The Courier: Editorial

National resolve

As Sydney went into lock down on Monday in the grip of a hostage drama, many of us held our breath and watched.
We felt fear for those held inside the Lindt Cafe at gunpoint and compassion for their loved ones struggling to understand what was happening.
Regardless of our individual faith or lack of it, we sent out prayers and hopes for their release and an end to the terror.
Tragically, the siege ended in the early hours of Tuesday with two hostages killed, four people injured and the gunman dead.
As the nation unites in mourning, the outpouring of love and support evident in the mass memorial that sprang up in Martin Place within hours yesterday is a heartening reminder of our solidarity.
As a nation we have known terror before at the hand of a lone gunman.
The 1996 Port Arthur massacre that claimed 35 people and injured 21 and the Monash University shooting in 2002 when two were killed and five injured are just two that spring to mind.
What set this week’s hostage horror apart was the fear that it was a terrorist attack sanctioned by an Islamic extremist group.
We feared that organised terror of the kind that tore apart London, Bali and Madrid may have arrived on our doorstep.
And simmering underneath that fear was a concern there might be reprisals against the Australian Muslim community.
But Australians are a largely a resilient, and tolerant bunch.
Nothing said that more than the simple act of a Brisbane woman on a Queensland train who saw a Muslim woman, fearing for her safety, remove her headscarf after reading of Monday’s siege on her mobile phone fearing for her safety.
The commuter’s simple offer to walk with the passenger if she felt unsafe touched the hearts of many and sparked an online revolution.
Using the Twitter hashtag #Illridewithyou, people all over Australia stood up to racism and terrorism, vowing not to let one man’s hatred divide a nation.
Amid a tragic situation came the confirmation of our true Australian spirit.
In the words of NSW Premier Mike Baird:
“The values we held dear yesterday, we hold dear today. They are the values of freedom, democracy and harmony. These defined us yesterday, they will define us today, they will define us tomorrow.”

Flying fox threat

Orchardists at Lenswood can remember the 1970s when the rainbow and musk lorikeets began appearing in the Hills.
Numbers gradually increased and then last season something happened in the native forests and the red gums and blue gums failed to flower properly.
Thousands upon thousands of the birds converged on apple crops like a “green plague”, devastating orchards that didn’t have nets.
Now the horticultural industry is facing another potential threat – grey-headed flying foxes.
The bats are native but not indigenous to this area.
They don’t like SA’s hot summers.
That said a number have flown over from the eastern States and have set up a small colony in the Adelaide Botanic Garden where they roost during the day.
The animals can fly up to 50km at night to feed and it seems they have found ready food sources in the Hills.
A half dozen bats feeding in a mulberry tree at Ashton doesn’t sound like many, but left unchecked, the flying foxes could become a problem fruit growers don’t need.
The Apple and Pear Growers Association is not leaving the issue unchallenged.
The group is holding talks with the environment department because it wants the colony managed before its numbers grow to damaging proportions.
According to department ecologists, netting is the best way to manage bat damage in orchards.
At $10,000 a hectare for drape nets and $50,000 a hectare for permanent nets, that’s an expensive solution for farmers.
Authorities would do well to consider taking action now when the colony is small and containable.

Oakbank struggle

The Oakbank Racing Club seems to be on the back foot with falling crowd numbers and a growing anti-jumps racing sentiment.
The state of its finances is the latest hurdle it will have to overcome in the short term if the iconic Easter race meeting is to prosper well into the future.
Officials must feel somewhat under siege but the club cannot continue to lose significant amounts of money every year and time is looming as a major threat.

The fear factor

Police have declared war on motorbike riders with the targeted blitz on those who flout the region’s speed limits.
One only has to observe the behavior of some weekend riders on sections of Hills roads to realise that some bikers view local roads as racetracks.
The speeds are staggering, as are some of the high risk overtaking manoeuvres.
The intended use of hidden cameras highlights the level to which the situation has descended with police counteracting the practice of riders travelling the roads at safe speeds checking for cameras before giving the ‘all clear’ to others.
It is true that an experienced motorcycle rider can safely travel on most Hills roads in excess of the posted speed limit.
But the roads are not playgrounds.
They are used by everyone from semi-trailers to cyclists and one group cannot be quarantined from the rules.
The deliberate police move to create a  “fear of detection” among road users shows the level of their concern.
It appears that the only deterrent for some will be either getting killed or getting  caught.
With the well signposted fixed cameras on the freeway at Crafers and Mt Osmond collecting a staggering $6m in their first seven months of operation, one can only wonder what impact the hidden cameras will have.
If lives are saved then the deterrent will have been a success.

Pick of the bunch

Lake Breeze winery’s Handpicked Festival will certainly have helped put the Langhorne Creek wine region on the map.
Such an event is a great way to draw new people into the region – people who, after their first taste, will hopefully want to return to explore the other wineries and attractions on offer.
In a challenging marketplace where there is plenty of competition for the tourism dollar, it is encouraging to see a small local business taking a chance by organising a major event.
The time, effort and money that goes into securing and delivering such a festival is huge.
Let’s hope the payoffs are just as big for one of SA’s lesser known but significant wine regions.

Political lies

It’s a cheap line that you can tell when a politician is lying because his or her lips are moving.
Sadly the quip is gaining so much currency in recent times that it’s not cheap any more – it carries plenty of weight.
And more fuel was added to the “all politicians are liars” fire last week with the announcement that the Federal Government would cut more than $250m from the ABC over the next five years after Liberal leader Tony Abbott clearly promised not to cut the organisation’s funding on the eve of last year’s election.
This is the same man who, along with senior members of his team, quite rightly pursued former PM Julia Gillard relentlessly after her statement “there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead” statement.
Like Mr Abbott’s ABC moment on election eve, Ms Gillard clearly said one thing during an election campaign and did exactly the opposite.
It was an obvious lie that was never admitted.
Both Mr Abbott and Ms Gillard deserve our scorn.
To see the recent trail of experienced Liberal politicians who once dropped the “Ju-liar” tag at every opportunity during Ms Gillard’s tenure suddenly stumbling and fumbling in pathetic attempts to deny Mr Abbott misled the electorate is, well, pathetic.
Their futile charade only enhances the untrustworthiness of all politicians in people’s minds.
The whole exercise descends into a word game between politicians and journalists and the verbal gymnastics performed by the elected representatives proves they view the public as stupid for thinking that “no cuts” or “no carbon tax” meant exactly that.
If voters were at the forefront of their minds, these highly intelligent politicians (with some notable exceptions) would speak clearly and concisely to spare us the desperate gibberish.
But they can’t and we must suffer their inglorious squirming because they are trying to argue that black is white.
There is no reason why the ABC should be spared Federal funding cuts if other departments are being asked to find efficiencies – but that is not the issue.
The issue is political dishonesty.
There’s plenty of it about at the moment and that is what really needs a cut.

Slap in the face

The recent increases to the Emergency Services Levy (ESL) reveal the ugly side of politics.

The State budget measure has delivered millions of dollars to a cash-strapped SA Government with little political pain.

That’s because those affected the most by the removal of the rebate are rural South Australians and the chances of them delivering a rural electorate to a Labor Government are extremely slim.

On the surface making everyone (except concession card holders) pay the full amount on what is effectively a property-based tax sounds equitable.

But not everyone is receiving the same level of service.

If you live in or close to Adelaide your household ESL might have gone up by 50% or even doubled.

It’s a hard hit but most people acknowledge that if their house catches fire, emergency services will turn up in a timely fashion.

As you head into the country areas some farmers have been slugged with ESL increases of up to 1000%.

But when fire threatens their properties, most of them put on their CFS uniforms and go out and fight it themselves or they start up their own farm fire units to do the job.

It’s no wonder volunteers are so angry that certain brigades have resorted to the only protest available to them, withdrawing their labor on Government land.

Now a brigade close to home is joining in the protest.

Echunga CFS Captain Mark Clothier said he and his fellow volunteers were being slugged three times.

They pay their own ESL, they pay for the ESL increases on council properties through their rates and they donate their time for free – which can mean a loss of salary or lost income if they run their own businesses.

The volunteers are also risking their lives and taking away time from their families when they head out to fight fires or manage car crashes.

Making them pay for their own service is a slap in the face.

At the very least a rebate for active emergency services volunteers would be a  demonstration of appreciation.

These CFS volunteers donate their time and risk their lives on an almost daily basis because they care for their communities.

The same cannot be said for the current State Government.

Election winner

For all the fireworks in recent weeks, the local government elections in the Hills have ended with a whimper rather than a bang.
That is particularly true in the Adelaide Hills Council where all incumbent members, including Mayor Bill Spragg, have been comfortably re-elected.
The only three new members are former councillor, Liberal Party member and Back to Basics candidate Val Hall and newcomers and Australian Greens members Nathan Daniell and Kirrilee Boyd.
They replace retiring councillors Bill Gale, Simon Jones and Kate Hosking.
In terms of philosophical leanings – conservative or small ‘l’ liberal – the new members appear to replace like with like.
The result is in stark contrast to the last election when the council had seven new councillors due to retirements and election defeats.
That new blood brought in a very different mix of philosophical leanings, tending more to the liberal end of the spectrum.
Trying to readdress that change was one of the ambitions of the Back to Basics experiment in this election.
The loose coalition of 12 candidates campaigned on a platform of economic conservatism and opposition to “non-core” spending on the environment, arts and culture.
Only three of their members won a council position and two of them were sitting councillors Andrew Stratford and Ian Bailey.
The result was not a resounding success and the defeat of their leader Leone Taylor – 3766 votes to Mr Spragg’s 6124 – was convincing.
There’s no doubt the recent media exposure of Ms Taylor’s involvement with a leaked council email did considerable damage to both her and the entire Back to Basics campaign.
However, the incident cannot be viewed in isolation and it was probably one of several reasons why the Back to Basics group failed to achieve its desired success.
Perhaps their message didn’t get through or it did and was rejected by voters or they too closely resembled a political Party.
Maybe voters just liked the current councillors.
With 35% of enrolled voters filling in their ballot papers this election compared with 36% in 2010, it doesn’t appear that Back to Basics managed to flush out the support for which the members had hoped.

Have your say

This weekend the men and women who will lead the region’s councils over the next four years will be decided.

They will be the ones to set the level of annual rate rises and choose where those rates are spent.

They will listen to the community’s complaints and ideas and decide which projects, such as new sports and recreation facilities and road upgrades, are future priorities.

For many of us, local government is the tier of governance with the most direct impact on our lives.

It is responsible for ensuring we have safe roads and footpaths, that we and our children have parks and sports facilities for play and libraries for learning.

It collects our rubbish, resolves neighborhood disputes over fences and barking dogs and brings major events to entertain us.

It is surprising then that so few of us seem to care enough about our own backyard to have a say on how it is run.

Voter participation in council elections across the State is lower than in previous years.

Just 30% of people are expected to have their say and voter participation rates in Hills councils is currently well below that.

Only 17% of residents in the Mt Barker Council district had voted by Monday night.

That means just 2700 people out of an eligible 17,800 could decide who will be making those big decisions over the next four years.

This is especially important for a rapidly changing place such as Mt Barker.

What is agreed to in the next term will set the course for this expanding district well beyond the next decade.

The incoming council will buy land for new sport and recreation facilities and decide when those are developed.

It will decide whether more land will be rezoned for commercial and industrial use to create local jobs and will likely make plans for a new multi-million dollar civic centre in the Mt Barker CBD, perhaps even for a new pool.

The council will need dedicated elected members with the time, knowledge and skills to deal with complex issues.

If you’ve ever had a whinge about your local council, now is the time to pick up a pen, fill in your ballot paper and do something about it.

This was no fib

There would be every few people who haven’t told a fib to protect a friend, even if it’s just to protect their feelings.
But the lie Adelaide Hills Mayoral candidate Leone Taylor told the Adelaide Hills Council two years ago is in a different category all together.
With the benefit of hindsight she probably regrets being involved in the spur of the moment decision two years ago which resulted in a ratepayer’s private email correspondence to council arriving in her laptop.
Lapses of sound judgment happen.
We are not all perfect.
However, what happened after that was a premeditated and calculated decision by Ms Taylor to tell an untruth to an authority.
That takes things to an entirely different level.
Regardless of who pressed the send button on the iPad, in the face of an official investigation Ms Taylor concocted a story about how the transfer came about and then sent it in an email.
Ms Taylor confirmed to The Courier last week she was the author of the email containing the concocted story that was anonymously leaked to this newspaper and openly admitted the explanation was not true.
Ms Taylor is not standing for Prime Minister but she is a candidate for Mayor, a position of enormous responsibility and high standing in the community.
Mayors should respect both privacy and the truth at all times, even in the face of pressure.
Questioning whether candidates meet these standards is in the public interest.
To say that the admission now casts a stain over her Mayoral election campaign is an understatement.
Her campaign woes are also compounded by the way her Back to Basics group has presented rate rise information.
To say that the average rate rise has been 6.3% per annum in the past four years according to the last annual report – without mentioning the report was from 2012/13 and goes back to 2009/10 and two years of the previous council – misrepresents the facts.
The Back to Basics team also used incorrect figures to arrive at its claims that rates are spiralling out of control, mistakenly using the rise in rate income not the rise in rates.
A bad week for Back to Basics.

Road to reform

When former Police Minister Paul Holloway released his review of the Fire and Emergency Services Act last year he said emergency services in SA were at a cross road.
The MFS, CFS and SES were doing their jobs and doing them well at the grassroots level.
However, he found the board-style corporate structure too top heavy and the sector needed one chief executive to take charge and to streamline administration through one department.
Emergency Services Minister Tony Piccolo is now on a mission to make that happen.
How he gets there could well be a turning point for the CFS and how the volunteer organisation weathers the future.
It could also be a career defining moment for Mr Piccolo who has a perfect opportunity to display his negotiation and leadership skills.
It seems no-one in the CFS has a problem with slashing a top heavy administration or trying to stop duplication of services or making the distribution of resources more equitable.
What they are wary about is another Government cost cutting exercise that proves to be even more expensive to run and leaves brigades being managed at a regional level by career firefighters who do not understand the volunteer culture – a culture driven by service to community not a pay packet or career advancement.
Some fear the reform will end up facilitating a takeover bid by the MFS and the operational structure will be changed to suit bureaucracy rather than adapting to the geography and shared history of different rural areas.
However, some argue that the CFS is already managed by paid firefighters, who just happen to wear a CFS staff uniform, and volunteers’ fears are unfounded.
They say reforms are necessary to make sure volunteers can provide a better service through access to more training and resources, rather than having to fight for what they get as a separate entity.
Change is always difficult and steering a path towards a corporate structure that doesn’t alienate volunteers – CFS and SES – will be a hazardous journey.
Ultimately the Minister needs to make sure that changes at the top do not affect the firefighters at the bottom who volunteer to put their lives at risk every day.

School’s final bell

Today’s front page story about the Mt Torrens Primary School having only seven students is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue next year.

It is less than ideal for students and a poor use of resources to have seven pupils educated for the cost of keeping an entire school staffed and maintained.

Either more enrolments must be found or the school should be either closed or mothballed.

Schools with similar student numbers exist in very isolated communities but it is impossible to justify such a facility in Mt Torrens only a few kilometres from two existing State schools at Birdwood and Lobethal.

Small schools in small communities are always at a risk of disengaging with their communities but there is no suggestion that the current staff are anything but dedicated and respected by the parents.

The current principal was only appointed at the start of this year.

However, sometimes it can only take a clash of personalities – in some cases from years before – for a small school’s population to be decimated if there are a handful of parents willing to relocate their children.

That initial drop can set in train a domino affect resulting in more students leaving a school placing increased pressure on those remaining.

Such declines can also be influenced by factors outside the district such as dynamic educators from nearby schools who attract the interest of parents.

There is clearly a reason why the student population at Mt Torrens has dropped from 80 students six years ago to seven today.

What that is appears to be a mystery.

Sometimes demographics of small communities can change dramatically in a short time but the school’s governing council may find it difficult to attract a significant number of new students in the coming months.

With the recent approval of a 43-lot housing development in the town there may be a number of school-aged children in the community in the next decade.

It may be worth considering mothballing the present site to ascertain the need for the facility in the near future but no doubt the cash-strapped State Government will be eager to see some better value for its educational investment.

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