The Courier: Editorial

Boundary change

Opposition to a proposal to radically re-draw the electoral boundaries of the seat of Kavel is overwhelming.
Almost a third of all submissions lodged in response to the proposed State-wide electoral boundary reforms related to the proposed Kavel boundary change that would see Mt Barker absorbed by neighboring Hammond.
Of those submissions, none supported the change.
Among the respondents were key stakeholders including the Business Mt Barker group and both the Murray Bridge and Mt Barker councils.
All cited an array of reasons for their opposition, but the responses generally centred around two key points: that the regions have little-to-no association with each other and have vastly different needs.
Mt Barker is a rapidly developing regional centre and the move would mean it would be in a different electorate to Nairne – another booming town within the Mt Barker Council district.
Both towns will require significant infrastructure investment in coming years and the Mt Barker Council believes a change of electoral boundaries would inhibit a co-ordinated approach to development.
While the population of Murray Bridge is also increasing, its rate of development is far slower.
In contrast to the increasingly urban characteristics and challenges facing Mt Barker, the Murray Bridge district is centred around broadacre farming and River Murray tourism.
It is clear from the responses to the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission that neither the Mt Barker nor Murray Bridge communities believe this change would be beneficial to their districts.
The commission has the unenviable task of piecing together the State’s electoral boundaries and it would appear that the proposed Kavel/Hammond realignment would provide a mathematical solution to a voter quota dilemma.
However it is important that boundary redistributions are undertaken in a way that considers the best interests of the impacted communities.
Perhaps it would not be unreasonable for the commission to give serious consideration to reviewing this boundary realignment proposal given the widespread opposition to it.

Economic recovery

Over the past few months South Australians have thrown their support behind the State’s tourism sector.
The State Government’s recently announced $20m tourism grant program will be a welcome boost for operators who lost significant revenue during the pandemic shutdowns earlier this year.
But what’s perhaps more remarkable is the SA Tourism Commission’s revelation that regional accommodation patronage is almost back to pre-Covid levels – even with international and some national borders still closed.
SA’s borders with the ACT opened today, and our borders with NSW could be opened within a fortnight, which will undoubtedly be another welcome step towards recovery for many businesses in the tourism sector.
But it’s not a move that comes without risk.
While the ACT hasn’t had a new case since July, the total tally in surrounding NSW has continued to slowly inch higher, with dozens of new cases in recent weeks.
Since the pandemic began, SA has only recorded 466 cases including four deaths – among the lowest figures in Australia.
Prompt and ongoing Government and community action has helped our State dodge a bullet that has crippled dozens of health systems and economies around the world.
Re-opening our borders to other States has always been inevitable and SA has in its favor a track record of effective contact tracing which has helped stamp out new clusters before the virus escaped.
But if we’re going to adjust to easing border restrictions, especially with states that still have active cases, it is vital we don’t undo all the good work done so far.
Struggling industries, including the important Hills tourism industry, might be bouncing back, but they can’t afford to be shut down again.
Any step back to normality will be welcomed by many South Australians and businesses.
But with each step comes an ongoing responsibility for ordinary South Australians to do their part.
We’re in this enviable position now largely because South Australians got tested when they were sick – even if they hadn’t had known contact with a confirmed case.
That’s a trend that cannot be abandoned now.
If it opened the NSW borders in the coming weeks, the State Government would be taking a risk which it hopes will help SA recover.
It will then be beholden on every South Australian to make sure our State’s recovery stays on track.

War on drugs

The arrest of a local man over serious firearm offences and the likely link to a large national drug syndicate is concerning on many levels.
It’s alarming that such military-style weapons have been in the community, but the believed links to the production of millions of dollars in methamphetamine bound for SA is also worrying.
A separate story in this week’s Courier reveals the human impact of methamphetamine – the ongoing and devastating effect the drug can often have on its users … like Josh Windram.
But unlike so many stories, Mr Windram’s doesn’t end with damage and destruction.
While police sometimes spend years tracking down the criminals behind major drug operations like the one linked to the Piccadilly gun arrest, they will never eliminate the problem.
The war on drugs will never be won.
But Mr Windram’s story – a journey from utter addiction and hopelessness into full recovery – is one of redemption … and one that should inspire others that no-one is ever beyond hope.

Development fears

Sandow Road residents appear to have legitimate concerns about a heath and wellness retreat proposed for construction in their area.
Locals fear a large-scale development on the single-lane dirt track in Verdun could compromise the amenity of their quiet country setting.
Although the retreat is not a high-impact development, such as a petrol station, it is reasonable to assume it would attract significantly more vehicle traffic to the area.
That – coupled with the construction a 70-car grassed car park and a range of accommodation and recreation facilities – certainly could impact the tranquility of their patch of paradise.
However, pressure on Hills communities to adapt is increasing as the region’s population grows.
The difficult decision about whether or not to approve the project now lies with the Mt Barker Council.
On one hand it must attract business and tourism to the region.
On the other the council must work to ensure its residents remain satisfied – an unenviable position.

Road tragedy

The Hills community reached a horrific milestone last week – five lives lost on Long Valley Road between Wistow and Strathalbyn in less than two years.
The statistics don’t lie and it is clear that something must be done to address the regular carnage occurring on this road.
A State Government review into the road was completed in November last year and has resulted in $6m of shoulder sealing, intersection upgrades and sight distance improvements along the route.
Those works are currently under way.
A separate Federal Government election promise of an overtaking lane for Strathalbyn-bound traffic (there are two for north-bound traffic) is yet to be built.
Only time will tell whether these works result in a safety improvement.
While traffic experts suggest there is not a problem with the road requiring a single solution, it is worth noting that all five fatalities have been the result of head-on collisions.
Improved shoulder sealing (to reduce the chance of drivers over correcting if they veer onto the gravel) and the addition of rumble strips on the centre and outside lines may help.
While it is easy to blame the Government for a lack of road safety infrastructure it must be remembered that drivers are the ones with the most control over their safety and the safety of others.
With Long Valley Road an important connection between the Hills and Fleurieu regions and carrying more traffic each year, the likelihood of crashes is certain to increase.
The route is the perfect trap for some drivers – high speed, high traffic volume, with hidden driveways and intersections, poor visibility along some stretches of road and little room for error.
But many road users are also daily commuters who can be lulled into a false sense of security because they know the road and therefore may not be concentrating as closely as they should. Road users should be aware if infrastructure treatments do not reduce the likelihood of a crash, the Government may turn to an increased police presence or a speed reduction as the only remaining solutions.
Commuters may need to be prepared to drive at a lower speed of 80km/h and have 2.5 minutes’ travel time added to their journey between Wistow and Strathalbyn in order to save lives.

Electoral reform

The proposed sweeping changes to the State’s electoral boundaries are likely to significantly impact many sitting MPs and their communities.
After representing their districts for at least a four–year term, the changes proposed by the Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission would force politicians to come to grips with an entirely new array of community needs and to understand the issues facing their new districts.
Some changes, like the proposed reform of the Morialta and Newland boundaries, seem appropriate. Those changes would see the two electorates become almost completely metropolitan seats, rather than the current metropolitan–rural split.
But one major change – shifting Mt Barker from Kavel into the Hammond electorate – would result in a significant demographic change for Hammond MP Adrian Pederick.
Mr Pederick has spent the last 14 years representing farming communities across the Murraylands and Mallee – including towns such as Murray Bridge, Tailem Bend, Karoonda and Pinnaroo.
These are smaller communities with vastly different issues to Mt Barker, which is well on track to becoming SA’s second largest city.
Mr Pederick would need to rapidly get up to speed with the multitude of issues brought about by widespread residential development – including vast infrastructure needs.
Currently presiding over an expansive rural region with little largescale development, he has had limited exposure to such needs in his parliamentary career.
The boundary changes are the result of declining rural populations and increasing populations in peri-urban centres.
But perhaps more effort should be made to fit similar neighboring communities into the same electorates, rather than simply moving a boundary around a town so the electorate meets its voter quota.
Mt Barker would appear to be better suited to a Hills electorate rather than being attached to a Murraylands area purely to bring the electorate up to its required population.
With the changes yet to be set in stone, now is the right time to consider these factors and ensure the boundary changes not only provide fair elector distribution, but also guarantee all regions are appropriately and effectively represented.

Sharkie future

With speculation engulfing Rebekha Sharkie’s political future, the next few months may become some of the most significant in her electorate’s history.
Despite her proclaimed commitment to Centre Alliance, the uncertain future of that waning political party and her own silence over the past few days has done nothing to quell speculation that she could return to the Liberal Party fold.
Ms Sharkie was almost an accidental politician, elected on the coattails of Nick Xenophon at the height of his popularity to replace a deeply unpopular Liberal member in Jamie Briggs.
But since then she’s built her own reputation as a hard-working local member who is not tied to big party policy and who advocates solely for the best interests of her community.
After winning the 2018 by-election against high profile Liberal candidate Georgina Downer, Ms Sharkie said it was important to keep Mayo marginal and that she felt “such a debt to the community” that had given her a second chance.
A year later after a comfortable win at the general election, Ms Sharkie said the Liberals would “never give up” on Mayo and that the “longer I stand here in the way, the better off the people of Mayo are”.
That’s a statement she would do well to remember if or when any offer is made by the Liberal Party.
By her own admission, handing the seat to the Liberal Party – even in exchange for a Ministry – is unlikely to benefit anyone but herself … and the Liberal Party.
Even if, as a Minister, Ms Sharkie does pull some strings for Mayo, there’s no guarantee she will remain in Government.
Her allegiance could also be divided between her party’s policy and her community’s interests.
It could be argued that would be a backward step for the community.
In the words of Tasmanian cross-bencher Andrew Wilkie, who supported Ms Sharkie’s 2018 by-election campaign, “cross-benchers can exert real influence in their own right … we’re not in the Opposition – we’re seen in Canberra as honest brokers who are just fighting for our electorate … when we make a good case for something we’ve got a good chance of being heard”.
Over the past four years the electorate has been showered with millions of dollars in Federal funding, much of it brokered by the Member for Mayo.
But perhaps more importantly the electorate has been safe in the knowledge that its voice in Canberra is solely focused on representing its best interests.
The people of Mayo have put their faith in Rebekha Sharkie. Now more than ever, she needs to put her faith in them and stand true to her previous statements.

Residents ignored

The Campbelltown Council’s proposal to realign its boundary with the Adelaide Hills Council is not without merit.
The metropolitan council argues that its ratepayers are subsidising services provided to Adelaide Hills ratepayers and that some affected residents are more affiliated with metropolitan Adelaide than the Hills.
It’s important the Campbelltown Council considers what is best for all involved – including its own ratepayers.
But the latest development in the saga – the silencing of a group of residents the plan will affect – suggests the metropolitan council is losing the PR battle.
The boundary realignment is a three-stage process and, under recent law reforms, every council has the right to seek a realignment even without the support of affected councils.
The Campbelltown Council’s decision to explore the possibility of change was entirely reasonable.
However, its insistence on pushing forward, despite failing to gain the support of most affected residents and the affected council may not work in its favor.
The Mayor’s decision to delete Facebook comments that oppose the plan only adds to the perception – whether accurate or not – that the Campbelltown Council is acting only in its own interests.
Everyone has the right – and indeed the responsibility – to monitor interactions on their social media platform.
Defamatory, rude or crude behavior shouldn’t be tolerated but the Morialta Residents’ Association argues its comments were none of those things.
Instead, it believes it was standing up for its community and was being ignored.
It’s been about six months since affected residents voiced their opposition to the Campbelltown Council’s plan via an Adelaide Hills Council survey about the proposal … but nothing has changed.
In any public policy change it is vital that all involved parties – including the public – approach the matter with an open mind.
But part of that is knowing when to stop.
The Campbelltown Council must now consider whether pursuing the boundary change will bring about the greater good for all involved and whether the pursuit of the proposed change is worth the potential fall-out.

Rubbish solution

The Mt Barker Council’s decision to investigate creating a hard waste disposal service will be welcomed by many ratepayers.
Feedback to the council over several years has indicated the community clearly wants the service and the council is now determining whether it is a possibility.
An interesting debate is to be had about the preferred options for the service – whether to charge ratepayers a blanket fee for kerbside pick up, to operate on a user pays basis or to implement an alternative model.
Kerbside pick up could be a positive way for residents to see their rates at work.
They would book in a pick up time, put their waste on the side of the road and watch the truck carry away the TV or couch they no longer want or need with no upfront costs.
A user pay model would charge only those residents wishing to utilise the service.
That would mean the environmentally conscious resident who might reuse or up-cycle granny’s old chest of drawers rather than throw them away is not slugged for a service they probably would not use.
Deputy Mayor Samantha Jones asked the council’s August meeting “why should a diligent, environmentally aware resident who has limited waste pay for a service that they are likely to never use?”.
While that is a fair question, ratepayers regularly pay for services they might never use.
Not everyone borrows books from a council-owned library, not everyone drives on all council-owned roads and not everyone spends their leisure time in council-owned parks and reserves.
Sometimes the only way of providing a service is to charge blanket fees.
Illegal dumping has been an issue for the council and, while hard waste disposal won’t completely stop it, residents would at least be given another way to appropriately dispose of unwanted items.
It would also hopefully reduce council’s costs to tidy and dispose of illegally dumped waste.
A report outlining preferred service models and their associated costs is set to come back to the council in about six months.
It will then be up to elected members to make the hard call about which service – if any – they believe is best for the community.

Age of entitlement

Stephan Knoll says the wording around the expenses claims form which has tripped up a host of country-based MPs is “ambiguous”.
Treasurer Rob Lucas described the behavior of his regional colleagues as “sloppy” while Joe Average says this scandal proves the age of entitlement is alive and well on North Terrace.
Two of these assessments are wrong.
If former Transport Minister Knoll was confused by the “ambiguous” wording surrounding the system under which he was allowed to claim $234 each night he spent away from his home, then he should have asked. But he didn’t.
He just kept on signing the claim form in his bewildered state every month and reaping the rewards.
The observations made by Mr Lucas show he is playing politics and it is impossible to imagine him offering such a tepid character analysis had a string of Opposition MPs been in the frame.
No, it appears the assessment of Joe Average is on the money – so to speak.
And it is hard to argue against this when the final paragraph on the claim form – immediately above where the MPs sign their name – reads: “I was required to stay in Adelaide overnight on the dates shown above … and that I incurred the expenses claimed above in doing so”.
There’s nothing ambiguous about this sentence when viewed through the eyes of Mr and Mrs Average, but for some strange reason things are not as clear when observed by those reaping the benefits.
If the claimants were legitimately incurring an expense of $234 per night – as the form clearly states – there would not be a problem. But they were not.
Mr Knoll – who stays at his parents’ house while pocketing the money – has steadfastly refused to outline exactly how he incurred the $234 nightly expense.
It appears the MPs have simply been lining up for the money as some form of ‘hardship’ entitlement.
No one would begrudge any employee a bonus if regularly required to stay away from home, and that includes regional MPs.
But it appears this type of compensation is outdated and open to abuse.
No other public servant is employed under such a loose scheme, with the monthly claim form having all the complexity of a school tuck shop lunch order!
Perhaps regional MPs should just be paid a higher wage to allow for the inconvenience of being regularly away from their families.
Clearly they can’t be trusted to read and comprehend what they are signing … or ask questions if uncertain. And we all foolishly though the age of entitlement was over.

Virus risk

The disastrous second wave of coronavirus engulfing Melbourne and parts of regional Victoria is a tragedy which SA has – so far – avoided by the skin of its teeth.
The benefits of the decision in March to go into early lockdown and maintain that position under extreme pressure – particularly from Victoria and NSW – are now becoming clear.
Victoria now has countless unreported Covid-19 cases spreading across the population like wildfire.
The horse has bolted in that State and a return to savage, community-wide restrictions and another shutdown of its economy appears to be a likely option for authorities to get on top of the problem.
This is not only a painful blow for Victoria but the nation as a whole.
A similar issue appears to be looming menacingly over Australia’s other powerhouse State with hotspots in NSW breaking out in a number of urban and regional centres.
Authorities in NSW this week said how disappointed they were with people’s rejection of the much publicised social distancing rules and it appears Covid fatigue has understandably crept into some people’s minds.
It is unwise and unhealthy to keep people on a war-like footing when it is not necessary, but this nation is a long way from getting on top of this pandemic.
It is worth remembering that without a vaccine the only true preventative measure available is distance.
We here in SA have been extremely compliant and diligent in maintaining our distance and are largely isolated from the problems in Victoria … at the moment.
Our hard border is keeping us safe but it would take only a single breach – perhaps by a selfish idiot crossing the border or a perfectly reasonable person showing no obvious signs of infection – to bring the whole house of cards crashing down.
Allowing up to 25,000 people into Adelaide Oval on Monday night was a risk deemed worth taking by authorities.
It was a huge step in easing the State back to normality and any ramifications of that decision will become clear in the days ahead.
Let’s hope they were right, otherwise we could also be back to square one.