investors to secure the millions to create what Mt Barker so clearly needs.
But the land’s owner – retail giant Woolworths – has indicated it is yet to determine whether the parcel, bordered by Hutchinson Street and Druids Avenue, will even hit the market, and if it does, what price it will ask.
It’s also possible Woolworths could accept a higher offer from another party with a vision for the square that is different to that of architect Geof Nairn, who hopes to see a boutique hotel, and apartments built on the site.
But the fact that the residents’ association has turned the seed of an idea into action is a strong start.
The company managing the investment scheme – DomaCom – is a reputable investment firm which has already drawn $80m from investors towards the purchase of the Kidman cattle stations in outback Australia.
Hopefully DomaCom’s success will carry on in the heart of Mt Barker.
The Federal, State or local governments are unlikely to solely fund this town square project, leaving crowdfunding as the most promising way of achieving this vision.
But even if the investment scheme fails, Mr Nairn’s town square design has largely done its job … it has generated interest and enthusiasm.
The residents’ association has proven it cares for its town’s ambience and the livelihood and wellbeing of its people.
There is no ulterior motive at play.
And if the doubts come creeping in, one only has to look at Carey Gully’s high profile squatter Iain Herridge who received two last-minute donations to clear nearly $40,000 in outstanding council rates, stalling his possible eviction from an old cottage on Rangeview Road.
While drawing $113m in today’s economic climate is a much tougher assignment, it only takes one willing investor to turn the plans into reality.

New urban plan

A Development Plan Amendment (DPA) that represents more than a decade of work (and rework) has finally been released to the residents of the Adelaide Hills Council.
Called the Townships and Urban Areas DPA, this document reviews all the residential areas in the district in an attempt to make policies more streamlined in a council that faces many challenges and restrictions because of the high bushfire risk and sensitive watershed environment.
It looks at a number of issues but because the council is not allowed to increase its urban boundaries, it only provides mechanisms to provide another 470 building lots beyond the current, “optimal” potential to develop just over 1000 new housing allotments under current planning rules.
It’s a far cry from the State Government-imposed Ministerial DPA for Mt Barker which was pushed through in late 2010 and opened up 1300ha of farmland for housing and industry.
That DPA created the potential to bring at least 25,000 more people to the Mt Barker and Nairne region with some 7000 more homes.
The scale in the Adelaide Hills Council is significantly smaller but elected members might have to do some slick consultation to avoid flack from the various communities within their district.
The council often comes under fire for being slow and difficult to deal with when it comes to planning.
Many of those problems are because of the rules it has to work under (hence the DPA) but sometimes the delays are because local residents are passionate about their patch and they are motivated to fight any change they don’t like.
Here the council is hoping to bring about changes residents do want, and that is the chance to provide for a “diversity of housing” so seniors can downsize to a more manageable dwelling and young people have the opportunity to enter the housing market.
Compared with other councils, the district is woefully short on units and townhouses so residents often have to move away to find accommodation they need or can afford.
This DPA attempts to meet that need within the space available and is worth a read.

Long running issue

It speaks volumes about the effectiveness of an organisation’s communication procedures when politicians have to step in and organise a public meeting in order to bring an issue to a head.
But hopefully Opposition spokesman for emergency services Duncan McFetridge and local Hills MP Mark Goldsworthy can bring about something positive from such a meeting and break the impasse between State Emergency Service (SES)  management and the striking Onkaparinga SES Unit over triaging and response times for trees across minor roads and potential house flooding.
These are issues that have been simmering for years and, despite the finger pointing and the threats against speaking out, the concerns expressed are not isolated to the central Hills.
Allegations of unnecessary delays stretch across the Hills and into the Strathalbyn and Fleurieu region.
SES management says the Onkaparinga unit “just doesn’t get it” and the unit says the same of those in charge.
What the public doesn’t get is why a fallen tree limb can block a lane of a busy feeder road in Stirling, not far from the Stirling CFS, and the first response is to send an SES unit based at Coromandel Valley to clean it up.
Someone has taken their eye off the ball, and if they haven’t, the reasons why have not been adequately articulated by management to the volunteers, or the public.
The public has an expectation that their emergency services will operate effectively.
Volunteers, from all units and services, do their best to meet that expectation – for no financial reward and often in trying conditions.
This internal stand-off at Onkaparinga should not be seen as a slur on the SES volunteers across the State who worked tirelessly during the storm last week.
Nor should it be seen as an issue isolated to a small group of troublemakers.
Many of the 40 plus Onkaparinga volunteers who recently sent a letter outlining their concerns to Emergency Services Minister Peter Malinauskas have 30 to 50 years of experience in the SES.
They think this triaging problem poses a risk to their community and they want it sorted out and that’s not an unreasonable request.

Sign of the times

Local Federal MP Jamie Briggs appears to have a plethora of very bruised and battered election posters clinging drunkenly to Stobie poles across the district.
Some of his posters went up on Saturday night – even before Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the election – but the wild winds of Monday played havoc with many leaving the Member for Mayo looking rather knocked about.
But the dishevelled state of his image appears to be of little concern to the incumbent as he is not taking them down … even though he has been ordered to do so.
The problem is the rules state that election posters can’t be placed on public property until the writs are issued meaning this period of visual vandalism the community must suffer at every election cannot commence before 6pm next Monday.
This rule has not changed from previous elections but it seems Labor, Liberal and the Greens went ahead anyway and volunteers began putting the posters up more than a week early in their desperation to lift the public recognition levels of their candidates.
Dozens of posters extolling the virtues of Greens Senate candidates as well as Mr Briggs were placed around the Hills … until the local councils on Monday ordered their removal within 24 hours.
No Labor, NXT or Greens posters for Mayo have been spotted in the district.
The Greens began removing their Senate signs on Tuesday but Mr Briggs has refused to remove his saying the issue was minor and that the furore would all blow over and be forgotten in a couple of days.
Mr Briggs strengthened his resolve against the request from both the Adelaide Hills and Mt Barker councils by saying there had been a legal precedence set in a case in WA which meant that, even though the law hadn’t changed, the posters could go up as soon as the election was called.
That point is disputed by the Local Government Association and it informed all councils that candidates could be required to remove all the posters.
Other options are for council workers to remove the signs at the council’s own expense or impose a fine and take the offending candidates to court.
Either way the whole things is a shambles and Mr Briggs’ defiant challenge to the rules is an election strategy he should seriously reconsider.

Court short

Back in late 2014 the State’s Chief Justice, Chris Kourakis, claimed up to $7.5m had been cut from the SA courts budget.
The result was a justice system operating with a $90m budget that was no longer “sustainable”, he said.
Besides curtailing the replacement of retiring judicial staff, the Courts Administration Authority (CAA) started dealing with the problem by announcing the closure of the Port Adelaide, Mt Barker, Holden Hill and Tanunda Magistrates Courts.
After a public consultation period Port Adelaide stayed open, Holden Hill was closed and Mt Barker and Tanunda were downgraded to part-time circuit courts using visiting staff.
As a compromise it was better than nothing but with rumors still persisting that the Mt Barker court would eventually close, the district’s legal community began questioning whether the belt tightening was worth it.
CAA documents obtained by local lawyers under freedom of information applications suggests the answer is no.
It seems closing the courthouse entirely would only have realised annual savings of $49,000.
In comparison, closing Port Adelaide would have netted annual savings of $420,000. Changing Mt Barker to a circuit court has only produced annual savings of $5000.
That might only be related to infrastructure costs – which makes sense since you still need staff to do the same workload, just somewhere else – but it is a pittance to be pocketing.
Von Doussas lawyers think so and they have been joined by community leaders in calling on the State Government and the CAA to reverse the circuit court decision.
There’s plenty of arguments in their favor.
Mt Barker is tipped to become the second biggest regional city outside Adelaide.
Already the court has experienced a rise in criminal cases over the last three years, which is no doubt due to a growing population.
At the very least rapidly growing communities need existing social infrastructure to remain, not to be taken away. Making the court a part-time operation has only resulted in insignificant short-term savings at the risk of long-term, significant costs to the community.

SES politics

Back in February 2014 The Courier ran an editorial about a Hills-based unit of State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers being taken “off-line” by management for breaking protocol.
It was a short-term disciplinary action designed to slap the Onkaparinga SES on the wrist for asking the Woodside CFS to check on the status of a Woodside house believed to be under threat from flooding.
The SES unit was already busy dealing with flooding in Lobethal but protocol dictated that if they couldn’t attend the “P2 (priority two)” job, then another SES unit should have been called – not the CFS.
If they were busy, the householder in Woodside would just have to wait because the system allows the SES to “job stack” up to 27 P2 calls.
It should be noted here that there are 66 SES units across SA and 425 CFS stations.
Unfortunately the same system is also applied to trees that have fallen across roads not designated as major traffic routes.
The Onkaparinga SES says the threat to life on “minor” roads is very real and it wants the system fixed because volunteers from both services have the training to remove fallen trees and deal with flooding.
More than two years later the issue hasn’t been resolved and has surfaced again.
A short-term disciplinary action has now escalated into a stand-off between the unit and management and what is essentially a two-year long strike by volunteers.
Now it’s at the stage where the politicking and the accusations of gagging has led to the volunteers asking the SES chief officer to disband the unit in order to trigger a public meeting so they can explain the situation to the community.
Members say they can’t speak out and they’ve left it to their former manager to speak up and to State Liberal MP Duncan McFetridge to raise the issue in Parliament.
It is through Dr McFetridge that we learn that the central Hills isn’t the only area affected by this system because similar issues have surfaced in the Meadows and Strathalbyn region.
Something needs to be done to break this impasse – and sacking a group of volunteers over a demarcation dispute isn’t the answer.
The general public don’t care what color overalls their emergency services wear – and neither should the people pulling the strings at the top.

Act on cat issue

Why are pet cats treated differently to dogs in Australia, particularly in urban areas?
Society doesn’t tolerate dogs barking or wandering at large and yet householders seem to be fine with cats roaming the neighborhood at night.
Perhaps the heart of the problem is the perception of risk to humans.
Dogs can be aggressive whereas cats are more invisible and tend to flee when approached.
But does that make their behavior more acceptable?
According to recent studies, feral cats in Australia eat more than 20 billion – that’s billion, not million – mammals, reptiles, birds and insects a year.
That figure doesn’t include what ‘Fluffy’ the domestic cat and his friends eat every day when they are allowed to do what cats do naturally – be a predator.
Cats will kill when they’re hungry and many  will also kill when they are not hungry.
That fact is easy to ignore when you don’t see it and let Fluffy out the back door at night.
But local couple Charles Hart and Lynn MacFarlane couldn’t ignore the carnage when they inadvertently set up a “killing field” in their backyard in Stirling.
In their bid to enjoy interactions with kookaburras and possums, they also invited cats into their home.
Their solution was trapping, with 55 strays and ferals caught in three years – the highest number of trapped cats by an individual recorded by the RSPCA in recent times.
The couple tried working with neighbors to desex the local domestic population, but it made no difference to the carnage.
That doesn’t mean desexing isn’t essential for cat control, it is.
Dr Hart’s experience re-enforces one of the strong criticisms wildlife advocates have for cat campaigners who prefer to trap, neuter and return feral and stray animals rather than euthanise them.
Experts say defeating the cat problem must include simultaneous dealings with all three layers of the issue – feral, domestic and stray populations.
Domestic cats must be identified, confined and desexed to reduce them replenishing the stray  population – the interface between owned cats and feral cats – while stray and feral cats need to be removed at every opportunity.