The Courier: Editorial

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.

Two worlds collide

Residents who live in the Hills, so close to Adelaide, often say they enjoy the best of both worlds, with the beauty of the countryside and the convenience of the city.
Unfortunately, sometimes they are disadvantaged by both worlds.
A good example is communication.
The Hills is a patchwork region of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ when it comes to mail delivery, mobile telephone reception, accessible, affordable internet access and even digital television reception.
Some of that is due to geography but much of it is due to ageing infrastructure and business dynamics which has decided that some communities are just not worth the bother.
Some towns have home mail delivery.
Many more communities do not, which is a problem when post box agencies close down.
Upper Sturt had to find a new home for its post boxes late last year and Summertown lost its postal service early this year with residents’ boxes moving to Uraidla.
Now the Wistow community is facing the same dilemma with its general store closing at the end of the month.
Moves are now afoot to try and shift the boxes to the town hall across the road, under a new contractor.
The Hills can expect more changes to its mail services as Australia Post grapples with finding a viable business model at the same time that a Senate Committee inquiry has called for a review of its community service obligations.
That review could be a concern for communities who do not have access to reliable and affordable internet.
It’s one thing to argue that everyone pays bills online nowadays and it’s another to ensure that people can.
Some residents cannot access the internet at all because providers refuse to upgrade networks where they live or the service they have is so unreliable  it is useless.
Others who have wireless services are on plans that are so restrictive in terms of data and expensive that they end up paying almost $250 a month for something that would cost a similar household in the city only $60.
And in all this it should not be forgotten that there is a significant section of the community still alive and kicking that never grew up with the internet, and has no plans to go online any time soon.

Fire season starts

Trees – planting them or cutting them down – are a constant source of news articles for The Courier.
Hills dwellers love the environment in which they live and are extremely protective of it. Conversely, they are also conscious of the bushfire risk and the need to reduce fuel load.
The two pursuits are not always at odds but sometimes they clash with one resident’s vision of a bush haven being another resident’s nightmare of an inferno waiting to happen.
All of this is set against a reality of declining biodiversity and remnant vegetation in the Mt Lofty Ranges and a significant increase in population from 50 years ago.
So it is timely that the universities of SA and Adelaide have joined forces to do a three-year study exploring the balance between conservation values and bushfire risk.
Their work will focus on community perceptions about how best to manage vegetation in peri-urban areas – where houses meet rural land and bush – both here in the Hills and on the lower Eyre Peninsula.
It is hoped that by talking to both the experts in native vegetation and bushfire management, and the people who choose to live in this environment, recommendations can be made about planning and population management as well as community education and engagement.
Surveys for the study will be sent out to random households in the coming weeks and residents are encouraged to take part.
Hills people are also urged to take heed of Sunday’s warm and extremely windy conditions.
The district only recorded one out of control burn-off compared with the 22 elsewhere in the State but it was one too many.
Now is the time to burn-off but property owners have a responsibility to the rest of the community to make sure they light up in appropriate conditions and that they look at the forecast conditions two and three days ahead to make sure they reduce the risk of flare-ups from embers.
If the weekend is the only time available to burn and the conditions are not right leading into the new week, consider other alternatives.
Leave the pile for another time or take advantage of the free green waste days provided by the Mt Barker and Adelaide Hills councils on Saturday, October 18.

Out of bounds

The euphoria enjoyed by the players and supporters of the Echunga Football Club after Saturday’s grand final win will no doubt be tempered by the realisation that the club could be demoted to the second tier competition next season.
Despite winning the Central Division A-grade flag in the first season since being promoted from Country Division – possibly the first time this has been achieved – the club faces the very real prospect of being relegated to the competition it fought so hard to leave just 12 months ago.
It is understandably a bitter pill to swallow for the club.
The Hills Football League (HFL) rules clearly state the club with the lowest overall success rate must make way for any qualified club which applies to play in the top division, unless another agrees to step down.
The club rankings are achieved by allocating points for wins in all grades during the season – 10 points for an A-grade win, five points for B-grade and senior colts and three points for junior colts.
However, the HFL by-laws do not state if this calculation ceases at the end of the minor round or if it continues into the finals series.
This grey area could be contested by Echunga which could argue that, if applied, Bridgewater should be demoted to make way for Mt Lofty which must be elevated after making the Country Division grand final.
Mt Lofty not only won that grand final but also won the B-grade, senior colts and Under 13 premierships.
Mt Lofty was demoted last year to make way for Echunga but is clearly too good for the lower division.
Another by-law could be changed at a special meeting if enough clubs support Echunga’s desire to stay in the Hills’ premier competition by increasing the number of teams allowed to join (currently 10).
This could be further confused if Nairne-Bremer – the other Country Division grand finalist – applies to move up into the top division.
Either way the administration of the league is no doubt bracing for a battle. Let’s hope it doesn’t descend to lawyers at 20 paces and both the league’s administrators and club delegates can keep the betterment of football for everyone as their primary objective ahead of parochialism.

Site by Sema4 Media |