The Courier: Editorial

Crowds down

It is clear to regular racegoers that the crowd at Oakbank’s Easter Racing Carnival on Monday was well down on previous years.
While officials say it is too early to know the accurate figures, SA police estimate 24,000 patrons attended the event – well down on last year’s 43,000 and a massive drop on the 60,000 which regularly attended the same meeting a few years ago.
The club, which reported a loss of $180,000 last financial year, will again be under financial pressure this year as revenue falls and costs increase.
To that end the club is considering racing on Good Friday and Easter Sunday to join a nationwide trend to avoid racing on Monday public holidays.
Just why people stay away from Monday race meetings is unclear.
The anti-jumps racing lobby say it is a public backlash against animal cruelty, but that doesn’t explain why other Monday meetings across the nation which don’t program jumps races are suffering while the Saturday Oakbank meeting – which contains both a hurdle and steeplechase event – continues to be popular.
It is worth remembering Oakbank is by far the most well attended race meeting in SA.

Crowds up

Crowds might be declining at the Oakbank Easter Racing Carnival but they continue to grow at Anzac Day dawn services.
With the 100th anniversary of the Anzac landings at Gallipoli being celebrated next year, it doesn’t appear that the interest in Australia’s military history and our desire to pay our respects to our servicemen and women will wane any time soon.
What is changing is the mix of people attending the services.
Once the domain of the returned serviceman, Anzac Day has truly become a day of remembrance for their descendants.
This is a cultural change that must give heart to RSL clubs.
It is a change that is also helped by the growth of the internet and the depth of historical resources relatives now have access to through organisations such as the Australian War Memorial.
In The Courier this week we tell the story of one family who had no idea their uncle was a decorated war hero until they accessed his records online.
His was a generation that didn’t talk about the war so no-one knew he had won a Military Medal for his efforts on the Western Front.
There are probably many untold stories from this time.
Hopefully the centenary will shine a spotlight on this period of history.

In the fast lane

The statistics from the latest speed camera operation in the region are alarming, although not surprising.
The operation, undertaken between December 14 and March 31, showed 3% of car drivers detected were exceeding the speed limit as were almost 9% of motorcycle riders.
The latter figure is concerning.
The overwhelming majority of Saturday morning riders who stream up into the Hills from the city do not do so to admire the scenery … they do it to get their thrills.
The attractiveness of the Hills for bike riders is obvious. Hundreds of kilometres of twisting roads with relatively few other vehicles makes this region a Mecca for motorbike riders.
And, as many riders will tell you, it is not dangerous to exceed an 80km/h speed limit on most roads in the region.
The trouble is, it is the law.
Nobody would argue that it is only a fool who would ride at 160km/h in an 80km/h zone, as happened last weekend.
But not all bike riders are idiots.
There are more fools on our roads in cars. And not only do they speed – they eat, drink, text, talk on the phone, smoke, put on makeup, clean their teeth …

Long weekend

With the Easter break looming and another long weekend for Anzac Day the week after, many Hills dwellers are heading away for a short holiday.
But while some may be leaving the district, many more will be heading into the Hills to enjoy the many events and attractions the region has to offer.
Just looking through the pages of this week’s Courier reveals some of the vibrancy of the area.
More than 80,000 people are expected to head to Oakbank for the historic picnic racing carnival held over Saturday and Monday.
Hundreds are also expected at The Cedars in Hahndorf to see some of the world’s best sculptors chiselling away at the Adelaide Hills International Sculpture Symposium.
Meadows will also be buzzing with its popular Easter fair, Hahndorf’s Main Street will be packed and many visitors will be enjoying the Amy Gillett Bikeway, the wildlife parks, the walking trails and our wineries, restaurants and cafes.
With the leaves on our signature deciduous trees now turning, this is one of best times of year to enjoy the beauty of this special part of SA.
Consider spending your time and money locally this Easter … it’s a sound investment in all our futures.

Gravity Festival

Standing on Vernon Street in Macclesfield on Sunday afternoon it was easy to see why the town’s Gravity Festival had become such a success in just two years.

It’s a festival of go-karts and bikes which brings local families and the wider community together and encourages participation.

Not just participation on the day but in weeks of planning by parents and their children in the design and building of bikes and go carts in backyard sheds across the district.

That’s why it was such a tragedy when one go-kart driver lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a crowd of spectators at the bottom of the track.

With two young boys airlifted to hospital and three other people injured, the organisers made the right decision to bring the event to an early close.

The conditions of the victims are unknown at this stage but hopefully their injuries are not too severe and they enjoy a speedy recovery.

The accident was an tragic end to a great weekend of racing.

Hopefully some good comes from it and it leads to the development of a foolproof safety plan – something that is needed to keep the festival running into the future.

It is already a hugely successful event and has the potential to continue growing.

The inaugural event last year was staged over one day but still drew over 2000 spectators to the small town.

The 2013 race was run on the same Vernon Street track but was designed slightly differently.

Metal safety barriers lined the sides of the track past the finish line and right down to the end where the vehicles stopped.

This year the bottom of the course was extended to give the drivers a greater distance to slow down after each race.

However, there was a small section of track after the finish line where only plastic cones and bunting separated spectators from the carts as they slowed to a stop.

Unfortunately this is where the accident took place.

Every new event has teething problems, but this was a serious safety shortfall that needs to be addressed.

The community has already begun to rally around the event organisers on the festival’s official Facebook page.

Residents and participants have expressed their sympathies for those injured, along with their hope that the accident does not result in the event’s demise.

The Gravity Festival drew fathers, sons and families out of their lounge rooms and back into their sheds … just like the old days.

It’s good for the town and the wider Hills community and hopefully it has a bright  future.

Art set in stone

When Balhannah artist Silvio Apponyi started lobbying in 2011 for funding for a biennial international sculpture symposium in the Hills, there were some in the community scratching their heads over what this event was all about and why the region should support it.

But Mr Apponyi, himself an internationally recognised sculptor, was very familiar with the symposium movement and its many cultural and economic benefits.

The symposium movement began in Europe in the late 1950s as a way of encouraging dialogue and building personal relationships between members of the international sculpture community at a time when that part of the world was in the grip of Cold War tensions.

The first symposium involved sculptors from around the world working together to create a permanent public artwork.

It was an act of creative unity and as the movement has evolved it has continued to unite sculptors and the communities in which they work.

That was certainly the case with the inaugural Adelaide Hills International Sculpture Symposium in 2012.

Once the first eight stone sculptures were commissioned by residents and business groups for Mt Barker, Hahndorf, Macclesfield, Balhannah, Lobethal and Stirling, the excitement built up to the three-week event in April.

More than 12,000 people visited The Cedars at Hahndorf to see the sculptors working on the massive stone monuments.

Once the sculptures were installed they inspired plenty of debate and attracted so many visitors that local councils were able to successfully lobby for government funds to develop the infrastructure for an Adelaide Hills Sculpture Trail.

Eight more sculptures will be added to that trail this year, widening the reach to include Langhorne Creek, Meadows, Mt Compass and Mt Torrens.

Another eight will be commissioned for the final symposium in 2016.

If the community and artist interest in this year’s event is anything to go by, there will be fierce competition for the final pieces.

Organisers have already had 50 expressions of interest from sculptors for 2016.

It’s no surprise why the event is so popular.

The sculptures are monumental and the physicality of carving the massive slabs of stone is fascinating to watch.

What communities end up with is also intriguing and extremely public.

Unlike a painting in a gallery, these sculptures are part of the public landscape.

Children crawl all over them and residents drive by them every day. Love them or loathe them they do leave an enduring cultural legacy for the region.

Election result

The election that was widely predicted to deliver the State a Liberal government on March 15 is finally over.
Premier Jay Weatherill has won a bizarre election thanks to independent MP Geoff Brock who has chosen to controversially return Labor to power.
The whole scenario with fellow independent Bob Such, who also held the balance of power with Mr Brock before falling ill prior to casting his vote, proves that truth is often stranger than fiction.
The cries of derision have been long and loud from the Liberals since it became apparent they would struggle to win enough seats to form government despite receiving almost 53% of the two Party preferred votes.
But the system is not about winning the majority of votes … it’s about winning the majority of seats.
There may well be an argument to further review the State electoral system but Liberal Leader Steven Marshall clearly believed the election was in the bag and predicted he would win 27 seats and comfortably form government.
That confidence may have resulted in the Party not concentrating on winning the many marginal seats and instead redirecting valuable resources into contests they were never going to win – such as spending a reported $400,000 in Fisher in a failed attempt to defeat former Liberal Dr Such.
The name of the game is about winning seats, not settling old scores.
The argument that the system didn’t deliver what the people of SA wanted because the Party which won the most votes wasn’t elected, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when you consider the ALP was defending 11 seats with a margin of less than 5%.
The Liberals, by comparison, had more  safe seats held by a margin of over 20% which clearly delivered them a greater percentage of the total votes.
Subsequent statements that the new Weatherill Government is illegitimate from senior Federal MP Christopher Pyne smack of hypocrisy as does Mr Marshall’s statement that Mr Weatherill doesn’t have a “mandate to govern”.
He does. It’s called 24 seats.
If there are shortcomings in the electoral system then the Liberals need to invest time and energy into identifying them and ensuring they are changed.
They can now target the independent MPs who hold traditionally conservative seats.
The democratic system we all value so highly occasionally gifts a great deal of power into the hands of a few – as it has in this election and as it did in the 2010 Federal election.
That’s democracy. It’s the best system we have even though sometimes it appears undemocratic.  It could be worse – just look at Egypt … or Ukraine … or North Korea.

Voting changes

There’s a reason South Australians refer to March as “Mad March”.
Between arts festivals, car races, music events and major sporting contests there’s hardly a day when something isn’t happening somewhere in Adelaide.
Add an election into the mix and the State’s political parties should consider themselves lucky that most people remembered to vote on Saturday, and in the days leading up to polling day.
People are busy and they’re not always home in their electorate on a Saturday.
The evidence of that is revealed in the huge number of votes still uncounted in this election.
On Tuesday morning the Electoral Commission SA had more than 350,000 ballots to work through from a total of just over 1.14 million.
It means about a third of the eligible voters in the State chose to vote before the election or had to lodge an absentee vote in another electorate.
That’s an increase from about 100,000 outstanding votes at the last election in 2010 and about 66,000 outstanding votes in the 2006 election.
This time around, given the tight result, it is the major parties who are paying the price for this growing trend.
They now have to wait a week to find out who might have the numbers to form a government.
If they want to do something about it, rather than tweaking the fairness clause in the redistribution process (as loudly called for by the Liberals), the new batch of politicians should give serious thought to changing the vote counting protocols and the whole vote taking system.
About 80,000 people chose to vote in person at pre-polling booths in the two weeks before the election. There’s no logistical reason why they couldn’t be sorted and distributed to the appropriate electorates to be counted on election day.
That still leaves about 180,000 absentee votes, lodged in other electorates, which can’t be dealt with on election day under the current system.
Perhaps now is the time to seriously consider electronic voting.
Surely with today’s technology it should be possible to overcome security problems and other issues.
Doing away with paper and the current manual counting system would make it much easier to vote, quicker to count and cheaper for taxpayers.
Under this arrangement it wouldn’t matter if you were working, playing sport, running children around the countryside or sitting in a fishing boat completely ignoring the world, South Australians could have their say and governments could quickly get on with the role of governing.

Winds of change

Saturday is election day and the polls appear to point to a change of government in SA. It is predicted that the Tasmanian election on the same day will also remove a sitting Labor Government and install a conservative administration.
If that happens, all State governments will be Liberal and Prime Minister Tony Abbott will have like minded thinkers across the country. So will this be good?
A national symmetry may have some benefit to the nation in that State Premiers are unlikely to rock the boat or delay decisions to score political points – as has happened previously on both sides of the political divide.
It was not so many years ago that Labor had a grip on all State and Federal governments so it is interesting to observe such a strong change across the nation.
But the polls suggest the Mike Rann/Jay Weatherill Labor era is about to end.
That shouldn’t surprise as it is unusual for a third term government to be re-elected.
Unless there is a Joh Bjelke-Petersen gerrymander or the leader is a superior political operator, such as Tom Playford or John Howard, most governments wither on the vine after two terms.
Such a trend is perplexing but the theory of community over-familiarisation with leaders may hold a lot of weight as does a born-to-rule mentality that can come with constant re-election.
That is why the Labor experiment to hand over the reins from Mr Rann to Mr Weatherill in 2011 was a sound tactical decision.
Yet despite the worthwhile intention it has gone all wrong.
The most recent fiasco was when Labor Minister Michael O’Brien attempted to ease Federal powerbroker Don Farrell into his safe seat in a direct threat to Mr Weatherill’s leadership. The infighting boiled over into the public gaze.
Mr O’Brien’s offer for a mate to step into his seat was that of a man too long in power.
The community he was meant to serve was not his master. He could not think beyond the internal factional workings and everything else came second.
The same can be said for former Minister Pat Conlon taking a part-time job with a law firm 12 months ago. A complete lack of respect for his leader, his Party and the community. So perhaps it is not surprising the people are looking for a change.
It would just be nice to see the local politicians in safe seats – Mark Goldsworthy and Isobel Redmond – taking a higher profile. They have huge support yet are rarely seen centre stage.
Mrs Redmond has dropped off the radar since she resigned as Liberal leader a little over 12 months ago and Mr Goldsworthy must make better use of his huge majority and lead from the front.

Tree trimming

Landholders having concerns about tree trimmers contracted by SA Power Networks, as outlined in today’s Courier, is a common issue.
The problem is a complex one that requires a man in a high viz vest to cut a careful line between bushfire safety and the intense personal attachment people have for their environment … with a chainsaw.
It is a task which, judging by the complaints received at this newspaper, borders on impossible to get right all the time.
One size does not fit all.
There are legitimate fire safety rules to be adhered to but the job also requires an understanding of the environment as well as an ability to negotiate and communicate.
Some species of trees will never grow to a height to be a problem under powerlines yet they are often trimmed as though they will. Others are trimmed too regularly.
It must also be remembered that all but the roadside trees are owned by landholders and they have a right to expect their trees be treated with respect.

Let sanity prevail

As an arduous, expensive, deadly and ultimately unsuccessful war in Afghanistan draws to a close, another looms on the horizon.
The events on Ukraine have dominated our news bulletins for weeks but the escalation of the conflict over the past few days appears to have placed everyone on a war footing.
This is an extremely volatile situation made worse by the apparent aggressor being a world superpower.
The last time a similar situation occurred was in Iraq and, despite the flawed but noble intentions which drove that invasion, the conflict still rages and claims thousands of innocent lives each year even though the US and its allies have long since retreated.
It seems we humans learn little from our past.
But perhaps it is not the little people … maybe its those who wield absolute power who are slow to learn.
It was clearly the citizens of Kiev who drove the overthrow of their President but in doing so they have poked a very aggressive neighboring tiger.
It is a beast they are incapable of taming without help from Europe and the US.
Let’s hope sanity prevails.
It is interesting to note that all this latest sabre rattling comes just two weeks after the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi during which the Russians were at pains to portray a vastly different image of themselves to the world.

Volunteer review

The contribution of SA’s emergency services volunteers is priceless.
We certainly couldn’t afford to pay this small army of people who are willing to help their community – at all hours of the day and night and in all weather.
So it is disturbing to hear that a group of Hills State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers was prevented from helping its community earlier this month, simply because members called in the assistance of the CFS.
The Onkaparinga SES unit is unique in SA.
There are other units who share facilities, equipment and members with the CFS but this unit is the only one whose manager is also in charge of the Onkaparinga CFS Group and the vast majority of volunteers are members of both organisations.
This gives them access to information about jobs and the ability (if not the authority) to quickly call in the closest and most appropriate resource.
On Friday, February 14, when the State experienced record rainfall, the Onkaparinga SES was already helping householders in Lobethal who were inundated with stormwater when the unit received a call from a Woodside resident under threat of flooding.
Under the current protocol, the call was classified as a priority two and Onkaparinga should have “stacked” the job and handed the task onto another SES unit such Mt Barker, Sturt or elsewhere in the city.
The problem was everyone was extremely busy and the waiting list was huge.
Onkaparinga in its wisdom thought it would be a good idea to ask the Woodside CFS – which was nearby and had volunteers available – to assess the severity of the situation and to offer what help it could.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the correct protocol and it was taken “off-line” in the call centre, with the unit no longer made available for any priority two jobs.
The end result was residents in the Woodside district were told they would have a “five to six hour” wait for flood help while a local unit stood idle in the shed.
Ask the households who called for help what they thought of the situation and they will tell you that they would have been grateful for any assistance, and they wouldn’t care what type of truck turned up and what color overalls the volunteers were wearing.
Ask the landholder who called up to report a fallen tree across Tiers Road at Lenswood, and then waited for hours for someone to turn up, and he’ll tell you that he ended up calling the local CFS captain at home to get something done.
Systems and protocols exist for a reason but when they fail the people they are supposed to serve, they need to be reviewed.

Second interchange

Regardless of who wins the State Election next month, Mt Barker is finally going to have a second freeway interchange at Bald Hills Road.
That is welcome news for a rapidly growing community already starting to feel the strain at the Adelaide Road interchange.
What is disappointing is that this long awaited infrastructure announcement has been overshadowed by the threat of losing $8m for this project.
Don’t be under any illusions.
Whether it is the Liberals’ $27m election announcement or Labor’s $35m proposal, both projects are well short of the original budget of $47m estimated for the interchange.
While the Mt Barker Council admits the costings might be over-estimated, both sides of politics think it would be ambitious to build on and off ramps in both directions to Adelaide and Murray Bridge.
The reality is the community will probably end up with the Hahndorf-style interchange that only handles traffic to and from Adelaide.
This is why this week’s stoush over whether the Federal Government has promised more money to Labor than the SA Liberals is important because the community will be in no mood to find out it has missed out on $8m simply to avoid political embarrassment.
It would appear that the Liberals ended up with egg on their faces after making their big announcement about the interchange on Monday. They promised $8m plus the Federal Government election pledge of $16m and $3m from the council.
Then yesterday the State Government announced a $35m project for the Bald Hills Road interchange and upgrades to the Adelaide Road interchange.
That was based on the $16m Federal election pledge, $3m from the council and a successful request to reallocate $16m (shared Federal and State funding) approved last year for a different freeway project to install electronic signage.
Local Federal MP Jamie Briggs, the assistant to the Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss, says a letter from his boss has been misinterpreted and there has only ever been $16m set aside for the interchange.
But that is a difficult pill to swallow when the letter states that “I … agree to the reallocation of $8m Australian Government funding previously committed from the (freeway) project to the Bald Hills Road interchange and to upgrade the Adelaide Road interchange.”
The initial $16m promise was not conditional on using money already allocated for other freeway projects.
The Federal arm of Government should offer the same deal to both sides of politics.

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