The Courier: Editorial

Heed the warning

The past six months have been marked by one extreme weather system after another, dumping megalitres of water into dams and river systems and occasionally leaving carnage in their wake.
It seems the Hills is not to see any reprieve, with another such system forecast to strike this afternoon, only two weeks after the latest storm resulted in widespread flooding, road closures and damaged infrastructure.
But in an age in which technology is able to give us more warning than ever before about such events, residents and businesses have never been in a better position to help reduce the potential damage by preparing for the coming onslaught.
With a similar weather event fresh in our minds, Hills residents are aware of where the danger spots are when it comes to flooding.
Emergency services have already started preparing for the storm, handing out sandbags and offering advice on how to stay safe and defend properties against rising river levels, exacerbated by already wet soil.
The SES has warned of the dangers associated with some activities, such as attempting to cross floodwaters or approaching fallen powerlines, and it is imperative that their advice is heeded.
Despite the age-old saying ‘it will never happen to me’ often ringing in people’s ears, the reality is, sometimes it does – a fact hundreds of Hills residents and business owners can attest to after the past few weeks.
With CFS and SES volunteers already exhausted after an unrelenting winter, it’s important that the community plays its role in reducing the burden on our emergency crews.
There’s no doubt that, no matter the extent of preparation, these hard-working crews will be well and truly under the pump this week clearing fallen trees and patching damaged roofs.
So as far as possible, let’s heed their advice, take advantage of a fair warning to safeguard our properties against flooding and storm damage, and keep our emergency crews free to deal with the many unforeseeable emergencies that will no doubt arise due to the coming storm.

A test of the DPA

It took the Adelaide Hills Council and its planning team more than a decade to get the Townships and Urban Areas Development Plan Amendment (DPA) to its final hurdle – Ministerial endorsement.
At its heart this DPA aims to bring some consistency to the clunky planning regime inherited from four separate council areas brought together under one banner following the amalgamation almost 20 years ago.
It delivers much needed character guidelines for towns such as Gumeracha and Kersbrook and settlements such as Verdun and Lenswood, and it opens a narrow path for medium density infill development for residents looking to either downsize or enter the housing market.
The large historic properties of Wiaroa, Beechwood and Pirralilla also have appropriate zoning with policy guidelines that hopefully allay community concerns about large scale subdivisions.
However, last week’s council approval almost came unstuck over the question of downsizing in the country living zones in the Stirling district.
Councillor Kirrilee Boyd did her best to introduce a 2000sqm line in the sand for any subdivision, regards of how many planning hoops developers had to jump through beforehand.
Her stance was backed by the council’s own sustainability and biodiversity advisory groups and a petition of 247 residents from the Stirling district who really don’t want any subdivision.
For aesthetic, community, habitat and other environmental reasons these groups want to keep the openness of the large blocks and their vegetation.
The 2000sqm rule didn’t pass but Cr Jan-Claire Wisdom’s amendment to prevent any subdivision if it means the axing of even “one regulated tree” might just protect the Stirling district from losing its ancient gums and historic introduced trees.
The test will be how the DPA, if approved, is interpreted and administered by planning authorities.
The reality is more than 60% of country living blocks are less than 2000sqm.
The current rules have a 4000sqm minimum allotment size in this zone and that hasn’t stopped subdivisions over the years, even in historic policy areas.

Back to the polls

If the Federal Government gets its way, Australians will be heading back to the polls again on February 11.

But this time they don’t get to choose a Government.

This time they get to tell the Government how they feel about making the institution of marriage available to same-sex couples so the Government can then go back to Parliament and do what the people elected them to do in the first place – govern.

That’s the galling aspect of spending $160m on a plebiscite, plus $15m in campaign advertising.

The result changes nothing for the LGBTI community, or those opposed to same-sex marriage, because politicians are not bound by the plebiscite result.

This is not Brexit.

There is no decision reached at the completion of the count.

The plebiscite is a very expensive opinion poll and it’s a timid approach to government.

In an era where the Coalition is trying to convince Australians that they are living beyond their means and government spending needs to be slashed, the returned Turnbull team is sending a message that $175m is a perfectly reasonable sum to simply gauge the mood of the nation towards marriage equality.

It’s not. Nor can Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull argue that he has a mandate for a plebiscite because he won the election.

Given the close result, it’s arguable whether the PM has a clear mandate for any of his campaign platforms.

If the Coalition doesn’t feel it truly knows the will of the people, then a far less expensive option might be to hire a professional company  to do some rigorous polling.

The Parties obviously think these polls are accurate otherwise they wouldn’t take such an interest in their results.

If any polling showed the views of wider Australia was close to 50/50 (or whatever percentage majority is deemed appropriate) and fell within the statical margin of error then perhaps a plebiscite could be considered.

Recent polling indicates a clear majority of the population are in favor of marriage equality. Persisting with a plebiscite seems to be more about political machinations than democracy.

This country has come a long way in recent decades on gay rights issues but it still has a long way to go.

Sink or swim

The future of the Mt Barker Mountain Pool is an important conversation the Hills community must have for the improvement of this region’s general sporting needs.
The ageing pool leaks, is too small to host significant swimming events and is set to cost ratepayers another $300,000 this financial year, adding to an $850,000 loss over the past three years.
The pool has become so dilapidated the town’s council has decided no more money will be spent on major upgrades or even fixing a significant leak.
Throwing good money after bad is not in anyone’s interest.
The question the council must answer is how long can the community support a piece of infrastructure which has no long-term future to the tune of $300,00 per year?
The only solution to the district’s aquatic needs is to build a new pool elsewhere in the town – and the council has already moved down this path.
Over recent months council staff and elected members have spent many hours behind closed doors, discussing where a new pool could go, who would pay for it and how much it would cost.
Further details of these confidential discussions are likely to surface before the end of the year and it will be interesting to see what ripples they create.
The fact is swimming pools are expensive to build and maintain and the council is unlikely to be able to fund a new aquatic facility alone.
It must enter into a partnership and seek significant contributions from State and Federal governments.
This could be a good test for our new Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie to lobby the Federal Government for funds.
State MP Mark Goldsworthy also needs to be publicly proactive as governments question the level of priority a new swimming pool commands compared to other needs such as hospitals, transport and education.
The Hills is renowned for its high number of football ovals, tennis courts, soccer pitches and netball courts but it is clear more sporting facilities will be needed as Mt Barker expands.
As Mt Barker Councillor Carol Bailey put it, the Mountain Pool’s inadequate size is “embarrassing” for a town on track to becoming the second largest city in SA.

Browned off

Complaints about excessive bureaucracy within local government are common.
There are regulations for this and policies for that and even policies about drawing up policies.
They can be maddening for residents who just want to get on with their lives.
However, it should be pointed out that a large number of council regulations actually implement State Government-imposed laws.
The new burning off rules are a case in point.
The EPA Environment Protection (Air Quality) Policy 2016 is a wide ranging document but the sting in its tail for Hills residents is a bureaucratic line on a map that lumps some of the highest bushfire risk areas in the Mt Lofty Ranges into the “metropolitan area”.
It also treats heavily vegetated Country Living residential areas of Stirling as if they have the same environmental profile as the new subdivisions of Mt Barker.
Residents began raising the alarm about the policy late last year during some EPA information sessions because they could see what was coming.
The EPA was quick to hose down concerns, saying the policy would not prevent local government from allowing burning off for bushfire prevention purposes.
The Adelaide Hills Council was of the same opinion (or it was caught napping) because it seemed to believe it could print a general notice in a newspaper outlining the rules and let residents get on with the business of cleaning up their properties, Monday to Saturday, 10am-3pm.
That doesn’t appear to be the case.
Some special exemptions had to be brought in for rural landholders caught up in the “metropolitan” zone and now the council has to take responsibility for assessing permits in townships.
It also has to cough up thousands of dollars for extra green waste days and find extra money to cover staff time to regulate the business of burning off.
In a region where complaints about landholders’ failure to clean up their properties abound and complaints about smoke pollution are rare, residents now have a policy that seems to be less about clean air than it is about ensuring another, unwanted level of accountability for burning.

Vietnam sacrifice

The names of hundreds of young men, and some women, are immortalised on honor boards and war memorials across the Hills.
It was important for communities to acknowledge and remember their own who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Last year Australia marked the centenary of Gallipoli and its first bloodied step as a nation.
Just recently we have looked back on the 100th anniversary of Australia’s involvement in the battles of the Western Front.
Last week the country marked the 50th anniversary of yet another wartime milestone – the Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam.
There wasn’t as much local fanfare but as the Vietnamese Government’s stance against the planned ceremonies at the battle site demonstrated, too much hype can sometimes be unwelcome.
But Long Tan was a moment in Australian history that is worth remembering.
It was a true battle against the odds where 108 soldiers faced overwhelming numbers – anywhere between 1500 and 2500 enemy – and survived thanks to bravery, training and air and artillery support.
A few low key services were held in the Hills and they meant a great deal to the local Vietnam veterans who attended.
Some were regular soldiers but many were national servicemen, young 21-year-olds whose birthdays came up in the tragic lottery of conscription.
Many of those who survived came home with external and internal scars.
Unlike their predecessors from WW1 and WW2, Vietnam veterans returned to a community consumed with anti-war sentiments that rejected what their uniforms represented.
Those attitudes eventually changed and Vietnam veterans are remembered in many Hills memorials.
Another 13 names were unveiled on a new Vietnam veterans plaque at the Macclesfield Anzac Memorial Gardens at the 50th anniversary service last week.
These veterans now have a site where their service is remembered and a place where they and their families can reflect.
Perhaps we should all take time to reflect because as a nation we continue to send new generations to war.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Interchange at last

Monday’s opening of the Bald Hills Road freeway interchange marks an important milestone in the steps towards relieving some of Mt Barker’s growing pains.
The $27m project’s construction unfolded in a little over a year, but the idea has been  mooted for more than two decades.
Since then the Mt Barker district’s population has boomed to 33,000 people – a number which will continue to grow.
The new interchange came together through the collaboration of three major players – the Federal and State governments and the Mt Barker Council.
Each should be acknowledged for their efforts in securing this vital piece of infrastructure although it must be noted that the State Government was much slower than their Federal counterparts to recognise the worth of the project and contribute to its construction.
Thankfully the development is a fully-fledged interchange and not a half-interchange, such as the one at Hahndorf, as was planned in early discussions.
The new travel route will be welcomed by thousands of Hills residents – particularly those who live in Mt Barker, Littlehampton and Nairne – as it is claimed it could cut about 10 minutes off their daily commute to Adelaide.
It is also expected to improve traffic congestion in Mt Barker as motorists will no longer be exposed to the traffic gridlock which regularly plagued the town’s existing freeway interchange.
Nairne residents will no longer have to drive through Totness and Littlehampton which will also help reduce the regular traffic snarls in these areas.
The roundabout at the junction of Old Princes Highway and Bald Hills Road – a notorious blackspot for vehicle accidents – will improve safety by allowing for easy access to Bald Hills Road.
The new interchange will also be an advantage for those travelling east as  Monarto is tipped to become a significant employment hub in coming years.
The addition of major road infrastructure has been ticked off the list, but Mt Barker still has many population hurdles to clear.
Mt Barker and the wider Hills region are still crying out for better sports facilities, public transport and health care.
But the new interchange is the first step towards successfully catering for a town set to become the second largest city in SA behind Adelaide.

Rewrite the rules

The push by the Mt Barker Council to strengthen laws prohibiting the early placement of political election signs is a welcome exercise in the obvious.
The move should be supported by all councils across SA and the relevant bylaws re-written before the next State election in 2018.
If such a simple change is not adopted with enthusiasm then the community must question the effectiveness or motives of the bureaucracy.
The Mt Barker Council chief executive claims the law around the early placement of election signs is completely ineffective in that it requires photographic evidence of the candidate or volunteer putting up the poster.
Given the onerous task of providing such evidence in order to achieve the protection of the bylaw, it is easy to conclude the law is designed to fail.
The early placement of signs before the recent Federal election became an issue when the sitting MP Jamie Briggs refused to take his posters down when asked to do so by the Mt Barker and Adelaide Hills councils after many were put up more than a week before the legislated time.
The Adelaide Hills Council went to the effort and expense of taking them down while the Mt Barker Council did nothing.
It is now investing time and money to rectify the root of problem … a move for which it should be congratulated.
It was not just the Liberal Party which broke the law in the Hills as Greens Senate signs were also put up early, but most were removed when requested by the councils.
It must be noted that the early placement of election signs is not the most pressing issue facing our community but it is important to ensure our lawmakers obey the law.
The community wouldn’t tolerate a politician avoiding a parking fine or a speeding ticket. The law must be applied to everyone equally.
The legal threat by the Liberal Party to the Mt Barker Council in the wake of its pre-election request to remove the signs indicates the value they place in this form of advertising.
All political Parties invest in these signs at considerable expense so it is clear they work. They simply need to follow the rules or suffer the consequences … just like everyone else.

Leading the way

Once again Hills businesses are leading the way when it comes to investing in their own enterprises and their community.
The $4.5m joint venture announced this week by The Hills Cider Company, Ashton Valley Fresh, Mismatch Brewing Co and Adelaide Hills Distillery to set up a brewery, distillery and cellar door near Nairne is the latest of many projects taking advantage of the region’s reputation for fine produce.
It is also the latest Hills project to share in the millions set aside in the State Government’s Regional Development Fund to encourage rural investment.
Past beneficiaries of the fund include B.-d. Farm Paris Creek, Beerenberg in Hahndorf, Sidewood Estate, the Lenswood Cold Store Co-operative Society and Ceravolo Orchards in Ashton.
In today’s edition is a story about how the first stage of Beerenberg’s facility expansion is now finished and the iconic Hahndorf family business is on track to double production over the next five years.
These projects demonstrate a commitment to the region and a vision for value-adding to its agricultural industries.

Off and racing

The Olympic Games are due to start later this week and let’s hope Rio de Janiero can finally produce some good news.
For years there has been little coming out of the host city apart from negative stories.
These tales of woe have only increased in recent months and in the past few weeks have reached a crescendo with reports of sub-standard accommodation, thefts from the Australian team, polluted water in the seas designated for the sailing competition, general lawlessness on the streets and, of course, the debacle surrounding the Russian team’s drug taking history and whether the entire nation should be banned from the Games.
Let’s hope the start of competition will focus people’s minds on the athletes and their extraordinary abilities.
The Games offer people – even those who have only a passing interest in sport – a chance to marvel at these men and women from across the globe who come together in the spirit of goodwill.
For a moment the Games might just cool the heat on simmering international tensions.

Cutting waste

As Alexandrina Council ratepayers adjust to their new fortnightly bin collection, the change is heralding a shift that other homeowners across SA are likely to face in the future.
That council’s decision to adopt the new system, which cuts weekly general waste collection to once every two weeks, is reportedly working well so far.
Its Mayor, Keith Parkes, believes the change will help the region weather the escalating cost of the State Government’s Solid Waste Levy.
That levy now looms large as a significant financial burden for councils all over SA.
For example, the levy hike will cost Adelaide Hills Council ratepayers an extra $100,000 this financial year alone.
By 2019/20 that council faces a waste levy bill of $904,000 a year – an exorbitant amount of money for a local government body to find.
If ratepayers do not want to be left footing a bill that large to dump their rubbish, there must be changes both to how waste is collected and how much refuse is produced.
While it may be a nuisance for some in the Alexandrina district and a headache during the initial adjustment period, the fortnightly service will result in better environmental outcomes for the region as more waste is diverted into recycling or reused around the home and garden.
Already locals are increasingly turning to compost bins, worm farms and kitchen caddies to remove waste from their general rubbish bin.
Other strategies such as minimising the purchase of over-packaged goods may also help cut waste volumes.
But frustratingly for local councils, some incentives to reduce landfill are being hampered because the State Government refuses to release almost $86m of the levy funds it has already collected.
Instead, that money sits idle in State Treasury, propping up the Government’s precious budget surplus.
It means money is unavailable for organisations such as disability employment service Finding Workable Solutions, which wants about $22m to establish five new Salvage and Save depots around the State – a move that would substantially help communities divert waste from landfill.