The Courier: Editorial

Sporting chance

Sport at its best is very, very good but when it goes bad it can be ugly.
With the media spotlight continuing to focus on opposition fans booing Sydney footballer Adam Goodes, it is interesting to see the Hills football community’s response to recent incidents of umpire abuse and allegations of racial vilification.
AFL leaders have come out in force to shame the booing fans but the rudeness with all its nasty racial undertones persists.
In contrast, complaints have been made to the Hills Football League (HFL) and steps are taken by all parties to fix the problem –  according to the situation.
None of the clubs disputed the HFL penalties. They all endorsed the actions and the HFL’s zero tolerance approach to abuse and vilification.
It doesn’t mean these incidents will never happen again or that there isn’t room for improvement.
What it means is that as a collective group the football community has recognised that certain behavior is not accepted and consequences have to be metered out to change culture.
Some of these cultural changes have been driven from the AFL level down, particularly the issue of racial vilification.
But some of the changes are driven by wider society which has decided that wrapping a club scarf around your neck is no longer a free pass to be a thug, foul mouthed or racist.
HFL president Glen Sickerdick concedes that the type of behavioral reports now handled by the board and tribunal probably wouldn’t have come their way years ago.
People would have been offended or upset but they would have grumbled quietly and resigned themselves to the ugly side of football.
That is no longer the case and it’s a good sign.
The Hills is also lucky in the size of its football community.
It’s small enough that recalcitrant offenders cannot hide among 50,000 spectators.
This season and last the HFL has slapped $1000 “suspended” fines on clubs whose spectators have stepped over the line.
The clubs handled the problem internally, never had to pay the fine and sent messages about what will and what will not be tolerated in the heat of spirited barracking.

Nail in the coffin

The furore that has surrounded the Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and her taxpayer funded helicopter flight from Melbourne to Geelong has driven yet another nail into the coffin of community trust in politicians.
The blatant arrogance displayed by Mrs Bishop in billing the taxpayer for a journey from Queensland to Geelong to attend a Liberal Party fundraiser is almost as astounding as her refusal to apologise.
Almost every hard working man and woman in the nation – irrespective of their political bias – agrees with Treasurer Joe Hockey that Mrs Bishop’s actions stink.
But what smells even worse is the lack of subsequent desire from our elected representatives to tighten up the murky areas in what are considered appropriate political expenses to be billed to the taxpayer.
It is blindingly obvious that unless there is a legitimate and significant reason for a politician’s travel it should be either funded by the individual or their Party.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has called for a crackdown and wants changes to make the system more transparent and accountable.
The deafening silence from his colleagues indicates he is largely on his own.
It has been reported that a spokesman for Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson said the Government had no plans to make any changes.
This is the real issue – far bigger than a $5000 helicopter flight.
An obvious shortcoming in the system has been identified yet there appears to be little desire to fix it.
This cuts to the core of what we expect from our politicians.
Like any employer we demand they work hard.  We also demand they act in a professional manner and, if they make a genuine mistake, require them to apologise and attempt to right the wrong.
It’s not much different from what parents  expect from their children.
In this case the wrong is not righted by paying back the $5000. That’s too easy.
A true servant of the people would dedicate themselves to making sure such an occurrence could never happen again.
Mrs Bishop’s ‘error of judgement’ is one in a long line of similar examples of politicians – on both sides of the ledger – who have not yet come to the realisation that the age of entitlement is over.

Emergency care

Having easily accessible all hours health care is something many of us expect in our community, so it’s not surprising that a 24-hour emergency department heads a wish list of service improvements for Mt Barker district residents.

The town’s hospital currently does not have a doctor on site for after hours emergencies.

Instead, patients must be assessed by nurses at the hospital who can call in a GP to see them, or be referred on to another hospital.

For many locals that has meant a lengthy trip to often crowded emergency departments at city hospitals such as the Royal Adelaide, Women’s and Children’s or Flinders.

Many of us would like the security and peace of mind of knowing that there is a round-the-clock service at our own hospital when a child wakes in the middle of the night with a raging fever, a family member breaks a bone or an elderly relative needs care.

The addition in recent years of the After Hours GP Care service at the Summit Health Centre goes some way to meeting that demand with GP appointments available after hours on weeknights, weekends and public holidays.

But not everyone is aware of the service and it is not available beyond certain hours.

Despite the community’s strong wish for a local 24-hour emergency department, the reality is that Mt Barker, even with its surrounding catchment of Hills towns, is not a metropolitan centre.

Its population, while set to double in coming decades, is unlikely to ever grow big enough to support such a facility and the necessary qualified staff to run it.

It is even more unlikely given SA’s health budget is spiralling out of control and the State Government is planning to cut services and close other emergency facilities in the suburbs to rein in costs.

But Summit Health’s proposal for a doctor on-site overnight at the Mt Barker hospital presents a realistic compromise.

Local doctors who already provide on-call services could share the load, giving residents better access to healthcare after hours.

The idea is certainly worthy of further investigation by  Health SA.

Death of democracy

When a packed public meeting is told the express wishes of a community and its council can be overturned by a Government Minister, it is not surprising there are mutterings about the death of democracy.
Such debate dominated conversations following a 300-strong meeting in the Strathalbyn Town Hall last week.
Those at the meeting were told by Alexandrina Mayor Keith Parkes that Planning Minister John Rau could overrule his council’s 10-Year Plan – which aims to restrict retail development to the Strathalbyn CBD – and allow a 15,000sqm development including a supermarket and specialty shops at the entrance to the town more than a kilometre from the main shopping precinct.
The Mayor was clearly frustrated at the potential for his council’s plan for the town’s next decade – one made after significant research and extensive community consultation – to be sidelined by a Government Minister.
The overwhelming majority of those at the meeting also shared his frustration.
A number of business operators in the town spoke passionately against the proposal claiming it has the potential to damage their livelihoods.
Many asked what was the point of the community joining with the council to formulate a plan for the town’s future if it could be completely overridden by a higher planning authority at the request of a developer.
The meeting was told of damage to main street traders in Victor Harbor and Renmark following the building of shopping centres away from the traditional shopping precincts.
A similar problem has emerged in Murray Bridge and its newest shopping centre is only one block back from the main street.
The office of the Co-ordinator General, the body charged with examining developments considered to have “economic significance to the State”, is now looking at the proposal.
Strathalbyn is an unusual town in that it already has two distinct centres – the historic High Street dominated by antique  dealers and the other the main commercial hub.
The council is undertaking work to better link the two shopping precincts.
The addition of a third commercial hub could further confuse an already disjointed town to the detriment of many.
Mr Rau had better make the right call.

Black spots

In a region where life-threatening bushfires are a very real possibility, good communication is essential.
It is frightening then to know that just within the footprint of January’s Sampson Flat Bushfire alone there are nine confirmed mobile phone black spots.
And there are at least 13 more in high bushfire risk areas across the region.
What is more surprising is that this risk is not considered among the criteria for assessing applications to fix coverage problems in the Federal Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program.
In fact, the criteria appears to weigh against the Hills’ black spots.
Under the assessment process, extra weight is given to projects with co-funding by State Governments.
The SA Government was the only one not to contribute a cent to the program, hence the State received only 11 base stations out of about 470 nationally.
The criteria also favor projects that deliver a larger area of mobile phone coverage – something that is impossible in many of the Hills spots because of the hilly terrain.
Yet there is no doubt that when a bushfire looms, a working mobile phone could be a lifeline. It could alert both visitors and local residents of the threat via CFS messages sent to phones in the area, giving them valuable time to leave or enact their bushfire action plans.
Let’s hope the criteria is changed so that the black spots are given the attention they deserve in the next funding round.

Boys to men

Fifty years ago today the life path of hundreds of young Australian men was chosen for them.
They were the first 20-year-olds to be conscripted via a birthday ballot into the army as part of Prime Minister Robert Menzie’s National Service Scheme.
In the end nearly 64,000 men became “Nashos” between 1965 and 1972, more than 15,000 of them ended up serving in the Vietnam War and about 200 lost their lives, just under half the total deaths of Australian servicemen.
In a year when we commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, we should also stop to remember the birthday ballots and a war that also helped define our national character – even if we didn’t like what we saw.

Intervention could cause a Rau

The unrest likely to be felt by many in the Strathalbyn community over another push to have a retail complex built at the entrance to the town will be significant.
This issue galvanised the town like no other when it was first proposed in June last year.
Locals gathered in their hundreds at community meetings and told the council in no uncertain terms it feared a new commercial hub, if allowed to be built separate from the existing retail centre, would divide the town and lead to problems experienced by other regional centres which have allowed similar developments.
The council was clearly listening.
It believes there is plenty of available retail space already existing in the town centre to cope with Strathalbyn’s expected population growth and, after extensive community consultation, developed a 10-year plan for the town in which it committed to restricting retail businesses to the current zone.
The community was happy.
The developers were clearly not.
Their approach to Planning Minister John Rau, if successful, would remove the council from the rezoning and planning process and make a mockery of not only the council’s vision for the town’s future but also the input of the community.
The whole issue of developers applying to the Minister for special treatment when they don’t get their way is galling to many and difficult to comprehend.
It would perhaps be understandable for a Minister to override a community and council with regard to a major development such as the approval of an airport, a power station or a shipping terminal … something significant in the national or State interest.
But this is a shopping centre!
They exist in their thousands across the country.
One wonders how carefully Mr Rau will be able to comprehend the nuances of this issue unless he attends the public meeting planned for next Wednesday.
The meeting in the Strathalbyn Town Hall must be an improvement on the last and organisers must ensure that Mr Rau and the developers are shown respect and courtesy and be allowed to put their case.

Sensible decision

The Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) decision to scrap plans to introduce significantly longer 50km/h limits along Onkaparinga Valley and Greenhill roads is a win for common sense.
When the plans were first proposed earlier this year it took many Hills drivers by surprise.
Residents who took part in DPTI’s community consultation process – as part of the long-running Adelaide Hills Council Speed Limit Review – were also puzzled because the proposals seemed out of step with their calls for realistic and consistent speed limits in towns and better communication about approaching 50km/h zones and changing speed zones.
It could be argued that making everything 50km/h from Summertown to Uraidla, as well as from Balhannah to the other side of Oakbank, for several kilometres through Woodside to the Lobethal Road intersection, and through Charleston, would bring about consistency.
The Adelaide Hills Community Road Safety Group liked the idea, saying the longer 50km/h zones would make it safer and easier to remember.
However, making 50km/h the default speed limit is not consistent with the landscape when compared with other districts and commuter routes in metropolitan Adelaide.
The stretches of road under consideration were long and, in the case of Onkaparinga Valley Road, the sections were straight and wide.
Some of the landscape – rural and light industrial – also seemed unrealistic for 50km/h.
Most motorists understand that dense retail areas, residential areas, school zones and even bikeway cross overs require lower speeds for everyone’s safety.
Forcing unrealistic speed limits outside such areas will not lead to willing compliance.
However, DPTI’s decision to trial new signs – including “50 Ahead” signs – and road markings along Onkaparinga Valley Road is a sensible move.
When travelling for extended periods of time along a road that changes in landscape, it’s not uncommon to question where an 80km/h or 60km/h zone might merge into a 50km/h zone.
The extra signs and markings on the road will help to reduce driver confusion.

Tourist drawcard

The 15,000 who crammed into the Strathalbyn harness racing complex on Saturday night for the biennial Balloon and Aviation Regatta were a clear indication of the event’s popularity.
Sadly, the same conclusion could also be reached by watching the snaking lines outside the toilets and food stalls.
The event’s popularity exceeded everyone’s expectations and the hard working volunteers of the organising committee – who personally bankrolled the event to the tune of several thousand dollars – deserve congratulations, not ridicule, as was displayed by some disgruntled patrons on social media.
Yes, there were some problems but almost nobody expected 15,000 people to attend.
The State Government needs to immediately approach the committee and help develop the event so it becomes a regular feature on the region’s calendar.
It is a real tourist drawcard and nothing like it exists in SA.
It has winner written all over it.
It would be a tragedy for the event to be forsaken – or lost to another region – for the sake of a few portaloos and some more food stalls.
The volunteers have come up with the original idea and have done the hard work to build it into what it is today but have clearly signalled the need for some assistance.
This is the perfect opportunity for the Government’s expertise to shine.
The committee is not asking for money, they want help.
It is easy to imagine Jay Weatherill extolling the virtues of the next event in 2017 from the basket of a hot air balloon floating gracefully through the dawn stillness above one of SA’s most historic tourist towns.
It’s a marketer’s dream and the fantastic publicity for both the event and the Government are obvious.
The regatta was a family-orientated event at low cost with all the profits returned to the local CFS, SES and Rotary club.
A host of smaller community organisations such as sporting clubs and Scout groups were welcomed to piggyback on the event and use it as a fundraiser.
Most of that money will stay in the local community.
Event organiser Kate Knight has offered the Facebook critics a seat on the organising committee.
It’ll be interesting to see how many take up the offer.

Internet access

Country people are used to paying higher prices for more limited services than their city cousins.
It’s long been a fact of life that things like petrol cost more and some services such as specialised health care are just unavailable in some towns.
Now, internet access has been added to that list for many Hills residents.
While it’s just over 30 minutes from Adelaide and one of the district’s fastest growing towns, Nairne might as well be in the outback when it comes to new technology.
Many residents and businesses are being forced to pay more than double the usual city rates for limited internet access  because infrastructure growth has lagged behind the town’s expansion.
There is no doubt that demand is there for more ADSL broadband connections, but what locals can’t understand is why telecommunications giant Telstra won’t upgrade its exchange to meet that need.
The answer may lie in the roll-out of the National Broadband Network (NBN), which would replace the ADSL network when it rolls into town.
Telstra wouldn’t comment on whether it was holding off on upgrading the Nairne and Littlehampton connections until the NBN arrives, other than to say it planned to continue to manage the national network and maximise or upgrade assets where possible until the rollout was complete.
But there are no plans for immediate upgrades in either town.
As a major corporation, it is under-standable that Telstra may make a cost-saving decision not to increase ADSL connections if the technology is going to be replaced in the not too distant future.
The NBN expects to start connecting Mt Barker, Nairne, Blakiston and Littlehampton in the next 18 months, but how long it takes for those connections to be widespread is anyone’s guess.
In the meantime, school students need reliable internet to do their homework, while businesses need to maintain an online presence and communicate with customers and suppliers.
So new Nairne business owners and residents are left to pay more for something that is considered a basic necessity for a modern enterprise or lifestyle.

CFS cash cow

It is a worrying indication of the state of SA’s finances that an emergency such as the Sampson Flat Bushfire has led to a 9% tax hike through the Emergency Services Levy (ESL).
Admittedly the Adelaide Hills Council is crying poor and has introduced a 1% levy in its 2015/16 budget to pay for a $500,000 blow-out in bushfire-related tree removal costs.
But its levy is a one year only increase and, to be fair, $500,000 is a significant hit for an organisation with an income of about $40m compared with the State Government’s much larger annual budget.
This ESL increase is not a once-off, its a permanent fixture that comes on top of some significant increases last year when subsidies were axed.
It is, effectively, a tax increase that is being framed as a much-needed income source for the poor old CFS volunteer.
The CFS Volunteers Association is understandably annoyed at having the goodwill of its members used to mask political expediency.
It has even accused the Government of double dipping by pointing out that the Treasurer Tom Kousantonis has failed to identify that past bushfire emergencies have been paid for through a contingency fund and that Federal funding is allocated when a State of Emergency is declared, as was the case with Sampson Flat.
What is particularly galling is that by using the ESL to squeeze out more money from householders, the Government is adding to the misinformation and ill-will about the work of the CFS from the general population, particularly after last year’s price hike.
Many city and regional people don’t understand that CFS members are volunteers.
A recent letter to the editor in a metropolitan paper complained that Hills residents should pay for the Sampson Flat fire because they made the lifestyle choice to live in a high bushfire zone.
This year the ESL raised about $266m of which the CFS received $66m and the MFS – which provides a 24-hour paid service for a predominantly urban population – received $124m. Having well resourced emergency services should be a right for all residents, rural and metropolitan, and the Government should stop using the ESL as a convenient cash cow.

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