The Courier: Editorial

Road to reform

When former Police Minister Paul Holloway released his review of the Fire and Emergency Services Act last year he said emergency services in SA were at a cross road.
The MFS, CFS and SES were doing their jobs and doing them well at the grassroots level.
However, he found the board-style corporate structure too top heavy and the sector needed one chief executive to take charge and to streamline administration through one department.
Emergency Services Minister Tony Piccolo is now on a mission to make that happen.
How he gets there could well be a turning point for the CFS and how the volunteer organisation weathers the future.
It could also be a career defining moment for Mr Piccolo who has a perfect opportunity to display his negotiation and leadership skills.
It seems no-one in the CFS has a problem with slashing a top heavy administration or trying to stop duplication of services or making the distribution of resources more equitable.
What they are wary about is another Government cost cutting exercise that proves to be even more expensive to run and leaves brigades being managed at a regional level by career firefighters who do not understand the volunteer culture – a culture driven by service to community not a pay packet or career advancement.
Some fear the reform will end up facilitating a takeover bid by the MFS and the operational structure will be changed to suit bureaucracy rather than adapting to the geography and shared history of different rural areas.
However, some argue that the CFS is already managed by paid firefighters, who just happen to wear a CFS staff uniform, and volunteers’ fears are unfounded.
They say reforms are necessary to make sure volunteers can provide a better service through access to more training and resources, rather than having to fight for what they get as a separate entity.
Change is always difficult and steering a path towards a corporate structure that doesn’t alienate volunteers – CFS and SES – will be a hazardous journey.
Ultimately the Minister needs to make sure that changes at the top do not affect the firefighters at the bottom who volunteer to put their lives at risk every day.

School’s final bell

Today’s front page story about the Mt Torrens Primary School having only seven students is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue next year.

It is less than ideal for students and a poor use of resources to have seven pupils educated for the cost of keeping an entire school staffed and maintained.

Either more enrolments must be found or the school should be either closed or mothballed.

Schools with similar student numbers exist in very isolated communities but it is impossible to justify such a facility in Mt Torrens only a few kilometres from two existing State schools at Birdwood and Lobethal.

Small schools in small communities are always at a risk of disengaging with their communities but there is no suggestion that the current staff are anything but dedicated and respected by the parents.

The current principal was only appointed at the start of this year.

However, sometimes it can only take a clash of personalities – in some cases from years before – for a small school’s population to be decimated if there are a handful of parents willing to relocate their children.

That initial drop can set in train a domino affect resulting in more students leaving a school placing increased pressure on those remaining.

Such declines can also be influenced by factors outside the district such as dynamic educators from nearby schools who attract the interest of parents.

There is clearly a reason why the student population at Mt Torrens has dropped from 80 students six years ago to seven today.

What that is appears to be a mystery.

Sometimes demographics of small communities can change dramatically in a short time but the school’s governing council may find it difficult to attract a significant number of new students in the coming months.

With the recent approval of a 43-lot housing development in the town there may be a number of school-aged children in the community in the next decade.

It may be worth considering mothballing the present site to ascertain the need for the facility in the near future but no doubt the cash-strapped State Government will be eager to see some better value for its educational investment.

Two worlds collide

Residents who live in the Hills, so close to Adelaide, often say they enjoy the best of both worlds, with the beauty of the countryside and the convenience of the city.
Unfortunately, sometimes they are disadvantaged by both worlds.
A good example is communication.
The Hills is a patchwork region of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ when it comes to mail delivery, mobile telephone reception, accessible, affordable internet access and even digital television reception.
Some of that is due to geography but much of it is due to ageing infrastructure and business dynamics which has decided that some communities are just not worth the bother.
Some towns have home mail delivery.
Many more communities do not, which is a problem when post box agencies close down.
Upper Sturt had to find a new home for its post boxes late last year and Summertown lost its postal service early this year with residents’ boxes moving to Uraidla.
Now the Wistow community is facing the same dilemma with its general store closing at the end of the month.
Moves are now afoot to try and shift the boxes to the town hall across the road, under a new contractor.
The Hills can expect more changes to its mail services as Australia Post grapples with finding a viable business model at the same time that a Senate Committee inquiry has called for a review of its community service obligations.
That review could be a concern for communities who do not have access to reliable and affordable internet.
It’s one thing to argue that everyone pays bills online nowadays and it’s another to ensure that people can.
Some residents cannot access the internet at all because providers refuse to upgrade networks where they live or the service they have is so unreliable  it is useless.
Others who have wireless services are on plans that are so restrictive in terms of data and expensive that they end up paying almost $250 a month for something that would cost a similar household in the city only $60.
And in all this it should not be forgotten that there is a significant section of the community still alive and kicking that never grew up with the internet, and has no plans to go online any time soon.

Fire season starts

Trees – planting them or cutting them down – are a constant source of news articles for The Courier.
Hills dwellers love the environment in which they live and are extremely protective of it. Conversely, they are also conscious of the bushfire risk and the need to reduce fuel load.
The two pursuits are not always at odds but sometimes they clash with one resident’s vision of a bush haven being another resident’s nightmare of an inferno waiting to happen.
All of this is set against a reality of declining biodiversity and remnant vegetation in the Mt Lofty Ranges and a significant increase in population from 50 years ago.
So it is timely that the universities of SA and Adelaide have joined forces to do a three-year study exploring the balance between conservation values and bushfire risk.
Their work will focus on community perceptions about how best to manage vegetation in peri-urban areas – where houses meet rural land and bush – both here in the Hills and on the lower Eyre Peninsula.
It is hoped that by talking to both the experts in native vegetation and bushfire management, and the people who choose to live in this environment, recommendations can be made about planning and population management as well as community education and engagement.
Surveys for the study will be sent out to random households in the coming weeks and residents are encouraged to take part.
Hills people are also urged to take heed of Sunday’s warm and extremely windy conditions.
The district only recorded one out of control burn-off compared with the 22 elsewhere in the State but it was one too many.
Now is the time to burn-off but property owners have a responsibility to the rest of the community to make sure they light up in appropriate conditions and that they look at the forecast conditions two and three days ahead to make sure they reduce the risk of flare-ups from embers.
If the weekend is the only time available to burn and the conditions are not right leading into the new week, consider other alternatives.
Leave the pile for another time or take advantage of the free green waste days provided by the Mt Barker and Adelaide Hills councils on Saturday, October 18.

Out of bounds

The euphoria enjoyed by the players and supporters of the Echunga Football Club after Saturday’s grand final win will no doubt be tempered by the realisation that the club could be demoted to the second tier competition next season.
Despite winning the Central Division A-grade flag in the first season since being promoted from Country Division – possibly the first time this has been achieved – the club faces the very real prospect of being relegated to the competition it fought so hard to leave just 12 months ago.
It is understandably a bitter pill to swallow for the club.
The Hills Football League (HFL) rules clearly state the club with the lowest overall success rate must make way for any qualified club which applies to play in the top division, unless another agrees to step down.
The club rankings are achieved by allocating points for wins in all grades during the season – 10 points for an A-grade win, five points for B-grade and senior colts and three points for junior colts.
However, the HFL by-laws do not state if this calculation ceases at the end of the minor round or if it continues into the finals series.
This grey area could be contested by Echunga which could argue that, if applied, Bridgewater should be demoted to make way for Mt Lofty which must be elevated after making the Country Division grand final.
Mt Lofty not only won that grand final but also won the B-grade, senior colts and Under 13 premierships.
Mt Lofty was demoted last year to make way for Echunga but is clearly too good for the lower division.
Another by-law could be changed at a special meeting if enough clubs support Echunga’s desire to stay in the Hills’ premier competition by increasing the number of teams allowed to join (currently 10).
This could be further confused if Nairne-Bremer – the other Country Division grand finalist – applies to move up into the top division.
Either way the administration of the league is no doubt bracing for a battle. Let’s hope it doesn’t descend to lawyers at 20 paces and both the league’s administrators and club delegates can keep the betterment of football for everyone as their primary objective ahead of parochialism.

Cabinet visit

The State Government rolled into town this week bearing gifts and hosting a community forum.
The gifts included $10.4m to improve road safety, $300,000 for equipment at the new medical centre currently under construction next to the Mt Barker hospital and a $10,000 sweetener for sports clubs affected by the Anembo Park fire.
For a Government so utterly strapped for cash and under extreme budget pressure, significant expenditure such as the $10.4m road safety funding was factored into the budget many months ago so the announcements this week were a public relations exercise.
It is a standard political procedure performed by both sides of government.
It is the same thinking used by the early explorers who gave the natives a handful of shiny beads and a few blankets in order to placate them.
The real exercise of this week was supposed to be listening to the community.
But the forum on Sunday night in Mt Barker, which attracted about 250 people, was also largely a public relations exercise.
A wide array of questions – some well thought out, other less so – were a necessary part of the evening.
But a more structured session focusing on the current issues the community is facing – lack of infrastructure, public transport, local jobs and the State Government financial support for the district’s expansion, would have delivered a better outcome.
The problems are well documented and clearly understood by the Government.
Yet despite knowing the issues the Premier delivered nothing of substance … apart from some shiny beads.
The community has heard soothing words before from the State Labor Government.
It promised to listen when it held similar forums in the lead up to rezoning 1300ha around Mt Barker before completely ignoring what it heard.
In a few weeks this weekend will be forgotten, the second promised Country Cabinet box will have been ticked, and the status quo can return.
It was also a shame none of the local Liberal politicians attended the forum. It was a golden opportunity to ask some tough questions.
An opportunity either missed or ignored.
Let’s hope we get more than words in the Premier’s promised response to the issues in 90 days.

No place for racism

Every parent who has had a child who has been bullied would empathise with the anger and helplessness felt by Lisa and Owen Boyce who are featured in today’s page 5 article.
But what many in this predominantly “white” community wouldn’t have to face was the overtly racist nature of the bullying that engulfed the Boyce family.
It was shock for Lisa Boyce who moved her family to the Hills because she wanted her kids to have the country schooling she enjoyed. It was also a shock for Owen Boyce who grew up in multicultural London where his West Indian descent was nothing remarkable.
However, they do not blame the children at the Hills school where the bullying occurred because they believe racism is a learned behavior.
That is why their efforts to become involved in the City to Bay are so inspiring.
Out of their own person “nightmare” they have tried to create something positive to raise awareness that racism exists and needs to be dealt with, while at the same time raising money for beyondblue.

Meet the Premier

It’s a popular pastime to have a whinge about politicians – heaven knows there’s enough material.
Well on Sunday the Hills community can go one better – whinge TO a politician.
The second in a series of country cabinets will see the entire Labor Cabinet gather in Mt Barker to listen to comments and concerns from the community.
However, the tinge of scepticism about the real worth of such gatherings is understandable, especially in this region.
Not too many years ago the Hills community grabbed its chance to have a say directly to the State Labor Government about the massive rezoning proposed for Mt Barker. Despite hundreds of locals taking the time to voice their concerns in a reasoned and articulate manner at specially convened forums, they were completely ignored and the Government did what it had originally intended.
Mr Weatherill and his team have a lot of damage to repair before such a meeting will be seen by many as anything but a stunt forced upon them during hasty negotiations with independent MP Geoff Brock in a bid to hold on to power after the last State election.

Change in the air

There are two articles in today’s Courier that highlight an interesting juxtaposition about how far we’ve come as a society and how far we’ve yet to travel.
One story deals with Bridgewater author Meg Hale and a book she has written about a mothers’ movement fighting to change laws to make it easier for adopted children to find their biological parents and for biological parents to reach out to their adopted children.
Ms Hale was part of that movement and she was also once a teenage unwed mother who gave her daughter up for adoption because she was pressured into it – both by the social norms of the time and by those supposedly looking after her best interests.
Back in late 1960s there was no financial support for single mothers and pregnant unmarried women were essentially told that depriving their children of a two-parent family was incredibly selfish.
Then, having given up their children because they were told it was the right thing to do, many of these women were vilified.
Today most people under the age of 50 would be incredulous about such attitudes towards women – that their unmarried status alone made them unfit to be mothers.
And yet today SA appears to be making another judgment call about mothers, and even fathers, who conceive using donor sperm.
The second Courier story deals with Littlehampton couple Sally Amazon and Elise Duffield who cannot have both their names on their son’s birth certificate because they did not share a household for three years before conceiving using a donor.
This is in contrast with heterosexual couples who conceive using donor sperm but who do not need to be in any prescribed relationship when they access assisted insemination.
It is also in contrast with the laws in other States of Australia where meeting the requirements of a defacto relationship is sufficient to meet laws governing whose names can and cannot go on a birth certificate.
The couple is now fighting to change the law and no doubt in time the inequity of the situation will be addressed by government.
As a society we are constantly evolving and discarding old opinions in favor of what we see as the best way forward.
It’s an interesting ride.

Speed restrictions

At first glance building a northern bypass seems like a logical solution to the sometimes fatal problem of heavy trucks mixing with large volumes of car traffic on a steep and dangerous road.
Hills people have long lobbied for just such an option for rail freight, but without success because the numbers don’t add up – yet.
Adelaide Hills Mayor Bill Spragg says a dual road/rail proposal put up by the Local Government Association should be revisited.
But yesterday the office for Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis said a dual route was not economically viable and the “benefits would not justify the associated costs”.
The Minister’s office said the infrastructure could cost more than $1b and some in the transport industry put the cost at close to $2b.
It would be hard to build a business case for that amount of money, even if the route included a toll road as proposed by the Member for Heysen Isobel Redmond.
The bypass might eventually be built but it will be a long-term solution and in the meantime motorists and heavy vehicle drivers are going to have to work together.
In the aftermath of last week’s shocking tragedy, the State Government had to act, particularly after the Deputy State Coroner made emergency recommendations.
Most interest groups seem to approve of the move to make the 60km/h speed limit apply to all trucks and buses over 4.5 tonnes.
Less support is evident for the new 90km/h speed limit for light vehicles.
Some community leaders have called it an overreaction that will achieve nothing in terms of preventing out of control trucks speeding down the freeway.
The SA Road Transport Association actually lobbied for 80km/h for cars to make it safer for trucks to change lanes to overtake slower, heavier vehicles.
The organisation might have a point.
The freeway has a reputation for aggressive commuter driving which doesn’t mix well with heavy vehicles and a steep descent.
With thousands expected to move into Mt Barker and Murray Bridge in the coming decade, everyone might have to do their bit and slow down.

No easy answer

The thoughts of Hills residents are no doubt with the families of those affected by the fatal crash at the bottom of the freeway on Monday.
Not only is one of the drivers collected in the runaway truck smash a local woman – but most would acknowledge that it is only by good luck that they were not among those waiting at the lights at the intersection of Glen Osmond, Portrush and Cross roads.
So many people in this region use the freeway and that intersection and with thousands more set to build houses in Mt Barker and Murray Bridge, the volume of traffic travelling down that major transport corridor is only going to increase.
If nothing else, this tragedy will galvanise Federal and State authorities into finding ways to make the route and its Toll Gate destination safer.
What those solutions might be is anyone’s guess.
It is a steep gradient and the State Road Safety Minister Tony Piccolo has said that a third arrester bed is not feasible due to the terrain. That project might need to be revisited.
In the wake of the 2010 runaway truck fatality that claimed the life of the man waiting at a bus stop, new road rules now restrict the speed of trucks with five axles or more to 60km/h down the freeway.
Given Monday’s crash involved a small sewage tanker, not a semi-trailer, weight restrictions might be added to the mix.
But that will only chip away at the problem.
There will be some who will insist that curfews for heavy vehicles are the answer.
No doubt that option will be considered, however, it must be remembered that the freeway was built to be a national freight route and we all rely on heavy vehicles to deliver the goods we use in everyday life.
Plus, this crash happened in the middle of the day – not in peak hour.
Cars and trucks have to share the freeway and both groups need to recognise their mutual responsibility towards making that road a safer place.
Commuters need a better attitude and perhaps better education about how to share the road with heavy vehicles.
Truck drivers and, more importantly, transport companies need to make sure their vehicles are safe and that they are driven safely.

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