The Courier: Editorial

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.

Club in the rough

Mt Barker-Hahndorf Golf Club president Greg Simon says there is no problem with the financial state of his organisation, but his denial is in stark contrast to the view of some members who believe the club could be insolvent within a matter of months.
Former treasurer Steven Carroll told The Courier the club had lost up to $150,000 in the past 12 months due to a rise in administration costs and a drop in memberships.
His resignation over what he says was a lack of action by the committee to tackle the problem, has led the Mt Barker Council to take over the reporting of its finances.
No matter where the truth lies, it is a bad look for the club.
The fact remains the club has also been unable to reduce a mortgage of $484,000, despite receiving funds and members when it merged with the former Hahndorf Golf Club in 2007.
A careful look over the club’s books by the council is the logical step but running a complex enterprise such as a golf club is not its core responsibility.
A number of other councils run golf clubs, but it’s better for both members and the wider rate-paying community if local government remains at arm’s length.
Mr Carroll believes the club’s financial woes lay not on the fairways but under the clubhouse roof, highlighted by an alarming increase in administration costs.
The whole scenario leaves members nervous and it is little wonder they are taking their money elsewhere and choosing to invest in other clubs … or leaving the sport completely.
Something must be done before the situation compounds further and the organisation becomes insolvent.
The club’s management committee needs to be brutally honest about its financial state before the community risks losing a recreational gem for future generations to enjoy.
Professional advice must be sought.
The club has flagged the possibility of saving money by realigning the course so that its main entrance is via the proposed sporting development on Springs Road.
But that council-built sports hub is more than a decade away and, if the former club treasurer is to be believed, the organisation  only has months left before it is well and truly bunkered.

Petrol power

The news that Agostino Always AM/PM has planning approval to build a petrol station on the old Shell site in Stirling’s main street means something can finally be done with a high profile location that has become an eyesore in the past five years.
Not that businessman Frank Agostino could do much about the delay after he bought the site more than four years ago.
He had to wait on Shell to finish its rehabilitation work and then he had to go through the planning process – first with the Adelaide Hills Council and then the State Government.
It’s been a long haul and while Mr Agostino might be pleased his battle with bureaucracy is finally approaching the end, others in the community are not so pleased about the process itself.
It is galling that yet another service station proposal has been “called in” by the State Government as a major project of “economic significance”, bypassing the assessment of the independent planning authorities of local councils.
A single petrol station is not a project of significant economic importance to SA.
However, a staggering number of them have been called in by the State Co-ordinator-General and then passed by the Development Assessment Commission (DAC).
A fuel business was inevitable at this site and its existing use rights have always been acknowledged by planning authorities, and a neighbor.
What has been in question is the design and operation of the larger, modern development, which is not the same as the old petrol station.
The reasons why the council’s Development Assessment Panel deferred the original application twice and then knocked it back was not because it was a “service station” but because members wanted the applicant to tweak the design to better fit the development plan and get a better result for the community.
The applicants made some concessions  before heading to the State Government and the DAC for the result they wanted.
This all goes to show that the development plan in itself is not sufficient protection for community interests.
But get used to it because the way Planning Minister John Rau is streamlining the planning process, community input will be further eroded.

Youth jobless

The news that the Hills might have a spike in youth unemployment seems to be lost on the region’s two Mayors.
Adelaide Hills Mayor Bill Spragg doesn’t seem to think the jump from 9.3% to 16.2% in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) region of Adelaide Central and Hills applies to his council which has the second lowest overall unemployment rate for the nine councils in the area at 4.3%.
Mt Barker Mayor Ann Ferguson is also mystified by the figures, although with her district recording the second highest general unemployment rate of 8% and with a 9.4% unemployment rate in the Mt Barker township, it could be argued that her area would be affected.
So where is the problem? There obviously is one because the youth rate has jumped 75% in one year after remaining steady around the 10% mark or less for two years.
Adelaide Central and Hills has now made the top 20 hot spots for high youth unemployment in Australia, ranked just below the northern suburbs on 16.3%.
It would be too easy to point to eastern Adelaide and say the bulk of the 40,500 youth working population live there – so therefore the problem lies there.
However, if the Hills is being dragged down by youth unemployment in the more wealthy suburbs of Burnside, Unley, Prospect and Walkerville  – where generally more young people pursue tertiary education – then SA has a serious problem.
Anecdotal evidence from youth employment workers at the coalface of the issue suggests there is a growing youth unemployment problem in the Mt Barker district.
Perhaps that is just the fall-out from a growing population, but it needs to be explored.
Interestingly the ABS region with the highest youth unemployment in SA is not the northern suburbs but the Barossa-Yorke-Mid North with 19.4%.
It is worth noting that many of the highest areas in the nation are centred around areas traditionally associated with the mining industry – northern and central Queensland and the Hunter Valley in NSW.
Which makes the sudden and dramatic spike in the Adelaide Central and Hills region even more perplexing.
Rather than dismiss the 16.2% statistic as a blip that doesn’t apply to them, local leaders need to find out if a problem exists and, if it does, do something about it.

Sporting chance

The $28m sports hub proposed for Springs Road in Mt Barker is a concept needed by this growing community.

Plans for two football ovals, four soccer pitches, eight netball and six tennis courts as well as a 350-seat function centre will have a positive impact on this rapidly growing district and play a vital role in improving the lives of young participants.

It is often said that sport is the glue which binds country communities together and it develops a sense of place and a feeling of wellbeing like few other activities.

Sadly there are no ovals in the district which meet the requirements for AFL games or SA National Football League (SANFL) matches.

The Mt Barker football oval degenerates into a quagmire most winters and the neighboring recreation centre leaks during wet weather and swelters in the heat.

It’s fair to say that football and basketball – two of the most popular spectator and participation sports in Australia – are poorly serviced in Mt Barker.

But the cost of the proposed sports hub means it is years away from becoming a reality and is well beyond the reach of the  Mt Barker Council alone.

Without the input of both State and Federal governments as well as major stakeholders including the AFL and the  SANFL, the dream will never become a reality.

However, the council is keeping all the important players ‘in the loop’ during the initial stages in what appears to be a planned and co-ordinated strategy.

The council move this week to support St Francis de Sales College’s $7.5m indoor sports centre is another indicator that the council recognises its limitations and is prepared to enter partnerships to achieve a community benefit.

It would be impossible for the council to build four basketball courts for less than the $1.1m it will contribute to the Catholic school’s project.

The yet-to-be negotiated joint-use agreement between the council and the college must ensure the facility is open to the public at all times to allow the wider district’s basketball players to finally have a secure and comfortable playing arena.

Sport is a national obsession and further increasing its prominence at a grass roots level will do nothing but good for our community.

A deep divide

Australia might be a vast country but the roll-out of the NBN is showing just how deep the divide is between “urban” and “rural”.
When the Coalition won government and promised a cheaper but equally good infrastructure network to provide access to superfast fibre broadband, it would be fair to say that all except the most tech savvy probably shrugged their shoulders and agreed.
Most accept that it isn’t in the economic best interests of ratepayers to lay fibre to isolated and remote areas and most people understood the perfectly reasonable solution to supply these citizens with an improved internet service by using either satellite or wireless technology.
Sure this was slower and probably more expensive for the end user but it was an understandable compromise – after all, you can’t expect every city convenience living on a cattle station.
However, now we’re finding that the boundaries of what constitutes a “remote” area are surprising.
Communities in the Hills that are labelled “metropolitan” for the purposes of a whole range of government taxes, such as car registration and landfill levies, are now considered so geographically remote they will only receive satellite internet.
But the scale of the problem in the Hills is difficult to gauge.
NBN Co. can tell us exactly how many premises have received fibre to the node (FTTN) or are scheduled to get FTTN in three council districts but can’t say how many premises either didn’t receive the upgrade or won’t.
In fact the total number of premises the business entity is potentially dealing with is also too difficult to supply.
Given the level of planning that would have to go into this roll-out, that seems surprising.
And if the guaranteed “basic” level of service across technologies – FTTN, fixed wireless and satellite – is perfectly adequate, then there doesn’t seem much point in being coy about who is getting what.
The suspicion is that it won’t be a level playing field and many Hills people – most  who live outside town boundaries and who in all likelihood will not receive FTTN – will have to pay significantly more for an inferior service than will be enjoyed by their near neighbors.
There is a real danger of a “cattle station” divide emerging in this region – just a few kilometres from the GPO.

Are we remote?

Hills dwellers are not strangers to the vagaries of technology – thanks to the terrain we find so beautiful.
Many residents have tales of having to stand out on the verandah in the cold in order to make mobile phone calls.
Then there are those Cudlee Creek residents who live 15 minutes from Tea Tree Plaza but can’t watch the local news because they were relegated to a satellite service at the digital television switch over.
But this region might discover just how off the grid some of its population might be when the NBN Co finishes rolling out the national superfast broadband infrastructure program.
The difference between the “haves” (fibre to the node) and the “have a fraction of what’s available” (wireless or satellite) might be the difference of only 100m, depending on where your home is located in this region.
That might not seem so important now but in the future, when reliable access to superfast broadband is considered the norm and the copper wire system is obsolete, residents might find themselves severely disadvantaged.
If you lived in Andamooka in remote SA, you might be more willing to accept that you can only have access to satellite.
But if you live at Piccadilly like Stephen Birrell, and you did your homework before you moved your international business into the Hills, you wouldn’t be happy to learn that fibre to the node is too difficult, contrary to initial advice.
Mr Birrell has the means to buy the technology he needs to make his business work, or he can move his company to the US.
His argument is that access to the NBN is being paid for by taxpayers as a basic infrastructure service but a disproportionately high number of taxpayers will receive a significantly slower and more expensive mode of broadband delivery based on geography.
It’s why he and his neighbors have started the action group Gully Road Digital Divide to effect change in the NBN roll-out.
Whether the group brings about change in Mayo in an election year remains to be seen.
The cost and complexity of fixed services are prohibitive in some areas but if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants Australia to be the country of innovation, perhaps the criteria need to be revisited or at least debated by the community.

Sharkie attack

Last month Rebekha Sharkie, the Nick Xenophon Team candidate for the Federal electorate of Mayo, was invited to give a speech at a meeting of the Food Producers and Landowners Action Group (FLAG), whose members hail from the Hills and Fleurieu.
According to her detractors, there was nothing offensive about her speech.
The problem was accepting an invitation from a group they have described as an extreme “fringe nationalist” organisation and a fan base for controversial political figure Pauline Hanson, the leader of One Nation and a regular guest speaker at FLAG functions.
Appearing to be overly supportive of FLAG leader Peter Manuel and appreciative of a warm reception were also her crimes because her visit was secretly recorded and became the subject of an article in The Australian.
Ms Sharkie was accused of “courting the Pauline Hanson” vote in a media release issued by SA Liberal heavyweight, Senator Simon Birmingham.
Labor and the Greens didn’t miss the opportunity to stick the boot in as well.
It begs the question. What is wrong with courting the vote of people who have different views on some issues.
If you’re a first time candidate of a new political party it’s in your best interest to knock on every door and personally reach out to as many people as possible.
Your message has no chance to resonate with the broader community if you only ever speak to a set of people with liked-minded views.
Of course there is a danger of tweaking the message to suit the audience, which seems to be one of the allegations levelled at Ms Sharkie, and the Xenophon Team in general.
Political opponents talk about a “personality cult” and a Party of potential loose cannons, and hint at a lack of clarity about the Party’s policy platform.
But Nick Xenophon is not Clive Palmer.
His brand is backed by two decades of sound performance and voters like what they see.
So perhaps that is the nub of the “smear campaign” against Ms Sharkie.
Voters across SA, including those in the safe seat of Mayo, are possibly looking at the Xenophon Team with genuine interest and the horses have been spooked.

Heysen heritage

The move to preserve the Hahndorf legacy of Australia’s most notable landscape artist, Sir Hans Heysen, will ensure his home The Cedars is preserved for future generations to enjoy.
The property and gracious homestead sits largely untouched since Sir Hans’ death in 1968, allowing art and history enthusiasts to relish in moments frozen in time.
The Cedars’ owners – four Heysen grandchildren – have recognised that the future of Sir Hans’ legacy is under threat as time rolls on.
Transferring the property to the Hans Heysen Foundation will ensure it remains safe and opens opportunities for further enhancements – such as a proposed new cultural centre.
The home and its contents, a 1913 stone studio and art collection are worth a combined $7.5m and that is why the appointment of legendary entertainer Barry Humphries as campaign president is an excellent move.
Aside from his beloved alter egos, Mr Humphries is also an avid art collector and his support of the proposal will generate international recognition.
Australia’s consul-general in New York, Nick Minchin, has also been called on to rally support as has Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer.
The Heysen family must be commended for their generosity in donating more than $2m to the foundation and putting their grandfather’s legacy ahead of their own wealth.
It’s fair to say The Cedars has been largely underutilised and not fully appreciated for its cultural worth and tourism potential.
Perhaps it’s the location – away from the bustling tourist strip of the main street – which makes The Cedars a hidden gem only relatively few experience.
No place like The Cedars exists in SA and its planned revamp is based on similar ventures in Europe which offer visitors the chance to tour the homes and studios of artists such as Monet, Renoir and Rodin.
Visitors to Sir Hans’ 1913 stone studio can stand on the exact floor rug the artist stood on to paint or enjoy a short stroll through the paddocks and stand at the same locations from where he painted some of his most famous landscapes.
The Cedars is dripping in culture and tourism potential. As long as the property is not turned into a Disneyland, it should be a boon for the district.