The Courier: Editorial

Cabinet visit

The State Government rolled into town this week bearing gifts and hosting a community forum.
The gifts included $10.4m to improve road safety, $300,000 for equipment at the new medical centre currently under construction next to the Mt Barker hospital and a $10,000 sweetener for sports clubs affected by the Anembo Park fire.
For a Government so utterly strapped for cash and under extreme budget pressure, significant expenditure such as the $10.4m road safety funding was factored into the budget many months ago so the announcements this week were a public relations exercise.
It is a standard political procedure performed by both sides of government.
It is the same thinking used by the early explorers who gave the natives a handful of shiny beads and a few blankets in order to placate them.
The real exercise of this week was supposed to be listening to the community.
But the forum on Sunday night in Mt Barker, which attracted about 250 people, was also largely a public relations exercise.
A wide array of questions – some well thought out, other less so – were a necessary part of the evening.
But a more structured session focusing on the current issues the community is facing – lack of infrastructure, public transport, local jobs and the State Government financial support for the district’s expansion, would have delivered a better outcome.
The problems are well documented and clearly understood by the Government.
Yet despite knowing the issues the Premier delivered nothing of substance … apart from some shiny beads.
The community has heard soothing words before from the State Labor Government.
It promised to listen when it held similar forums in the lead up to rezoning 1300ha around Mt Barker before completely ignoring what it heard.
In a few weeks this weekend will be forgotten, the second promised Country Cabinet box will have been ticked, and the status quo can return.
It was also a shame none of the local Liberal politicians attended the forum. It was a golden opportunity to ask some tough questions.
An opportunity either missed or ignored.
Let’s hope we get more than words in the Premier’s promised response to the issues in 90 days.

No place for racism

Every parent who has had a child who has been bullied would empathise with the anger and helplessness felt by Lisa and Owen Boyce who are featured in today’s page 5 article.
But what many in this predominantly “white” community wouldn’t have to face was the overtly racist nature of the bullying that engulfed the Boyce family.
It was shock for Lisa Boyce who moved her family to the Hills because she wanted her kids to have the country schooling she enjoyed. It was also a shock for Owen Boyce who grew up in multicultural London where his West Indian descent was nothing remarkable.
However, they do not blame the children at the Hills school where the bullying occurred because they believe racism is a learned behavior.
That is why their efforts to become involved in the City to Bay are so inspiring.
Out of their own person “nightmare” they have tried to create something positive to raise awareness that racism exists and needs to be dealt with, while at the same time raising money for beyondblue.

Meet the Premier

It’s a popular pastime to have a whinge about politicians – heaven knows there’s enough material.
Well on Sunday the Hills community can go one better – whinge TO a politician.
The second in a series of country cabinets will see the entire Labor Cabinet gather in Mt Barker to listen to comments and concerns from the community.
However, the tinge of scepticism about the real worth of such gatherings is understandable, especially in this region.
Not too many years ago the Hills community grabbed its chance to have a say directly to the State Labor Government about the massive rezoning proposed for Mt Barker. Despite hundreds of locals taking the time to voice their concerns in a reasoned and articulate manner at specially convened forums, they were completely ignored and the Government did what it had originally intended.
Mr Weatherill and his team have a lot of damage to repair before such a meeting will be seen by many as anything but a stunt forced upon them during hasty negotiations with independent MP Geoff Brock in a bid to hold on to power after the last State election.

Change in the air

There are two articles in today’s Courier that highlight an interesting juxtaposition about how far we’ve come as a society and how far we’ve yet to travel.
One story deals with Bridgewater author Meg Hale and a book she has written about a mothers’ movement fighting to change laws to make it easier for adopted children to find their biological parents and for biological parents to reach out to their adopted children.
Ms Hale was part of that movement and she was also once a teenage unwed mother who gave her daughter up for adoption because she was pressured into it – both by the social norms of the time and by those supposedly looking after her best interests.
Back in late 1960s there was no financial support for single mothers and pregnant unmarried women were essentially told that depriving their children of a two-parent family was incredibly selfish.
Then, having given up their children because they were told it was the right thing to do, many of these women were vilified.
Today most people under the age of 50 would be incredulous about such attitudes towards women – that their unmarried status alone made them unfit to be mothers.
And yet today SA appears to be making another judgment call about mothers, and even fathers, who conceive using donor sperm.
The second Courier story deals with Littlehampton couple Sally Amazon and Elise Duffield who cannot have both their names on their son’s birth certificate because they did not share a household for three years before conceiving using a donor.
This is in contrast with heterosexual couples who conceive using donor sperm but who do not need to be in any prescribed relationship when they access assisted insemination.
It is also in contrast with the laws in other States of Australia where meeting the requirements of a defacto relationship is sufficient to meet laws governing whose names can and cannot go on a birth certificate.
The couple is now fighting to change the law and no doubt in time the inequity of the situation will be addressed by government.
As a society we are constantly evolving and discarding old opinions in favor of what we see as the best way forward.
It’s an interesting ride.

Speed restrictions

At first glance building a northern bypass seems like a logical solution to the sometimes fatal problem of heavy trucks mixing with large volumes of car traffic on a steep and dangerous road.
Hills people have long lobbied for just such an option for rail freight, but without success because the numbers don’t add up – yet.
Adelaide Hills Mayor Bill Spragg says a dual road/rail proposal put up by the Local Government Association should be revisited.
But yesterday the office for Transport Minister Tom Koutsantonis said a dual route was not economically viable and the “benefits would not justify the associated costs”.
The Minister’s office said the infrastructure could cost more than $1b and some in the transport industry put the cost at close to $2b.
It would be hard to build a business case for that amount of money, even if the route included a toll road as proposed by the Member for Heysen Isobel Redmond.
The bypass might eventually be built but it will be a long-term solution and in the meantime motorists and heavy vehicle drivers are going to have to work together.
In the aftermath of last week’s shocking tragedy, the State Government had to act, particularly after the Deputy State Coroner made emergency recommendations.
Most interest groups seem to approve of the move to make the 60km/h speed limit apply to all trucks and buses over 4.5 tonnes.
Less support is evident for the new 90km/h speed limit for light vehicles.
Some community leaders have called it an overreaction that will achieve nothing in terms of preventing out of control trucks speeding down the freeway.
The SA Road Transport Association actually lobbied for 80km/h for cars to make it safer for trucks to change lanes to overtake slower, heavier vehicles.
The organisation might have a point.
The freeway has a reputation for aggressive commuter driving which doesn’t mix well with heavy vehicles and a steep descent.
With thousands expected to move into Mt Barker and Murray Bridge in the coming decade, everyone might have to do their bit and slow down.

No easy answer

The thoughts of Hills residents are no doubt with the families of those affected by the fatal crash at the bottom of the freeway on Monday.
Not only is one of the drivers collected in the runaway truck smash a local woman – but most would acknowledge that it is only by good luck that they were not among those waiting at the lights at the intersection of Glen Osmond, Portrush and Cross roads.
So many people in this region use the freeway and that intersection and with thousands more set to build houses in Mt Barker and Murray Bridge, the volume of traffic travelling down that major transport corridor is only going to increase.
If nothing else, this tragedy will galvanise Federal and State authorities into finding ways to make the route and its Toll Gate destination safer.
What those solutions might be is anyone’s guess.
It is a steep gradient and the State Road Safety Minister Tony Piccolo has said that a third arrester bed is not feasible due to the terrain. That project might need to be revisited.
In the wake of the 2010 runaway truck fatality that claimed the life of the man waiting at a bus stop, new road rules now restrict the speed of trucks with five axles or more to 60km/h down the freeway.
Given Monday’s crash involved a small sewage tanker, not a semi-trailer, weight restrictions might be added to the mix.
But that will only chip away at the problem.
There will be some who will insist that curfews for heavy vehicles are the answer.
No doubt that option will be considered, however, it must be remembered that the freeway was built to be a national freight route and we all rely on heavy vehicles to deliver the goods we use in everyday life.
Plus, this crash happened in the middle of the day – not in peak hour.
Cars and trucks have to share the freeway and both groups need to recognise their mutual responsibility towards making that road a safer place.
Commuters need a better attitude and perhaps better education about how to share the road with heavy vehicles.
Truck drivers and, more importantly, transport companies need to make sure their vehicles are safe and that they are driven safely.

Rise above hatred

The image of a seven-year-old Australian boy proudly holding the severed head of a Syrian solider has shocked the world.
The grotesque photo, taken and distributed by the boy’s father, complete with the words “that’s my boy”, is disturbing on so many levels that it may well become an iconic image of this conflict and reflect the horror war brings upon both the living (the boy) and the dead (the soldier).
The fact that a father exposed his son to such a situation is child abuse in the extreme.
Just across the border in Iraq the cold blooded killing of entire communities by a rampaging group attempting to establish a pro-Islamic state, just because the inhabitants do not share the same faith, is impossible to reconcile and further deepens the divide between people holding rational thought processes and those with a fundamentalist view of religion.
Here in Australia it is easy to arrive at the conclusion the Middle East has gone completely mad.
Add to the mix the never-ending problem that is Gaza and the region appears a total disaster.
Australians at home can do little to change the situation on the other side of the world but we can play a part and influence what level of hatred and intolerance finds its way into this community.
The overwhelming majority of Muslims in Australia are peace loving, family-oriented people.
They are welcome and form an important part of the rich tapestry that is modern Australia.
We as a nation must not let the tiny band of individuals who uphold the type of radical ideals that are being waged in Iraq tarnish our thinking.
It is important we are vigilant and ruthlessly root out anyone thinking of importing such extremist ideals to this country and it is reasonable to require all new citizens to uphold our laws and ideals.
However, to brand all Australian Muslims as dangerous is, well … dangerous.
It is easy to hate but rarely constructive.
This nation rose above the potential anti-Muslim sentiments which surfaced in 2012 with the outcry over the release of the short YouTube film Innocence of Muslims which caused anger across the world.
We must work hard to rise above this potential problem again.

Special delivery

The success achieved by a group of friends riding old posite bikes from Strathalbyn to Darwin has made a lot of people sit up and take notice.
The trip has so far raised almost $60,000 for the beyondblue organisation and the riders have helped lessen the stigma often associated with mental health in their local community … and all the way to the Top End.
And all this has been achieved under the guise of having a good time, although rattling up the Oodnadatta Track on a postie bike might be viewed by some as an acquired taste!
Undoubtedly there was a lot of hard work to organise the trip and make it run smoothly, but the sheer audacity of pitting second-hand Australia Post delivery bikes against the might of the Australian outback resonated with the wider public and was a major factor in its astounding fundraising success.
Turning around public attitudes is no easy task but the issue of seeking assistance for mental health problems has been remarkably successful.
Untreated mental health problems can tragically result in suicide and the most recent statistics show that 2500 Australians took their own lives in 2012 – almost 1900 males and 634 females.
Suicide kills twice as many Australian as road accidents.
Organisations such as beyondblue and Lifeline now have a growing band of advocates – such as these young men who rode to Darwin – to spread the word and deliver the message to their peers that it’s okay to ask for help.
It is normal to seek professional assistance when you’re unwell.
Feeling sad, depressed or unmotivated is no different to feeling sick in the stomach or having a pain in your foot.
Today’s society is more willing to confront mental health without attaching a social stigma and the general community has never been more alert to the signs that could indicate all is not well with a friend.
There are a host of ways the community is helping to spread the word about this issue and today’s edition of The Courier also features a story about a comedy festival planned for Strathalbyn to further the cause.
Together our communities can make a difference and soon we won’t have to do wacky stunts to capture people’s attention.

Week is a long time in politics for Day

New Family First Senator Bob Day’s first impression of his Parliamentary colleagues probably won’t come as a surprise to most average Australians.
After all, politicians don’t have a sterling reputation for telling the truth (think of all those broken election promises) and a few minutes spent viewing question time shows a clear preference in the chamber for finger-pointing rather than policy making.
It’s true too that many MPs these days seem to have come to their roles via career paths nurtured and directed by either of the two major political Parties or their affiliates, such as the unions.
It is a constant public grumble that those in government don’t understand the problems facing the rest of us in the “real world”.
It’s also a fact that our national political system is an adversarial one in which participants are adept at playing the politics and sidelining the policy debate when it is convenient.
It is not surprising that a self-made businessman like Mr Day – who is used to getting things done and who judges his performance on outcomes – would become extremely frustrated watching his new colleagues trading insults and Dorothy Dixers rather than planning to solve the nation’s woes.
But politics is also a team game and a one-man team like Family First will need support from the major Parties if it is to gain support for any of its policies.
In voicing his frustration, Mr Day may have struck a chord with the electorate, but he will almost certainly have alienated many of his Parliamentary colleagues.
After all, politics is also a diplomatic game in which independents and minor Parties are required to negotiate with the Coalition or Labor to secure the outcomes they want.
With his own policy agenda to fulfil, especially on a matter as previously unpopular as workplace relations reform, it won’t be too long before Mr Day needs the other Parties as much as they need him.
Mr Day is undoubtedly in a position of power in a Senate where neither the Coalition nor Labor currently control the balance of power.
And with a Government looking to pass major legislation such as the carbon tax repeal and an unpopular budget, agreement from the crossbench is critical.
Mr Day should be clear that he is only one of eight such Senators the major Parties can court for support and they will drop him like a hot potato as soon as he is of no further use to them … particularly if they know he thinks they’re incompetent.

Light on dark past

The Adelaide Hills is a beautiful place full of caring, tight-knit communities so it can be difficult to hear about sordid aspects of the past.
The former Salvation Army-run Eden Hills boys home at Wistow was a dark blot on this region’s history.
Even a Supreme Court Justice questioned how such a “horrific place” could operate for such an extended period “virtually under the noses of the community of this State”.
There are probably many reasons but one victim, Graham Rundle, would just like the community to do one thing – give him the courtesy of acknowledging it happened.
He has written a book about his childhood and it is hard reading.
In an interview with The Courier he said he didn’t want Eden Park, now an organic farm, to always be known as a horrible place.
Nor did he want the community of today to take responsibility.
However, he believes the community should never forget. This didn’t happen a centuries ago, this happened within living memory of many residents today.
We should also be wary of falling into the trap of dismissing institutionalised abuse as a relic of the past.
You only have to see this week’s headlines about the SA Government worker charged with sexually abusing preschool children in residential facility to realise that we can never become complacent about protecting our most vulnerable citizens.

Tragedy not a first

The deaths of almost 300 innocent people aboard the Malaysia Airlines flight last week have shocked the world and the situation has the potential to escalate into a full-blown international crisis.
It is only right that the perpetrators of this mass murder be brought to justice.
Our Prime Minister Tony Abbott has reportedly left the Russian President in no doubt as to this nation’s anger towards those responsible and his strong desire that justice be done.
The horror experienced by those unfortunate souls 10,000m in the sky is almost too awful to imagine.
Sadly, this is not the first time a passenger jet has been shot down in error.
In 1988 a US warship in the Persian Gulf mistakenly shot down an Iranian airliner killing 290 innocent civilians.
The US government subsequently paid out millions in compensation to the families of those killed but has never admitted responsibility or apologised for the tragedy.
Just how forceful the US administration becomes at this time will be an interesting side issue.

Persistence pays

Mt Barker is finally about to get a second freeway interchange and it is largely thanks to the dogged persistence of the town’s council.

The Mt Barker Council has for years been tirelessly lobbying both State and Federal governments to support the project.

When doorknocking Ministers and department officials failed to secure any financial commitments it went a step further.

For much of the last decade the council has been quietly working to do everything in its power to make the interchange “shovel ready”.

It bought land on all four corners around the Bald Hills Road tunnel.

It has, stage by stage, upgraded Bald Hills Road itself to prepare it for the anticipated traffic increase.

It worked with the State Government to design concept plans, took them to public consultation and handed the Government the results of that feedback.

Its persistence has paid off with the help of Mayo MP Jamie Briggs, who has also been a resolute campaigner for the project.

The co-operation of the State Government in working with both the council and Federal Government should also be applauded, as should its commonsense decision to include the upgrading of the Old Princes Highway/Bald Hills Road junction as part of the project.

Eyes of the world

The Tour Down Under (TDU) international cycling event has become an institution in SA and for the past 15 years the Hills have played a major part.

The region’s steep and winding roads – interspersed with straight stretches for the sprinters – continue to appeal to race organisers.

Our beautiful bush scenery and quaint villages so close to Adelaide are also an attraction and two key reasons why Stirling hosts a stage finish just about every year.

Next year is no exception with another Stirling finish for Stage 2.

But unlike last year where the region was mainly part of the stage journeys rather than being the main destinations, the Hills is hosting two more finishes at Paracombe (Stage 3) and Mt Barker (Stage 4).

All three events are expected to attract tens of thousands of visitors.

Stage 4 also incorporates the Bupa Challenge for amateur riders which last year attracted 6600 cyclists.

It could be easy to be become complacent about an event that keeps on coming back, but as a community we should embrace and celebrate the fact that the eyes of the world will be focused on the Hills come January 2015.

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