The Courier: Editorial

Racing future

Oakbank’s Easter Racing Carnival last weekend was again marred by dwindling crowd numbers.
While overall attendance fell by more than 20% this year, the biggest hit was taken by Easter Monday, which drew just 10,000 people compared with last year’s 15,000-strong crowd.
The decline is not a recent trend, with crowds decreasing consistently over the past several years.
A Select Committee into jumps racing may have given the club the green light to continue its signature event, The Great Eastern Steeplechase, but the club’s committee is still pushing against the tide.
While jumps racing was once accepted as a sporting spectacle, the ethics of racing horses over hurdles is continually called into question, with a growing population demanding change.
The death of a racehorse during Saturday’s meet only added fuel to that fire.
The campaign of the anti-jumps group has also been amplified by a Racing Minister who so vocally opposes the sport that he refuses to attend the State’s most popular horse racing event.
But if growing opposition to jumps racing is one nail in the carnival’s coffin, a trend away from attending public holiday race meetings is another.
With an increasing number of competing Easter events across the State and many people opting to leave town for the weekend, drawing a strong Easter Monday crowd may not get easier, with or without jumps racing.
Club chairman Barney Gask declared he was happy with the weekend’s turnout.
But the declining numbers at a once thriving event tells a very different story – the Oakbank Racing Club is in trouble.
The committee recognises that change needs to be made to stop the steady bleed of punters from its event, but the solution remains illusive.
Mr Gask has made it clear that jumps racing will continue at Oakbank and that the committee is determined to seek other ways to improve the event.
However, even if the Monday races are moved to another day (a Saturday to Saturday format) or it does become a flat-only racing program, the club will still be hard-pressed to revive the event to its former glory.

Revenue raising or risk reducing?

Fixed speed cameras such as those on the freeway are highly divisive pieces of technology.
There are those who quite rightly argue that if motorists don’t speed and drive in a safe and courteous manner they will never give speed cameras or any other law enforcement devices a moment’s thought.
They are quite correct.
Others, however, are of the view that speed cameras are designed and positioned in locations to extract the maximum amount of revenue.
It can also be argued that in many cases the penalty does not fit the crime for a moment’s lack of concentration.
Both these arguments are also sound and, despite the State Government’s repeated assertions that speed cameras are a road safety device, it is impossible to ignore how reliant it is on the resulting revenue.
So the figures revealed in today’s story on page 5 of The Courier showing the revenue raised by the two newly introduced speed cameras on the South Eastern Freeway at Mt Barker Summit and Callington are astonishing.
The cameras are positioned on an excellent part of the freeway.
The road is relatively straight with long sweeping bends and carries significantly less traffic than the same road closer to the city past the population centres of Mt Barker, Bridgewater and Stirling.
So for the cameras to collect more than $2m in a year (despite the westbound cameras only operating for four months due to a technical issue) is remarkable.
These new cameras collected more than the camera at Crafers despite that part of the freeway carrying 7000 more vehicles a day.
The new cameras can catch motorists either as fixed point cameras (similar to the ones at Crafers or Leawood Gardens) or as part of the point-to-point system with the ‘other end’ 13km away.
Drivers caught speeding at both fixed point locations on the same journey will receive two fines but those caught by the point-to-point system as well as at one or both of the fixed cameras will only receive a single fine – whichever is the greater.

Tourist numbers

Recent figures by Tourism Research Australia (TRA) show tourists injected an extraordinary $205m into the Hills economy in 2016.
This is great news for our tourism industry and proves that we have what it takes to mix it with the best tourist destinations in the world.
The Hills has long been seen as a perfect day-trip destination offering a picturesque and idyllic taste of country life less than 30 minutes from the city.
Domestic day-trip numbers in the Hills have jumped 25% to 1.2 million visitors in 2016 with the average tourist spending $83 during their stay.
This money is largely spent in the region’s food and wine sector, which offers some of the best indulgences on the planet.
Our world-class cheeses, wines, chocolates and other produce lure visitors from across the globe at all times of the year.
Sip a wine by the fire in July or frolic through the vineyard on a hot February day – there is plenty to appreciate about the Hills no matter the weather or the season.
This tourist appreciation is hugely rewarding for local hotels, cafs, shops, restaurants and wineries and we should be making every effort to take advantage of our unique situation.
But an 8% drop in overnight domestic visitors to 177,000 in 2016 shows we must do more to build on accommodation offerings.
We must convince our day-trip visitors to stay overnight and enjoy twice as much of what the region has to offer.
It may be that the Hills both thrives and suffers from its close proximity to Adelaide, as tourists see no reason to stay overnight if city accommodation is a stone’s throw away.
We Hills dwellers must continue to appreciate the value of where we live and the reasons why our backyard is so loved in the first place.
Regular exposure can mean locals don’t fully appreciate the appeal of  the region.
Every once in a while we locals should enjoy what is right on our doorstep and take a slow trip to a pocket of the Hills we might have forgotten.
It’ll be worth the effort … and it’s a lot easier than travelling half way around the world to experience it.

Save our seat

Speculation over the future of the Federal seat of Mayo should raise a battle cry among voters of all stripes across the electorate.
Since it was created almost 34 years ago the electorate has enjoyed representation in Parliament’s Lower House – something the  Hills and Fleurieu regions cannot afford to lose.
Mayo’s boundaries may circle a geographically disparate area – from the ranges to the coast and Kangaroo Island  – but many of its core issues are the same.
The ability to actively lobby on those issues would likely be lost if the electorate was axed and its regions split and swallowed up by neighboring seats.
Would a metropolitan MP really understand the issues surrounding regional tourism, agriculture, environmental protection, country health and water security?
Would a politician based in the South East or Murraylands be as easily accessible to voters?
The decisive election win by NXT MP Rebekha Sharkie last year clearly has the major Parties rattled and the axing of her seat would be an easy solution to the rising challenge they are facing from minor Parties and independents.
But for the Liberal Party to walk away from Mayo without a fight would represent a great disservice to the people of the electorate.
As a Liberal stronghold for over three decades, the conservative voters of Mayo should demand the Federal Liberal team fight for its survival.
The Party must aggressively oppose any push to redistribute the seat and, instead,  work tirelessly to win it back.
To meekly let it wither on the vine in order to suffer little political pain through a conveniently-timed redistribution would be an utter betrayal of the local community.
If the Liberals still held the seat the cries of derision would be heard long and loud and their response in the coming negotiations will speak volumes.
It must be remembered the Labor Party has everything to gain by the death of Mayo.
The true value of Rebekha Sharkie’s win at the last election may be that she lit a fire under the backside of the Liberal Party which must put forward a dynamic, hard working, approachable and articulate candidate with well thought out policies and funded plans at the next election.
To lose that potential advantage would be a great loss for the people of this region.

Boost for Nairne

The Mt Barker Council’s $350,000 plan to beautify Nairne’s main street is a step towards building a more lively and prosperous town.
The perception that Nairne has been the poorer, forgotten cousin of Mt Barker for more than a decade is understandable.
The once thriving town fell into decline when the Chapman’s Smallgoods factory at the eastern end of the main street shut in 2002.
The factory was the lifeblood of Nairne and provided local employment to hundreds of people for more than a century.
Since its closure the main street has become tired and lacks business vibrancy despite Nairne being home to more than 5000 people.
Residents from housing areas at the western side of town have no need to visit the main street as it has no supermarket and few shops to match the offerings in nearby Littlehampton or Mt Barker.
Consequently, Nairne traders have struggled to attract shoppers and further investment. The problem compounded in on itself and Nairne became a classic example of a dying town.
The trees, benches and footpaths proposed in the main street plan may be small in the overall scheme of things but what they can bring is a new sense of worth for the town.
A new street with more energy, attracting new traffic and new businesses may well be the catalyst to allow Nairne to shine on its own and step out of the shadow of Mt Barker.
With that comes the potential for Nairne to trade on its own identity, tell its own story, make itself a destination rather than a speed hump to somewhere else and take control of its future.
A key to the whole main street investment will be the building of a new Klose’s supermarket on the disused Chapman’s factory site. This plan still has a few hurdles to overcome before it becomes a reality but its development is vital to the future prosperity of the town.
Having a supermarket in the main street will inject both significant funds and a plethora of possibilities into the town.
It is comforting to know that Nairne already has a dynamic and passionate community base from which to launch its journey into the rest of this century.

Ward wars

Mayor Bill Spragg’s statement that the weight of community opposition does not influence decisions made by the council is likely to be a blow for a community that potentially already feels it has little voice.
Whether or not the Mayor and some councillors believed they were acting for the greater good when they decided to abolish the ward-based representation system, their decision to go against the wishes of 94% of community responders is likely to disenfranchise not only those involved but others drawn to the resulting kerfuffle.
Mr Spragg is convinced the region will be better served without wards and said the arguments presented by almost 400 residents did not have enough merit to persuade him otherwise.
But for only 6% of responders to support the change shows the Mayor and the six councillors in the anti-ward camp themselves failed to establish a reasonable argument for the abolition of the system.
It should have been a priority for the Mayor and his supporters to develop a fact-based campaign – using Adelaide Hills Council data – on which to pin their argument.
There is little doubt the ward system does have flaws but they must be clearly highlighted if a decision is to be based on intelligent argument – as the Mayor states – rather than simple ideology.
It is acknowledged there are times when governments must make unpopular decisions for the greater good.
But the council’s decision to go against the overwhelming majority of feedback is likely to leave electors questioning the value of future community consultation.
As MP Isobel Redmond observed, the failure of governments to accurately represent their constituents’ wishes is resulting in the disengagement and disenfranchisement of electors across all levels of government.
In the scheme of government decisions the abolition of wards may be relatively insignificant.
However, a feeling of disconnection at a council level – the level of government that is supposed to be most closely connected to its electors – can only contribute to the dissatisfaction that has resulted in the kinds of unexpected outcomes seen during Brexit and the US election.
While the ratepayers of the Adelaide Hills Council may not be heard during periods of community consultation … they will have the whip hand on election day.

Health funding

The Liberals’ election pledge for emergency healthcare in Mt Barker shows the region’s urgent need for appropriate infrastructure is being taken seriously by both sides of politics.
For years residents have lobbied for better health services to meet the growing demands of a rapidly expanding population.
Now, following the State Government’s commitment to a three-month trial of an overnight doctor at the hospital, the Opposition has upped the ante.
It guarantees that service would continue under a Liberal government and has also committed to reinstating a local health board to decide how healthcare is run in the region.
The policy also includes a 10-year health plan for the Hills and investigations into increasing paediatric healthcare services and stepping up emergency care, possibly to a full-scale emergency department.
The pressure is now on the State Government to match those commitments.
But both sides must also recognise that improved healthcare is just one item on an extensive community wishlist for improved infrastructure and services to cater for the region’s growth.

Ward decision

Many people in the community will feel let down and angry at the decision by the Adelaide Hills Council to abolish its ward-based representation system.
The council not only failed to put up a credible argument that the previous system was broken and desperately needed changing, but it also delivered the community a slap in the face by ignoring the overwhelming rejection of the proposal.
Of the more than 400 residents who responded to the council, more than 90% were against the change.
And to add salt to the wound, the council insisted the decision be made on a date when it knew two of the pro-ward councillors would be away on leave.
The divide within the council on the matter meant the casting vote of the Mayor was required at every stage except for the final decision when the absent councillors meant the argument for keeping wards failed.
Leadership can mean not being swayed by the loudest voices, but when a government ignores so many of its constituents while offering only a meek argument for change, it weakens its value in the community.

Hospital win

Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie’s ability to bring much needed after hours medical services to Mt Barker is a clear win for the new Federal MP.
Ms Sharkie has done what previous State and Federal MPs either could not – or would not – do and her success will no doubt make a positive difference to the growing Mt Barker community.
The experience of Mt Barker mother Amy Dudfield is just one of dozens of stories that have emerged from the district over the past couple of months, proving that the Mt Barker hospital after hours health system was failing its community.
The idea of having an after-hours doctor on call may have been sound in theory but too many patients were simply being transferred immediately to Adelaide after arriving at their local hospital.
Residents have been calling for consistent access to hospital care during the night for several years.
Ms Sharkie recognised this need, actively sought the voice of her constituents and stepped outside her Federal political sphere and began negotiating to bring change at a State level.
The reward for her actions highlights the positive impact an astute and proactive local member can have in their electorate.
Credit must also go to the State Government which listened to the growing community and acted accordingly.
The bigger issue is that Ms Sharkie’s success has the potential to further promote a shift away from major political parties in the Hills.
The region has historically had strong Liberal leanings, but voters in last year’s Federal election showed they were willing to step away from their traditional thinking – a shift that could have ramifications at next year’s State election.
If the Liberals don’t want to risk losing their safe seats, they will need to work towards actively maintaining the community’s confidence.
In this day and age a community taken for granted or left feeling ignored is a dangerous and unpredictable beast.
And with the population of Mt Barker expected to climb to 50,000 within 20 years, there are many growth pressures which will antagonise an already politically empowered community.
The next generation of politicians had better beware.

Ice addiction

It’s every parent’s nightmare: discovering your child is addicted to a deadly drug.
But what makes this situation even worse in SA is that successfully securing support to help a young person to get clean appears to be dependent on where they live, how long they can wait or how much money their family has.
Ice is a growing problem in this State.
Its use has tripled in the past five years alone.
It’s extremely addictive, it’s relatively cheap and it’s readily available – all of which make it more attractive to young people, with men aged 18 to 24 the most likely to take the drug.
It is an insidious drug that can make addicts extremely aggressive and violent.
Parents do feel powerless to help their ice affected children.
There are limited public treatment options, especially in regional areas, and there are usually lengthy waiting lists for rehabilitation programs, while privately-run services can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Few, if any, residential detox centres will take on children.
Having a court order a young addict into a new residential facility for minors then sounds like an attractive idea.
But it is a big step to lock someone away for compulsory treatment – especially when the effectiveness and success rate of current treatment methods is unclear.
The concept may have merit in severe cases where young addicts present a serious risk of harm to themselves and those around them, particularly other children in the family home.
Perhaps it could be just one tool in a suite of options for treatment as part of an overhauled approach to tackling the issue of drug addiction across SA.
However, in order for this proposal to be progressed, a lot more work needs to be done to determine the most effective way to get people off this drug and keep them clean for good.
Who would pay for the treatment, who would run it and where would treatment centres be developed?
Any mandatory treatment program must also be supported with long-term assistance to help the affected young person settle back into society.

Inverbrackie sale

The sale and future development of the former Inverbrackie Detention Centre will undoubtedly bring many benefits to Woodside.
Attracting residents to the 81 vacant houses will certainly boost local businesses and potentially draw more people to the Hills.
It will be a welcome injection of funds into the local economy.
There’s no doubt that the developers, Mill Hill Capital, have an aesthetic, country-style estate in mind for the site, with plans to update the homes, build affordable tourist accommodation, attract value-adding primary production businesses and co-ordinate landscaping in communal areas.
But only time will tell whether the site becomes that thriving hub for families, tourists and local industry or whether it becomes a transient and somewhat disconnected community.
The directors of Mill Hill Capital have described the target market of the housing in the estate as families and young people moving into the area who may want to rent in the district before making a more permanent move.
But while the plan may fill a need for short-term accommodation in the Hills, the sale of individual housing lots is likely to be the best long-term solution for both the site and the wider community.
The land’s current rural zoning hinders the site from being subdivided, but that is a concept that the developers have not ruled out.
The Adelaide Hills Council is understandably reluctant to support the idea of Torrens Title allotments at the site, as this would transfer responsibility of the roads and other infrastructure to the council.
However, the sale of the land as community titled allotments could be just the thing the 22ha site needs to bring life to the vision cast by its new owners.
With the newly landscaped communal areas maintained by a body corporate, such a scheme may attract more permanent residents, who are eager to invest in their homes and thereby create a more thriving community.
The site with ready-made infrastructure certainly oozes opportunity, but if the new owners want to breathe life back into the ghost town, they’ll need to attract the right kind of people to form a healthy community.