The Courier: Editorial

Cut to speed limit

It’s no wonder the residents campaigning to drop the speed limit through the centre of Bridgewater from 60km/h to 50km/h are puzzled by the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure’s (DPTI) decision to maintain the status quo.
Bridgewater would have be one of the few towns in the region that doesn’t have a 50km/h zone.
It doesn’t mean that just because everywhere else has one, Bridgewater should.
Based on a purely technical survey, DPTI found the main street didn’t tick enough boxes for a reduction to the speed limit.
But from a psychological point of view, motorists heading into Bridgewater don’t have a visual signal telling them they are about to enter a community area.
That might be fine for 80% of the time when the main street is used as an arterial route.
It’s not so good at the end of the school day when all the students arriving home on buses from the city are being picked up by their parents in the main street or when the local primary students are let out of school and are walking home.
It’s not so good on the weekends when families are using the playground, sports fans are at the oval and church goers are looking for parking.
And it’s not so good for motorists on Carey Gully Road trying to turn at the Mt Barker Road T-junction when cars are heading around a bend and then downhill from both directions.
These are localised scenarios that only locals really understand and it’s why some 800 people signed a petition calling for a 50km/h zone.
Unfortunately that petition carried insufficient weight with the Adelaide Hills Council because when it was asked by DPTI to express an opinion on behalf of the community, it didn’t.
Based largely on concerns that community consultation conducted eight years ago was evenly split on the issue – and that might still be the case today – the council sat on its hands and told the transport department to make its own decision about its own road.
So it did, based on technical considerations – not residents’ concerns.
Now the ball is back in the community’s court.
If the residents of Bridgewater feel DPTI’s decision is wrong, they’ll need to go back to their council and insist their views are represented with some conviction.

Looking for gold

It’s quite understandable that a resident might feel some alarm when they open their local paper and see an advertisement alerting them to the fact that a mining company wants to explore an area that includes their property.
It is entirely reasonable for that resident to want to know what is going on.
Unfortunately, if handling mining tenements isn’t part of your daily life, looking up the plan on the Department of State Development website might not answer the why, what and when of a particular site. General information is available elsewhere, but it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees.
The reality for the Macclesfield people living in the area covered by the Yandan Gold Mine tenement (expected to be approved this month) is that nothing will probably happen for some time, if ever.  The licence is permission to explore, not mine.
Exploration can involve various activities such as aerial survey work and desktop modelling.
In order to gain access to land to do anything else – such as drilling – the licence holders have to follow procedures under the Mining Act. They have to serve the appropriate notices and negotiate an agreement with the owner of the land.
Activities such as drilling require an environmental assessment and approval from the department.
Then, if minerals are discovered, it can take years to evaluate if the deposit is worth mining. Then the company has to go through the process of applying for a mining lease from the Government and that involves public consultation.
It doesn’t mean this never happens – the now mothballed Angas Zinc Mine in Strathalbyn and the copper mine at Kanmantoo and is proof of that – but it is a long process.
This region has a rich mining history going back to the late 1800s and, as a result of its geological profile, much of the Hills is covered by exploration licences.
This doesn’t mean the people of Macclesfield shouldn’t be concerned about what an exploration licence might mean.
But if they do push through with their planned public meeting later this month, inviting someone along from the mining department to join Greens MLC Mark Parnell as a guest speaker might be a good idea.

On the rise

The Mt Barker Council’s plan to keep a five-storey future alive for a strip of land between the railway line and the Mt Barker Creek is a reasonable compromise between earlier plans which outraged the community.
When initial plans to allow five-storey buildings in the town along historic streets and creeks were first released last year, the community widely rejected the possibility of such large-scale projects ever taking place.
But after acknowledging a need for greater diversity and vibrancy in the town, the council has retained its plan to allow buildings up to five storeys high along a strip of land from the town’s caravan park and continuing south to the Dutton Road roundabout.
The council has listened to the community’s desire to retain the heritage feel of particular streets and to keep future developments along Cameron Road limited to two-storeys as viewed from the road.
Mt Barker is a rapidly growing district with a population set to further expand and creating a different housing mix could be the key to soothing some of the district’s growing pains.
Although these five-storey residential and commercial developments are bound to experience some teething issues, the inner-city living choice is likely to bring a vibe to the town.
Apartment living is attractive to young people and first home-buyers and, although a concrete jungle is a foreign concept to many Hills dwellers, it’s reasonable for the council to try and cater for all parties within its changing community.
A reinvigoration of Mt Barker’s original heart – Gawler Street – is another attempt at bringing people into the town and having them work, play, eat and live in one vicinity.
Extended shop opening hours, brighter night-life, more entertainment and second-storey tourist accommodation would do just that. But of course, high-rise buildings, accommodation developments and a changed streetscape won’t happen overnight and these future visions will take decades to unfold.
The Mt Barker Council is thinking ahead while listening to its community.
Allowing large-scale apartment buildings for part of Mt Barker, while maintaining the preservation of its most precious areas is a good attempt at meeting the community halfway.

Kiss of death

Federal Liberal Member for Mayo Jamie Briggs has indeed paid a high price for behaving badly in Hong Kong during an official trip in November last year.
The 38-year-old has lost a high powered job as a Minister, suffered public humiliation and caused his family some embarrassment and harassment.
He has also damaged the Liberal brand in his electorate.
Regardless of how people judge the severity of the incident, Ministers shouldn’t be affected by alcohol in a public place to the point where a young public servant complains about their behavior.
It’s not good for Mr Briggs’ image, particularly coming so soon after attempting to deceive the public on how he injured his leg the morning after former Prime Minister Tony Abbott lost his job.
Mr Briggs told the nation he hurt his leg on an early morning run – allowing everyone to assume it was a result of a jog around Canberra – when in fact he sustained the injury running through the Parliament House corridors during a wild post-spill party.
Mr Briggs’ reputation and this latest Hong Kong faux pas could play a part in eroding the 54% primary vote he recorded at the last Federal election.
With the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) now offering a candidate in this year’s election, Mr Briggs may well have helped the NXT’s aim of making Mayo marginal.
Mr Briggs first won the seat in the 2008 by-election at age 31 with just over 41% of the primary vote.
He went on to consolidate his voter base and become a rising star in Mr Abbott’s Government.
But there are ups and downs in politics and Mr Briggs is experiencing the latter, and it is entirely his own fault – as he openly admits.
Mr Briggs isn’t the first politician, public servant or business person who has had to cope with the loneliness of a demanding job requiring constant travel, or the traps of failing to learn moderation when wining and dining.
But MPs don’t really have a private life and eventually their actions – whether overseas or at home – come to light.
If Mr Briggs wants to emulate his political mentors and resurrect his political career, he’s going to have to rebuild the trust he has allowed to erode by taking the benefits of a safe seat for granted.

Joint ventures could be way of the future

A proposal for ratepayers to jointly fund a $9m sport and convention centre at a Mt Barker school presents an innovative solution to the problem of providing the necessary infrastructure to meet the needs of the town’s rapid growth.
The state-of-the-art centre at St Francis de Sales College would open up opportunities for both the school and the wider community.
For $2.5m, the Mt Barker Council could buy a share in a facility it might otherwise never be able to afford, given the looming list of big-ticket infrastructure items that the district will need over the next decade.
For the Mt Barker community, the new centre would give indoor sports such as basketball room to expand, while also providing the Hills’ regional centre with a space and facilities capable of hosting major indoor events that could attract thousands of visitors.
There is a clear need for more indoor sporting facilities in the town, with the existing Adelaide Hills Recreation Centre stretched to the limits catering for a growing number of junior and senior basketball teams.
In some cases, school aged children are playing late at night on week nights so that enough games can be squeezed in on the two available courts.
Mt Barker also has no indoor space big enough to host major conferences, conventions or trade expos that is equipped with supporting facilities such as a commercial kitchen.
Such a centre, while clearly benefiting the college in providing facilities for its growing student body, could also become a regional centrepiece for the community for both sport and economic development.
However, should the joint-use project go ahead, the council must have a robust management agreement in place to ensure the community gets its fair share of access to the centre in order to reap the benefits.
If it is successful, such shared-use and co-funding arrangements between the council and the private sector, especially schools, are likely to become commonplace as a way of providing the tens of millions of dollars worth of new infrastructure needed for the town while minimising the financial burden on its ratepayers.

Planning reform

Development – whether it’s unwanted or considered inappropriate – is a major source of annoyance for many members of the Hills community.
Most residents give scant regard to the State’s planning system until one day they discover they’re going to have a telecommunications tower or a housing estate on their doorstep.
Then they find that decisions about what can go where are determined by a document called the Development Act which is full of planning jargon that can be interpreted in different ways by different planners.
Many residents find the system daunting and confusing and feel at a distinct disadvantage.
Developers find it expensive, obstructive and time consuming.
The State Government currently has legislation before Parliament which it claims will reform SA’s planning laws to make the system clearer, simpler and quicker.
That sounds good except those who work with the system at the local level, through council Development Assessment Panels (DAPs), fear communities will lose the ability to have a say about interpretation and to have that input count.
At present DAPs – which decide only a small fraction of planning applications but usually the most controversial ones  – are made up of independent members with appropriate industry experience and elected councillors with local knowledge.
Under the proposed new laws they would be replaced with regional boards run entirely by independent professionals.
The idea is that applications would be judged impartially, dispassionately and consistently against the provisions of the Development Act by industry experts who are not community advocates.
The problem is a “one size fits all” approach to planning doesn’t take into account local issues, local conditions and local knowledge.
It’s also a matter of local democracy, with the proposed changes putting residents very much at arm’s length from the decision-making process.
This legislation goes back before the Upper House when Parliament resumes next year. If Hills residents don’t like the direction of the reforms, they need to lobby their local MPs now.

The X factor

The announcement that Senator Nick Xenophon will run a candidate in next year’s Federal election in Mayo could add a significant amount of spice into what are traditionally uneventful affairs.
Apart from one hiccup when the Democrats almost unseated Alexander Downer in 1998, Mayo has remained a relatively safe Liberal seat.
Assuming the Xenophon brand resonates and Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) candidate Rebekha Sharkie polls a reasonable number of votes, then the Saturday night of the 2016 election day could be interesting.
But from where exactly the NXT will draw its votes is a mystery.
Will they take support from The Greens and are disaffected Labor voters likely to be drawn to the Xenophon flame?
Will Tony Abbott supporters, unhappy about the removal of an elected Prime Minister, countenance a dance with the devil?
There are almost as many scenarios as there are voters and the short answer is no-one really knows.
But what the NXT has done is inject an exciting element to the mix.
There was clearly a growing dissatisfaction with Tony Abbott’s administration earlier this year which spooked SA Liberal powerbrokers to back Malcolm Turnbull’s Prime Ministerial challenge.
That fear was based on polling which showed NXT candidates could win a number of Liberal seats – Mayo included.
The stunning turnaround in the polls under Mr Turnbull has changed the game significantly and now marginal Labor politicians are feeling uneasy under the NXT influence.
The chorus of “you don’t know who you’re voting for” with respect to NXT candidates will be heard long and loud from both major Parties. And in that they have a valid point.
Mr Xenophon has only a few months in which to mould his team and he doesn’t have a perfect track record when it comes to choosing running mates.
His decision to join forces with Ann Bressington in SA politics must rate as one of his biggest political miscalculations.
But his mistakes are far outweighed by his hard work and tenacity.
Mr Xenophon has single-handedly built a reputation for being an approachable, pragmatic, intelligent and genuine man.
He is a fearless supporter of the underdog and fights doggedly for SA.

Council flag policy

Flags are emotive symbols.
They are flown in times of triumph and in times of great sorrow.
They can evoke a sense of togetherness under a common cause and conversely they can evoke feelings of exclusion.
In today’s letters to the editor Rob Carter of Gumeracha asks a pertinent question about the Adelaide Hills Council’s newly adopted Flags Policy – “how does the council determine which social issues are important and which are not?”.
According to the policy, the chief executive or his delegate makes that determination.
He does so according to the principles that flag flying can foster a sense of community pride and bring attention to causes or events.
He has to show respect and sensitivity to community expectations and he cannot fly flags that might engage in matters of contention.
With respect, those guidelines are so subjective they can make the flying of flags a tough call for staff members – who are not elected by the community.
I doubt you’d find anyone in the district who would object to the council’s decision to fly the French flag two weeks ago to show solidarity for the victims of the terrorism attacks in Paris.
However, as Mr Carter said in his letter, why did the council decide to exclude White Ribbon Day and the issue of domestic violence from its flag flying social issue regime?
Maybe the cause doesn’t have an official flag yet but one day it might and then someone in an office is going to have to decide whether to include or exclude it from the hundreds of other issues and events drawn to the attention of the public every year.
This Flag Policy should be reconsidered.
Either an annual schedule of flags should be approved by elected members every year or, for the sake of expediency, the Mayor should decide what flags are flown.
Mr Carter might question the resources spent fielding objections to the flying of the rainbow flag for the gay and lesbian Feast Festival but that flag was specifically mentioned in the Flag Policy and approved by councillors who were voted in by the community.
There is a role for councils to play in engaging with social issues but it should be elected members leading the way.

Street preacher

The decision by the Alexandrina Council to grant an enthusiastic Christian a permit to preach in the town’s central park has the potential to divide the community.
Mayor Keith Parkes used his casting vote in a deadlocked chamber to allow David Richardson a six-week opportunity to preach in the amphitheatre of the Solders’ Memorial Gardens from 10am-6pm, seven days a week.
That is an extraordinary amount of time for an individual and one which has the potential to alienate many of the park’s users.
Mr Parkes said he was swayed to support the application through a fear of litigation from either Mr Richardson or his supporters on the grounds of denying him his freedom of speech.
This relegates to a distant second the freedom of the many residents and tourists who want to use the popular park in peace.
If it is a decision based on a fear of litigation rather than what the council believes is best for the community then it is the community which loses.
The designated amphitheatre is across the narrow stretch of water from the most popular spots in the park – one which many people frequent in the summer months to enjoy a picnic and let their children feed the ducks and run around on the grass.
It is also near the public toilets where tourist  buses stop to allow their passengers to stretch their legs and give them time to take in the delightful ambience of this historic tourist town.
Street preaching is by its very nature a loud and passionate pastime.
If the council’s litigation fear was so strong then why not place Mr Richardson in a bustling section of the town so he not only has a constant stream of passers-by but will not impinge on the those seeking to relax?
If people wish to seek religion they know where to find it and need only go to a host of churches in Strathalbyn on either Saturday (Seventh Day Adventists) or Sunday.
Given the council’s decision one must wonder what the authority would do if an Islamic devotee also wanted to spread the word … or perhaps a representative from the Rainbow Flag Appreciation Society given the recent kerfuffle?
That too is freedom of speech.
Allowing a tranquil community space to be used for such purposes is not in the best interests of the wider community.

Remain united

The recent mass murders in Paris have shocked the entire civilised world.
All level-headed, reasonable and clear thinking humans – whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or atheist – are appalled by the actions of what appears to be a few crazed individuals acting on behalf of a skewed ideology.
The response by France has been swift and forceful.
Air strikes on ISIS strongholds in Syria have escalated in a concerted effort to hit back.
Such a response is entirely understandable in the wake of almost 130 cold blooded murders. However, there is some doubt if air strikes alone can succeed.
The mess that is the Middle East just got worse. Putting troops on the ground is another matter entirely and, with no easy answer or clear way forward, it is unlikely the situation will get better anytime soon.
The citizens of Paris must be on tenterhooks.
This is not the first time such madmen have attacked the city and the murders of staff of the magazine Charlie Hebdo earlier this year as well as other civilians are still fresh in people’s minds.
Even the people of Australia have a right to be concerned.
Such covert attacks are extremely difficult to prevent and our security leaders have been honest this week in saying Australia – like much of the Western world – is not immune from a similar outrage.
One must also spare a thought for the overwhelming majority of law abiding Muslim citizens in this country who have been horrified by what happened in Paris.
Australia is the envy of the world in the way we have blended people from different cultures and religions into our society.
There have been very few religious and race-based problems that have erupted to any significant extent in recent years.
The Martin Place siege and recent murder of an accountant outside a Sydney police station was the work of crazed individual and a manipulated teenager rather than that of an organised terrorist cell.
Perhaps that is due to the vigilance of our law enforcement agencies but it is vital non-Muslim Australians don’t turn on their fellow citizens. Together we can beat this.
We must be vigilant and remain united in our common goal to live in a trusting, peaceful and tolerant society.
That is the only way.