The Courier: Editorial

Still the same

The Adelaide Hills Council’s decision to pursue the abolition of the ward-based representation system is proof that nothing has changed over the past nine months.
More than 90% of community respondents still want the council to be divided into wards.
Half of the elected members also want to retain the current system.
And the other half of the elected members, as well as the Mayor, still want an undivided council.
The most recent decision also demonstrated that most of the councillors who were against retaining the wards were also against some kind of compromise, which could have seen the number of wards reduced, rather than completely abolished.
During the previous elector representation review – held during late 2016 and early 2017 – the council pushed ahead with the decision to abolish wards despite strong community opposition during two consultation periods (both over 90%).
This caused some people to feel as though their views had not been adequately considered.
It’s unlikely that the most recent decision has done anything to change that.
There are undoubtedly valid points on both sides of the argument, when it comes to whether or not the council should be divided.
Those in favor of the wards have argued that maintaining the status quo will ensure residents have a local representative to whom they can turn.
Someone who knows their area intimately, is in tune with the issues facing the local community and who can consider their needs.
Meanwhile, the Mayor has researched councils across the nation and found that a wardless system encourages more people to vote, while voters in undivided councils are also more likely to have their first preference candidate elected.
These factors are, in his opinion, strong evidence to say that councils without wards work better.
However, he and half of his fellow elected members have once again failed to convince the community of the same thing.
For the third time in less than a year the council has forged ahead to abolish wards without first bringing the community along.
In the process it has continued to injure the reputation of the community consultation process – a wound that will likely take a long time to heal.

For better or worse

The same sex marriage debate is continuing to cripple the Federal Government at a time when the community is demanding active leadership on a host of other far more important issues.
What we have at the moment is a squabbling rabble which is clearly not fully engaged with power prices, job creation, housing affordability or national security.
The Liberals seem hamstrung by a lack of leadership … or perhaps there are too many!
This latest internal wrangling over what is a relatively minor matter simply strengthens the mistrust of voters who bemoan the courage of our elected representatives.
Something must change because the voters will be waiting with baseball bats at the next election.
Allowing this issue to percolate to the top of the political agenda at a time when the nation can least afford it is a direct result of a Government leading from behind.
This issue needs to be settled in order to give our politicians clear air to lead us into an increasingly complex future.
The original plan for a non-binding plebiscite is a political failure.
The newly proposed back up postal plebiscite – also non-binding – is no better.
Such decisions are made by people lacking the confidence to lead.
Our politicians need to make a decision on the issue because cowering behind what is essentially an opinion poll costing taxpayers upwards of $150m displays a distinct lack of backbone.
Marriage equality directly affects a very small percentage of the population but all this dithering by politicians sends a confusing message, as the same people will willingly impact great swathes of the populace by cutting benefits or increasing taxes.
Tough times demand tough decisions, they say.
Homosexuality is legal, defacto relationships are normal and you cannot legislate against love.
Whichever Party has the willingness to put this issue to a vote will be seen as bold – irrespective of the outcome.
The reality is that under a conscience vote, every politician – whether they vote yes or no – will be forced to disappoint a section of their community in order to either create, or maintain, their ideal Australia.
It is obvious they just don’t have the ticker to make that choice.

Laugh a minute

The Federal political scene has descended into something of a farce.
With a growing list of Australian politicians discovered to be citizens of a second country – which makes them ineligible to hold office under the Constitution – the entire fiasco looks like a real life episode of the ABC comedy series Utopia.
Two Greens Senators have so far been forced to resign while a number of others on both sides of the political divide are claiming they had no knowledge of their status and therefore should be spared.
The concept that a person must not be a citizen of any other country before taking a seat in the Australian Parliament so they can then pledge allegiance to the head of the British Royal Family is bemusing to say the least. Utopia at its best.
Either the Constitution must change to suit the modern face of Australia or the nation must become a republic.
Otherwise we will remain a laughing stock and Canberra will continue to provide fully scripted episodes to the national broadcaster.

Oval challenges

The Bridgewater Callington Raiders Football Club has faced many challenges over the past few years, not the least of which has been the regular flooding of its home ground in Bridgewater.
Sporting clubs play a major role in Hills communities, and the absence of Bridgewater Callington games from the town has already taken its toll on the club, which has lost junior members and had its sponsorship threatened.
Built on one of the lowest points in the town, and directly next to a creek, the oval is in a less than ideal location.
However, the club is still an integral part of the town and a focal point for the community, while the ability to host regular sporting games must be a boon to local businesses.
It’s good to see the council making moves to repair the creek banks in preparation for next football season, which will hopefully see the return of senior games to the oval.
However, the creek will flood again and if the Bridgewater Callington Football Club is to have a stable future in the town, flood mitigation work along the creek needs to be a continuous effort.

Double blow

The resignation of an Alexandrina Councillor following an investigation into her complaint against her treatment at the hands of a fellow elected member is a double loss for the local community.

Not only does the Angas Bremer Ward community lose the services of an experienced second-term councillor, but it must also now go through the long process of electing a new representative – just over a year out from the next council elections.

It is unfortunate that Cr Katherine Stanley-Murray felt the complaint investigation process and aftermath left her with little choice but to resign as an elected member.

She had been democratically re-elected to the position of Deputy Mayor for a second 12-month term back in late 2016.

That decision was made via a secret ballot in which Ms Stanley-Murray received the highest number of votes from her fellow councillors out of the three candidates running for the role.

Mayor Keith Parkes upheld the result of that ballot using his casting vote when the motion to endorse Ms Stanley-Murray’s appointment came down to a tied vote.

Some councillors objected to her appointment in the weeks afterwards based on an understanding dating back to 2014 that it be a 12-month position to allow councillors to take turns in the role.

However, it appears that no objection to Ms Stanley-Murray contesting the position was made during the voting process.

Arguably, the time to raise the issue of whether Ms Stanley-Murray was eligible to stand again was at that meeting.

Instead, internal concerns over whether the appointment was in keeping with the intent of the council’s 2014 decision were allowed to ferment, leading to allegations of bullying and harassment which Ms Stanley-Murray claims forced her to resign.

The community could be forgiven for being frustrated that what was a relatively minor dispute at the time – which should have been resolved with a couple of mutual apologies and a firming up of policy regarding the annual appointment of a Deputy Mayor – was allowed to escalate to the point of a resignation of an elected member from office.

There is an expectation that those in public office should be able to sort out such differences of opinion in a professional manner and in a way that is going to deliver the best result for the community, whom they are elected to serve.

Inverbrackie reborn

In just a few years the Hills hamlet of Inverbrackie would be unrecognisable from its former role as a detention centre for refugees if a development company’s plans get the green light.
The site is set to become a new satellite suburb of Woodside and is expected to draw almost 400 new residents to the area.
With some of the 80 homes already being given substantial makeovers under a $6m project before hitting the market as rentals, the rest of the township is set to follow suit.
If it can get the necessary rezoning, subdivision and development approvals, its owner Mill Hill Capital has big plans for Inverbrackie, which is being rebadged as Crest @ Woodside.
Up to $14m would be spent on building new homes on vacant lots within the site and upgrading public infrastructure such as wetlands, parks and walking trails.
And a further $7m has been earmarked to establish a much-needed tourist park that the owners hope will entice more visitors to stay and explore the region longer.
When Inverbrackie closed, there were real concerns within the community about its future.
Now that future looks bright, with the potential to deliver a real economic boost to the local area.

Keep left

If there is a drawback to living in this beautiful region, it probably is having to use the freeway at peak times.
Driver behavior on the region’s busiest route is a constant bugbear, so it was encouraging to see SA Police targeting one of those common frustrations last week – the failure by some motorists to keep left unless overtaking.
On such a busy road it’s all too common to get stuck behind a slower travelling vehicle in the right-hand lane.
That inconsiderate driving often frustrates other motorists who make rash and dangerous manoeuvres such as tail-gating and overtaking on the inside lane.
After delivering both cautions and fines last Thursday, police are warning that the keep left rule is one they will be watching for some time to come.
It would seem that drivers could benefit from being reminded about basic road rules and courtesy on this route and perhaps new electronic signs could be used to send some timely educational messages.

Cats and councils

The Adelaide Hills Council’s animal management survey results are an interesting reflection of changing societal attitudes.
Forming part of the council’s community consultation into animal management issues in the Hills, they demonstrate a clear acceptance – and even advocacy – for cat registration, limits of animals per household as well as confinement to an owner’s property.
This is a far cry from the nonchalant attitude towards the animals only a couple of decades ago when they were commonplace on most rural and semi-rural properties – put outside with the milk bottles every night to roam, hunt and mate.
With this change in attitude comes increasing pressure on governments, particularly those at local level, to address the community’s expectations and introduce bylaws and associated services to police them.
It’s good to see that the Adelaide Hills Council appears open to tackling the challenge in response to the voice of the people.
However, even if the change gains public and council support, the challenge remains in the implementation of the concept.
Tighter management rules for cat owners will undoubtedly make a big difference to many of the native animals with which we share this world class region, offering greater protection for many of the species that can fall prey to roaming felines.
It will also be a welcome change for the residents who are tired of sharing their backyards with their neighbor’s pet cat.
However, on the flip side, there’s no doubt keeping track of cats is more difficult than keeping track of dogs, and implementing and policing cat registration or confinement will likely prove to be complex and costly for councils.
It’s likely to increase the staffing and funding required for animal management in the region, and there may be some question as to how effective it will be if surrounding councils don’t follow suit.
With the council’s new plan intended to inform animal management in the Hills for the next five years, now’s the time for the community to decide whether stricter cat management is a cause worth putting their council rates behind.

Funding pledge

The State Government’s $2.5m funding pledge for the Mt Barker sports hub is welcome news for the Hills community.
Healthy communities are often characterised by vibrant and active sporting cultures and the Government’s latest contribution will help this to be maintained in the Hills.
The State Labor Government gave the green light for the expansion of Mt Barker in 2010, and it’s good to see that the Minister for Recreation and Sport recognises that his government has a responsibility to provide the facilities needed to support that growth.
This is not the first time the Government has contributed funding to the sports hub project, with just over $1m already contributed for the purchase of the land and a concept plan for the project.
However, the Labor Party must ensure it is not caught behind when it comes to helping develop and maintain a host of local needs under pressure from the growth.
Over the past few months the region has received funding pledges for both health and sports services, as the Weatherill Government responds to the pressure of regional leaders, politicians and members of the community, who are crying out for better infrastructure and community services.
But the region is still in desperate need of other facilities including a regional swimming centre, road upgrades, more health services and support for local business growth and job creation.
It is important our State Government anticipates these needs rather than responding to them only when the community desperately petitions for them.
With a State election set to go ahead early next year and a Federal election the year after, now is precisely the right time for community groups and councils to pressure all political parties to not only recognise the needs of Hills communities, but ensure they make firm, timely funding pledges to support our rapidly growing region.
With what the experts are calling a ‘challenging’ State election in Hills seats and the region showing all the hallmarks of more marginal electorates, the community is in a position to reap the rewards of the political process, which, whether we like it or not, almost always degenerates to buying votes with funding promises.
Bring it on! We’ve been forgotten for too long.

People power

The Nairne community has succeeded in putting one of the area’s riskiest junctions firmly on the political agenda ahead of next year’s State election.
The intersection of Woodside Road and Old Princes Highway has been a frustration for motorists for decades, so its inclusion in the RAA Risky Roads list is no surprise.
The region’s population growth and the opening of the nearby Bald Hills Road interchange have exacerbated the problem.
High traffic volumes, impatient drivers and children walking to school do not mix well and there is a real community fear that one day soon this intersection will be the scene of a tragedy.
With a pedestrian activated crossing banking traffic over the Woodside Road junction at peak times, and frustrated drivers trying to exit the dead-end Saleyard Road onto the highway nearby, the situation is a danger to both motorists and pedestrians.
Politicians of both major parties have long known about the issue, but have been reluctant to commit to finding a long-term solution.
However, with a changing political climate in the Hills, now is the ideal time for the Nairne community to maintain the pressure and make fixing the junction a key election issue.

Carly’s law

For Sonya Ryan, last week’s decision by Federal Parliament to back Carly’s Law is evidence that out of great personal darkness can come a bright light.
Ten years ago she lost her teenage daughter, Carly, in circumstances that horrified the Hills community and the nation.
But instead of being overcome by what must be an overwhelming sense of grief, anger and loss, Ms Ryan has channelled her love for her daughter into tireless efforts to protect other children from online predators.
Thanks to those efforts, and the support of Federal politicians, Australia now has legislation that makes it easier for police to intervene early to stop online predators before they can harm a child.
Crucially, it means that any adult who uses a false persona, including lying about their age, to try and connect with a child online in order to harm them can be prosecuted.

Tourism hub

The Hills scored two significant wins on the tourism front this week.
First came the news that 3000 Chinese people will be visiting Hahndorf later this month hosted by their employer Perfect China, a manufacturing company.
The visitors are the top sales representatives of the company and the Hahndorf visit forms part of an eight-day trip to SA.
The Hahndorf Inn, which has been working hard to increase links with China in recent years, will host the visitors for lunch over six separate days serving roasted pork knuckle – supplied by Mt Barker company Skara Smallgoods.
The visit to the hotel is expected to generate almost $80,000 in trade for the hotel and the spin-off benefits for other main street traders and the wider general business community is expected to be significant.
But the true value for the town will not be felt until the visitors return home where they will hopefully act as unpaid tourism ambassadors and ‘educate’ their friends and relatives about the wonders of the Hills, especially Hahndorf.
The burgeoning relationship with the Chinese tourism industry looks set to be a multi-million dollar bonus for the region which is becoming increasingly reliant on giving overseas and interstate visitors an experience … rather than just nice scenery.
Hopefully those coming in the future will be able to visit the reopened Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary, the other piece of good news in the Hills this week.
The commitment by the new owners of the sanctuary to reopen the once popular tourist attraction will be met with joy by many.
The sanctuary developed an international reputation when, under the guidance of former owner and well-known conservationist Dr John Wamsley, it began a platypus breeding and observation program.
Countless school children have tramped through its bush to marvel at the wildlife and, although perhaps not realising it at the time, have taken away an appreciation of the natural environment and its importance.
Let’s hope a reopened Warrawong will further cement the wider Hills region as one of the most remarkable places to visit in Australia.