The Courier: Editorial

Councillor conduct

Findings that Mt Barker deputy Mayor Samantha Jones breached a Councillor Code of Conduct shows that elected members must tread extremely carefully when dealing with disputes with members of the public.
In an internal council email from November 10 last year, Cr Jones claimed that Mt Barker man Brian Calvert – a man she had never met – was one of three people she believed had followed her to her home in a car.
Mr Calvert had been in disputes with Cr Jones over other council matters in the past via Facebook, but authorities deemed the action of Cr Jones to name him as a suspect, despite collecting no evidence to support the claim, was ‘reckless’.
Mr Calvert denies any wrongdoing.
Cr Jones told the investigation that the alleged incident had left her flustered and worried and that she hadn’t thought to take any photos or note the vehicle’s registration number.
After a lengthy and no-doubt costly Local Government Association investigation, Cr Jones was found to have breached a Code of Conduct by making a baseless claim.
Cr Jones wrote the email never intending it to be made public, but it is naive in the extreme to believe that a message to around 20 people would remain private.
Every person has a right to their own beliefs and opinions, but no individual should make unsubstantiated claims about another – particularly involving claims of criminal activity.
The legal cost of the complaint will likely be borne by the council, meaning the community will fork out thousands of dollars to cover lawyers’ bills.
It would not be unreasonable to request Cr Jones apologise not just to Mr Calvert, but to the community for the unnecessary expenditure her ill-considered actions caused.
This should be a lesson to all elected members.
Online engagement between residents and councillors can be constructive and should be encouraged, but it clearly can also lead to dangerous territory.
Perhaps the situation is an example of the relevance of an old adage entirely appropriate in this digital world – don’t write anything about anyone you wouldn’t say to their face.

Bus backflip

It is hardly surprising the State Government decided to kill off its “once-in-a-generation” bus network reforms given the severity of public backlash.
The changes would have seen about 1000 general-use bus stops removed or used only as school stops, and dozens of routes cut or restructured – including axing Nairne’s only direct link to the Adelaide CBD.
The proposals were met with public outrage and led several Liberal MPs – including Kavel’s Dan Cregan – to stand with their communities rather than meekly going along with the restructure.
Having no doubt spent a tremendous amount of money, time and resources developing the reforms, the ensuing backlash and prompt dismissal of those plans created instant embarrassment for the Government.
However, it was at least astute enough to realise the potential longer term fallout and respond swiftly.
For it to completely drop the sweeping changes just two weeks into a six-week public consultation period, it clearly saw that pushing the reforms through would have led to increased community disapproval and likely future turmoil within the Party itself.
Governments are sometimes forced to make decisions that are deeply unpopular and it is remarkable that Premier Steven Marshall came to the conclusion just a few days after the initial announcement that these much-vaunted improvements to the public transport system were not worth the political pain.
Let’s hope the Government has not lost its courage to strive for future reforms to improve the public transport system.
If there is any good to come from the debacle it must be that the Government learns how to better communicate its vision.
Transport Minister Stephan Knoll must wear much of the responsibility for this failure as his less-than-honest sales pitch treated the public as fools.
Saying people were not interested in the bigger picture of the proposed changes and were only interested in what was happening to the bus stop at the end of their street, is arrogant in the extreme.
His attempt to mislead people into thinking only 500 stops would be affected when the reality was about 1000 not only allowed mistrust to fester in the community, it gave the Opposition a free hit for two weeks.
Intelligent, honest and humble politicians are what the community wants.
Mr Marshall needs to ensure the Member for Schubert works on his skillset.

People’s politician

Finally the Hills has a backbencher with a backbone.
Dan Cregan, whose electorate of Kavel covers Mt Barker, Hahndorf, Nairne, Carey Gully, Oakbank, Woodside and Charleston, has proven himself a politician prepared to put his people ahead of his Party.
How utterly refreshing.
For the second time in his short career Mr Cregan has made himself a nuisance to Premier Steven Marshall by standing up to the Liberal Party machine in an effort to get a better outcome for his electorate.
Early in his career Mr Cregan twice crossed the floor of Parliament with three Liberal colleagues to vote against the Liberal Party over changes to mining legislation.
The newly-minted MP showed he was prepared to do what was right rather than simply toeing the Party line. The Liberal Party, he said, was turning its back on a clear promise made during the 2018 election campaign and he was not prepared to join the bulk of his colleagues, preferring to take the moral high road and vote the way he believed was correct, not convenient.
This week he has again ruffled a few Liberal feathers by telling his colleague – Transport Minister Stephan Knoll – in no uncertain terms to keep his hands off any changes to a direct bus route from Nairne to the city.
The proposed changes to bus services will see 500 bus stops closed and a number of routes cancelled or merged.
Mr Cregan is not against reforming the public transport network but he has heard the concerns of his constituents about the need to retain the direct service from Nairne to Adelaide and is unashamedly representing the community.
Such fierce community-driven representation shouldn’t be that unusual in the corridors of power but sadly, in this day and age of cookie-cutter politicians, it is.
This is exactly the sort of representation all people – not just the voters of Kavel – desire, and Mr Cregan has shown himself to be his electorate’s representative on North Terrace, not North Terrace’s representative in his electorate.
Being branded a renegade by the power brokers within the Party could put him on the outer when future Cabinet positions are being considered, but one suspects Mr Cregan’s actions have cemented the support of the people who really count – the voters of Kavel.

Time for change

Australians have embraced the Black Lives Matter upheaval which has spread around the world with gusto.
Rallies across the nation over the past two weeks attracted thousands of supporters at a time when it was deemed too dangerous to gather in large numbers and senior politicians, health officials and civic leaders were warning people to stay at home.
The Australian gatherings were largely peaceful when compared with the looting and violence of the US and UK protests, and the opportunity to develop the debate in Australia towards achieving a more equal future may have arrived.
Time will tell.
Perhaps Covid-19 has tempered feelings a little but there has been no tearing down of statues or overtly outrageous behavior.
There has not been a clash between the extremes of the debate which perhaps indicates a level of maturity on both sides.
There is little doubt that change will come and, while today’s society is far from perfect, one only has to look back a few years to see how far we have grown as a community.
There is much to do, but changing the direction of a national psyche is not as simple as a three-point turn.
Australians now openly acknowledge the wrongs of the past and mainstream society is now much more open with how our children are educated.
Most people acknowledge those wrongs cannot be corrected.
Tearing down a statue of Captain Cook won’t change a thing. Putting up monuments celebrating the remarkable Aboriginal culture that was so ignorantly ignored by past generations may well be the way forward.
We cannot rewrite history and the only thing we can change is the future.
And yet at the same time as most Australians agree that Aboriginal culture needs to be afforded greater respect, mining companies in WA are openly destroying sites of international significance.
That is an outrage that should stir the passions of all people – black and white.
To knowingly blow up a site with an estimated 46,000 years of continuous human habitation in order to make money is just another example of how little some Australians respect Aboriginal culture.

Fire future

Bushfires like those which raged across the East Coast, the Hills and KI over summer serve as a stark reminder of the perils of a changing climate.
The impact of global warming on sea levels is a danger long forecast by climate scientists, while its solution has been long debated by politicians.
But while the almost unnoticeable annual sea level rises won’t effect the majority of Australians – at least in the near future – it is becoming clearer that climate change will inevitably leave it’s distinguishable mark on many other parts of the continent.
In Australia it is regions like the Hills – with high populations dispersed among large swathes of natural Australian bush – that are most likely to be affected.
Leading fire fighters across the nation are already warning of evolving fire behavior which is only expected to worsen as Australian summers become longer, drier and hotter.
December’s Cudlee Creek fire and KI’s devastating Ravine fire were the worst SA had seen in more than 30 years, resulting in a devastating loss of property, bushland and life.
With insurance companies warning that increasing fire danger will threaten the viability of the industry, it is a grim reality that some insurers will simply walk away from high risk areas, leaving once protected homeowners exposed.
The natural Australian environment offers some of the nation’s most beautiful living areas and not surprisingly home buyers flock to these locations.
But for too long we have been on the back foot when it comes to fire safety.
Summer’s fires drove home the escalating risk through the devastation felt by thousands of home owners who, in a matter of hours and sometimes minutes, found themselves without a roof over their heads.
In some cases they were also without means of rebuilding because they had no insurance or were under-insured.
The writing is on the wall and Australia must take a proactive position if we are to adapt to this new reality.
All levels of government must put plans in place to reduce the impact of this growing risk before it’s too late.
Here is yet another example of how Australia and the world needs to treat the issue of climate change seriously.

Council rate rise

The Mt Barker Council’s move to increase its rates below CPI is a positive announcement in what seems to be a sea of bad news.
The move to provide financial relief to residents because of the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic will surely be welcomed by the locals doing it tough in these uncertain times.
Mt Barker’s rates are generally higher than many other metropolitan council areas, mostly due to large scale infrastructure which must be built to service its rapidly growing community.
These projects – such as the regional sports hub and a range of road, community, stormwater and wastewater infrastructure upgrades – are vital to service what is tipped to become SA’s second largest city.
But if the council can pass on a rate increase below CPI and still deliver a $1.2m surplus – while retaining services and continuing those projects – then it is only sensible to provide that relief, at least in the short term.
Furthermore, the removal of a dedicated annual 1% rate increase above CPI for financial stability suggests the council is confident about its future and believes it can still deliver these projects without further dipping into the ratepayers’ pockets.
There is often a disconnect between ordinary people and different levels of government, but it appears the third tier of government is aware of the community’s hardships and is responding with appropriate care and compassion.

Community spirit

In times of crisis we see what communities are made of.
For the small, tight-knit and sociable area of Wistow, not being able to hold its regular get-togethers has been detrimental to community spirit.
But, rather than let it die, its community association decided to fire up an oven and deliver free pizzas across the region.
While it might not sound like much –and while it certainly isn’t the only show of goodwill in these recent times – it is heartening to see that people’s response to adversity is to care for one another.
How nice is it to live in an area where neighbors really are neighbors and are proud of their community?

Silver lining

There are few other places in this Covid-riddled world you would rather be than Australia.
One only has to look at the devastating impact this disease is having in similar countries such as the US and UK to understand that this is the lucky country.
And, there are few other places within Australia you’d rather be than here in SA.
Decisive and relatively timely action by the Federal Government has meant this country has largely been spared the horrors felt by other nations.
Apart from a few exceptions, the national Government has locked down the country and instigated an appropriate testing regime.
The resulting economic impact has been largely well supported through JobKeeper and JobSeeker programs (there will always be some who fall through the cracks) although the impact on the nation’s important tourism industry looks like it will be savage.
With SA recording just one Covid-19 case in the past month the State Government is looking to lift restrictions … a much more delicate and difficult task than imposing them.
There is no doubt the clampdowns – including restricting the State borders – have been successful in halting the spread of this virus and the time has come for a cautious easing of these draconian measures.
Pubs, cafes and restaurants are now open with some restrictions. Businesses such as cinemas, gyms, beauty salons and others can soon start trading, but we must all be aware that social distancing rules continue to apply and a spike in cases will mean a return to tighter controls.
It is vital the State Government does not open our borders too soon. To let the genie out of the bottle by allowing an influx of people from the Eastern States would be a huge step backwards and a waste of the hardship experienced by all South Australians to get where we are today.
A positive impact people can have in SA is to support local businesses … particularly regional tourism operators.
So if your circumstances allow, treat yourself to an SA holiday.
This forced travel restriction might just show locals how much this State has to offer and encourage a greater exploration of this wonderful part of the world.

Regional needs

Infrastructure SA’s inclusion of the Hills’ public transport woes among the State’s priority projects is a positive signal that the matter is likely to gain traction.
With a ballooning population that’s showing no signs of slowing, ensuring that infrastructure keeps up is essential.
Public transport has been flagged as a key concern by the Mt Barker Council, whose chief executive fears the region could become a less attractive place to live if solutions are not found and traffic pressure increases along the freeway as the population grows.
But transport is not the only gaping infrastructure need flagged for the region in recent times.
The Adelaide Hills Council has repeatedly highlighted the failure of mobile phone infrastructure during December’s horror bushfire. During the disaster internet and mobile connection were vital tools used by on-the-ground emergency services and by members of the public who were trying to stay safe.
But in many cases they failed.
That issue has been raised as part of the Federal Government’s Royal Commission and it’s vital that both levels of government take note of the cries of disaster prone communities and those feeling the growing pains of mass development.
Infrastructure SA’s 20-year strategy is a valuable planning tool for the State Government and it is important that its recommendations, such as the transport study, are made priorities so that vital projects reach shovel-ready stage as soon as possible.
Likewise, addressing other infrastructure needs, such as telecommunication infrastructure in the high fire danger region of the Hills, needs to be a priority for the Federal Government.
Like the outcome of the Infrastructure SA strategy, it’s pleasing to see that the Federal Government is looking at ways to make remaining mobile black spots, especially those in disaster prone areas, more attractive to telecommunication companies.
It’s good to see that the Federal Government has recognised the issues with the latest round of the Mobile Black Spot program and taken action to rectify them.
But in both circumstances and at both levels of Government the real proof will be in the results – if and how soon we see vital infrastructure needs met.

Bushfire support

There are few places in the developed world that have faced the kind of back-to-back disasters that Australia has over the past six months.
Summer’s bushfires made headlines around the country and the world as some of most devastating and widespread the country had seen in decades.
But as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded across the globe, the nation’s focus shifted, leaving people who were still struggling with the fire’s life-changing impact feeling forgotten.
In many cases that feeling was exacerbated by difficulty accessing Government support, with many fire victims still struggling to comprehend what is available to them and how to access it, all the while feeling the economic heat of the coronavirus and watching the taxpayer bill for the pandemic soar to unheard of heights.
The Government has a responsibility to administer taxpayer funds appropriately, with priority given to those most in need.
A natural consequence of that is that checks and balances must be done and the reality is that they are not always straightforward.
But with businesses now facing the added devastation of coronavirus, timely support and straightforward access to grants could be the difference between survival and closure.
Simple, easy to access relief is paramount and business owners and fire victims must be able to have the confidence that the support promised will be provided … when it’s needed most.
It’s imperative that all levels of Government work together to find the most straightforward, user-friendly way to distribute funds to bushfire victims in a timely way.
All governments have their hands well and truly full at the moment dealing with the coronavirus.
But getting the bushfire response right is not only vital for the recovery of our communities, but could also act as a template for future disasters, placing our country in much better stead to respond when the inevitable occurs.
Bushfires and other natural disasters are a devastating but unavoidable part of Australian life and the better equipped we are to deal with them, and the quicker that response is in the aftermath, the stronger we’ll be as a nation.

Accident anger

News this week of a third serious accident at a notorious intersection in Birdwood has understandably left locals shaken and upset.
For years they have warned authorities of the dangers at the intersection between Lucky Hit, Martin Hill and Warren roads, but to little avail.
Those warnings escalated in March when a two-month old boy died after he was involved in an accident there and again less than two weeks later when emergency services were called to another crash at the same junction.
The community’s call for action has also been backed by the Adelaide Hills Council and Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie.
The State Transport Minister has said that the site will be considered for black spot funding in the future.
The intersection has also been previously reviewed by the Transport Department, which has found that the existing set up, including give way signs at Lucky Hit and Martin Hill roads, is appropriate.
But while it may be appropriate on paper, recent history demonstrates that it is not appropriate in reality.
One life has already been lost to the junction this year, followed by at least three more accidents, two of them serious enough to warrant emergency crews and one serious enough to involve the medivac helicopter.
To add insult to injury, the latest accident involved one of the very volunteers who has undoubtedly spent many hours at the site in the past cleaning up other people’s accidents.
Changes to the intersection, including realigning Lucky Hit and Martin Hill roads to create a dogleg – forcing traffic on the minor roads to stop – is one solution that could be considered.
But locals are not expecting a major overhaul – they would be happy even just with stop signs and flashing warning signs, like those at the intersection of Pfeiffer, Riverview and Nairne roads in Woodside.
It’s true that the Government must follow consistent processes rather than changing roads at the whim of communities.
But after more than a dozen accidents there in less than seven years, including a fatality, it should be clear to anyone that action needs to be taken.