The Courier: Editorial

Water torture

When planning began for the management of the Western Mt Lofty Ranges’ water resources a decade ago, the memory of the millennium drought was still fresh in most farmers’ minds.
Many had been through the juggling act of managing cattle, dairies, orchards and vineyards on dwindling water supplies from drying dams and waterways.
They could remember the State’s water reservoir levels dropping and the once mighty Murray reduced to a trickle.
There was a general understanding that water was a resource that needed to be better managed to secure the future of the region’s primary production sector, the environment and Adelaide’s water supply.
When they were told they would have to pay a fee to have a licence to use the water many growers’ families had accessed for free for generations, there were grumblings, but they paid up.
Then came the news that landowners would have to have a meter installed to monitor use – and pay for that as well.
When the announcement of a levy arrived, the grumblings turned into heated protests that firmly pitted long-term producers against the Adelaide and Mt Lofty Ranges Natural Resource Management Board responsible for rolling out the plan.
Monday night’s meeting in Uraidla was a further widening of the divide emerging over water management in the Hills.
Growers are meeting the State Government’s threats of legal action and land seizures over non-payment of the levy with their own revolt by threatening to tear up their bills.
For many primary producers, the levy is just another tax – on top of recent soaring Emergency Services Levy bills – making it harder for them to make a living.
For the NRM Board it’s a fair way to raise money to part-fund the cost of water management – a cost that has been borne by other licence holders in the Barossa, Northern Adelaide Plains and McLaren Vale for the best part of a decade.
Why should one region get its water for free, while others pay to access the same resource?
The only certainty in this debate now is that unless both sides can shelve their differences and communicate more effectively to make the plan work, then ultimately everyone will lose out when the next drought arrives.

Houses for sale

A new future for the now defunct Inverbrackie detention facility is a step closer.
The Department of Defence announced back in May that the 80-home site – vacated late last year – would be sold in one lot.
However, the wheels of government turn slowly and there has been a genuine fear in the community that the place will rapidly deteriorate if left abandoned for too long.
A ghost town next door to the 16th Air Land Regiment does nothing to benefit the community and is a waste of the $10m taxpayers spent upgrading the old defence housing estate to an acceptable standard for a detention facility.
Now the Adelaide Hills Council has received a letter giving it first option to buy the land, with a decision deadline set for the end of the month.
Given its experience with the old Lobethal mill, the council is unlikely to take on another commercial project and the department will go to open tender.
The hope now is that whoever buys the property moves quickly to develop the site and that the wheels of planning move faster than they usually do in this area.

Antiques town

Strathalbyn is widely known as an ‘antiques town’.
Indeed its historic and well preserved High Street precinct is a Mecca for antique aficionados with its shops brimming with second-hand goods and collectables.
Last weekend’s 25th annual Antiques, Collectors and Interior Design Fair further cemented the historic town’s connection with the past and, judging by the more than 6000 people who attended the two-day event, it is a valuable hook on which the town can hang its marketing hat.
Most towns would dream of that tourism pulling power and its committee has shown that by adding an interior design element to the usual program it is positive and forward thinking about the future of the weekend.
A pop-up cellar door was on offer for the first time this year in the old grain store opposite the town’s swimming pool and,  with the Langhorne Creek wine region only minutes away, the potential for a more integrated food and wine component remains a possibility.

Building up

Fast-forward two decades and imagine Mt Barker’s town centre streets lined with five-storey apartment blocks and offices.
It’s a challenging thought that high rise developments as tall as the Flinders Medical Centre could take the place of the town’s pool and caravan park, form the backdrop along its creeks and overshadow tiny historic cottages.
Clearly the community has decided that vision is not one it wants for Mt Barker circa 2035.
Their overwhelming opposition to the council’s proposed new maximum building height limit in the town centre is justified.
Such buildings would be far too big for the narrow streets and historic precincts along which they are proposed.
But the fact remains that Mt Barker is a rapidly growing town, undergoing a painful transformation from sleepy country town to bustling regional centre.
These growing pains are placing extra pressure on the town centre to meet the demands of business and community expectations.
Office accommodation is in short supply and there are limited opportunities for those who want to live in the heart of the town.
Residents also expect that Mt Barker will offer the 21st Century infrastructure, shopping opportunities and services befitting a regional centre.
With that extra pressure on a limited town centre, it makes sense to build up.
It creates environmental benefits by condensing the CBD in a confined footprint, while also opening up opportunities for commerce and the community to coexist in a way that can breathe vibrancy into the heart of the town.
There are plenty of examples in inner city Adelaide of well-designed two to three storey developments mixing apartment living with cafes, shops and offices.
This gives new housing opportunities to those who don’t want a big house but do want easy access to services and shops, such as the young and elderly.
Such vibrancy can still be achieved in Mt Barker’s town centre with a reduced height limit of two to three storeys and innovative design to ensure the town centre becomes a pleasant and productive heart rather than a concrete jungle.

Rainbow flag

The response to last week’s letter to the editor from Ruth Trinkle of Lobethal, in which she chastised The Courier for reporting on a council decision to fly the rainbow flag, was nothing short of astounding.
In her letter Mrs Trinkle said she bought The Courier every week for her customers to read in her shop but would stop doing so as she believed stories on what she described as the “homosexuality campaign” would offend her customers.
The name of the business was not mentioned in the letter but it didn’t take long to emerge.
A social media storm erupted within hours of the letter’s publication.
The hundreds of emails, letters, Facebook messages and phone calls – most vehemently opposed to Mrs Trinkle’s views – helped push the matter into the national spotlight.
The story was reported in almost every major newspaper in the country and it placed the owners and staff of The Lobethal Bakery into a very difficult position … particularly as Mrs Trinkle had left for overseas two days before it was printed.
Within hours a Facebook page was established to boycott the bakery and dozens of writers to The Courier’s Facebook page said they would never again use the business.
Some people stood in defence of Mrs Trinkle’s views against the barrage of criticism and, while most Facebook contributors conveyed their thoughts in appropriate terms, the venom displayed by others was disturbing.
Some very unsettling phone calls were received by the business but, as the owners told The Courier on Monday, nothing unseemly was delivered face to face.
Which suggests that in this modern world of electronic communication it is very easy for people to express their views, but very few take the opportunity to do so in person.
We live in rapidly changing times.
Homosexuality was only decriminalised in SA in the 1970s and same sex marriage, in all probability, is likely to be legalised soon.
It is difficult for everyone to accept significant social change and it is not an offence to disagree with its direction.
What is needed in such circumstances is understanding and tolerance – on both sides of the debate.
Isn’t that exactly what flying the rainbow flag is supposed to symbolise?

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.

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