The Courier: Editorial

Speed limit

The proposed changes to the speed zones along Greenhill and Onkaparinga Valley roads did not spring from the ether.
Back in 2013 the Department for Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) received an unusually high number of requests from Hills residents to lower speed limits.
They said they didn’t feel safe backing out of their properties, riding their bikes, walking their dogs or walking their children to school.
Rather than deal with each request individually, DPTI officials approached the Adelaide Hills Council and suggested doing a district-wide review of speed limits to try and capture the concerns and the wishes of the wider community.
From that partnership came a community consultation process that involved a survey (580 responses) and public information booths and workshops in different areas.
The feedback from residents was that they wanted more consistency with the speed limits within towns and better communication about approaching 50km/h zones and changing speed zones.
The result is a range of proposed speed limit changes affecting Summertown, Uraidla, Balhannah, Oakbank, Woodside and Charleston.
The changes have the support of the Adelaide Hills Community Road Safety Group which says the longer 50km/h zones will make it safer and easier to remember.
However, given the angry response from motorists when speed limits changed from 80km/h to 60km/h on the outskirts of Woodside a few years ago, the new limits might be struggling to obtain widespread support.
The stretches are long and when you consider the surrounds, some sections defy the consistency argument.
It’s hard to reconcile why a wide, straight piece of Onkaparinga Valley Road lined with vineyards on one side and industrial-style business and low density residences on the other would be proposed as 50km/h when residential Wellington Road in Mt Barker with a hospital, petrol station, childcare centre and supermarket is 60km/h?
These proposals are not set in stone – yet.
Residents have until April 1 to provide feedback, and now would be the time to have a say.

An each-way bet

The jumps racing industry is facing another hurdle, this time in the form of opposition from the State Government.
Racing Minister Leon Bignell attacked the sport in the media last week, calling it a “thing of the past” and saying he had expected a push to remove it from the Morphettville track would have been a midpoint towards its “eventual phasing out”.
Reacting to news that the sport’s leading body Thoroughbred Racing SA had overruled the SA Jockey Club’s desire to have jumps races removed from Morphettville, Mr Bignell said the decision went against public sentiment that the sport should go.
But he made an each-way bet – saying it was okay to maintain it at a regional level at meetings such as Oakbank.
Controversy over jumps racing is nothing new.
It makes the headlines in the media every year.
But the Minister’s comments present the most serious exertion of pressure on the sport to date because they come from the Government level.
Oakbank has weathered plenty of storms over its 139-year racing history.
There have been horse deaths in iconic jumps races, annual protests and the loss of sponsors.
But opposition to the sport has reached a new level when the Racing Minister himself indicates a distaste for it.
Mr Bignell, who would not speak with The Courier directly to clarify his reported comments, claims that most South Australians would like to see jumps racing phased out.
But Oakbank Racing Club chairman John Glatz wants to see some figures to substantiate that claim.
He argues that Oakbank’s crowds of about 60,000 racegoers each year bear out a different view – that punters enjoy the sport and the point of difference it offers at the world’s largest picnic race meet.
He also points out that Oakbank is a tourist drawcard that creates an economic return of about $10m for the region – without a cent of Government assistance – unlike the millions of dollars poured in to the likes of the Tour Down Under.
If he wants to see real change, perhaps it is time for Mr Bignell to lead the industry he is Minister for towards the exit strategy he wants, not just snipe at it from the stands.

Retail boom

A year ago Mt Barker’s retail centres seemed to be struggling with empty shops in the main street as well as the main shopping centre and the Mt Barker Homemaker Centre.
Now the town is on the cusp of a retail boom with over $13.5m in developments and expansions planned that will dramatically alter Mt Barker’s commercial landscape.
Gawler Street shops are full, as is the Mt Barker Central Shopping Centre and the Homemaker Centre.
Mt Barker, it seems, is bucking the trend of a sluggish national economy.
The move by three separate developers to pursue major developments in the town centre and beyond is a good sign that the town’s economy is on a healthy path.
No investor is going spend millions unless they are confident of a good return on that investment.
As Business Mt Barker chairman James Sexton highlights, many are realising that Mt Barker’s booming residential growth makes it ripe for commercial and retail development.
There has long been an appetite amongst local residents for more local shopping and service options. And it appears that if investors build them, customers will come.
According to Mr Sexton, two new petrol stations at Littlehampton and Mt Barker took in more than double their expected income on opening recently – a sure sign that more people are buying their petrol here.
That may have been aided by the fuel price reduction that the extra competition has brought with it, but it does show that if the options are there, locals will shop locally.
This retail boom is exactly what the district needs to kick start local jobs growth.
With more new businesses will come new local jobs and that in turn will spark a need for new services.
Doctors, childcare centres, pharmacists, dentists, even Government agencies and departments may well be enticed to set up in the town to cater for the more localised population.
If the region can also attract new industry and technology-based businesses, it will be well on its way to becoming more self-sufficient by providing local jobs that generate local income that in turn can be spent in local shops and services.

One last chance

‘Good government starts today’ announced a wounded and broken-looking Tony Abbott on Monday morning after retaining his leadership of the Liberal Party and admitting his previous Government needed significant improvement.
The Prime Minister, bruised and bloodied after almost 40% of his colleagues effectively voted to dump him as leader, was backed into a corner in the most brutal and public manner and forced to promise both he and his office would be more consultative and inclusive with his backbench.
He also promised to improve the Government’s communication having arrived at the conclusion that too many of the Federal Senators and the populace in general are unable to clearly grasp the complexities facing the nation and the Government’s responses.
There was no mention of the policies being a problem as to why so much of the Government’s agenda can’t break through the Senate and the polls are at alarmingly low levels.
Yet just hours after the start of the ‘good Government’ it was fending off allegations of trickery and spin by the Prime Minister to one of his own Senators in the final hours before Monday’s internal vote in order to gain crucial SA support.
Senator Sean Edwards was told by Mr Abbott late last week that in exchange for his vote on Monday he would agree to a new process to give the Australian Submarine Corporation an improved chance to bid for the construction of 12 submarines and shore up thousands of local jobs.
Senator Edwards though he’d done a good job for SA.
It now appears nothing has changed from the Government’s original policy and not even new Defence Minister Kevin Andrews or the Defence Department itself could explain the Prime Minister’s promise or even what is meant by a “competitive evaluation process”.
Perhaps it was Mr Abbott’s last ‘captain’s pick’.
Whatever the answer it has not been a good start for this ‘good’ Government.
Perhaps the Prime Minister’s commitment to Senator Edwards was made under the old ‘bad’ Government, but either way there will need to be significant and immediate change.
The looming NSW election could have significant Federal implications.

Learning lessons

The Sampson Flat bushfire was a huge incident involving hundreds of firefighters and other emergency service personnel and support staff.

The logistics of such an event are complex and vast.

Those who co-ordinated and led and those who followed no doubt gave their all.

But after every major event it is considered good practice to hold a debrief, to examine what happened and what worked well and what could have been done better.

The lessons learned from disasters such as Ash Wednesday and Black Saturday make everyone safer.

The two Lenswood/Forest Range CFS volunteers who have spoken out publicly regarding their concerns about the resources around Kersbrook on the first day of the Sampson Flat fire want to make their community safer.

The fact that they have widened their voice beyond an internal complaint suggests they don’t want their concerns to be swept under the carpet.

There will be those who will say the complaint smacks of sour grapes – that they and others from CFS Region 1 were unhappy about being left out of a major incident on Region 2 turf.

However, that doesn’t wash here because they didn’t miss out.

Having been told their brigade wasn’t needed, Captain Carey Schultz and firefighter David Kumnick went to the fire anyway to help some grateful friends and, much later in the night, went back to join a CFS strike team which was eventually deployed.

What they saw on their initial foray was many houses in the path of the fire unprotected by appliances which, they say, might not have been the case if all the nearest available, resources – rural 4WD fire trucks manned by rural firefighters familiar with the area – had been sent sooner.

The word from the CFS is that the area was adequately resourced and that they needed to leave firefighters south of the fire  “just in case” because of the projected path of the front.

That is a valid point but it is one rejected by the two volunteers who say the CFS had the manpower and the trucks to send help in a faster time, and still have reserves leftover to protect their own backyard.

It can only be hoped that a full debrief will examine this complaint (and others) and more lessons will be learned.

Oakbank music

The organisers of the proposed Groovin the Moo are running out of time to make their music festival an annual reality at Oakbank – this year at least.
They have passed the first planning hurdle and won endorsement from the Adelaide Hills Council’s Development Assessment Panel (DAP) but they need the approval to be signed off by the State Government’s Development Assessment Commission (DAC) before their festival can become a permanent fixture at the Oakbank racecourse.
Even if they successfully argue for the DAC to make their application an urgent priority, the quickest they can expect a decision is mid February.
Then, being a Category 3 application, the public has three weeks to lodge an appeal and take their grievances to the Environment, Resources and Development Court, which in turn can lead to weeks of waiting for mediation.
With some residents unhappy about noise levels signalling their misgivings to festival representatives after last week’s DAP meeting, it will be interesting to see if the announcement on the national line-ups for Groovin the Moo festivals, expected to be released today, lists Oakbank and the April 25 Anzac Day event among the 2015 program.
If it doesn’t, it would be shame for the young music fans in SA, and for the profile of the Hills.
Events like Groovin the Moo introduce a new audience to the region.
It would also be a blow for the Oakbank Racing Club which, in the face of declining attendances at its race meetings, is under increasing pressure to find alternative revenue streams to remain viable.
But it doesn’t mean that the festival should be approved without proper scrutiny.
No-one – organisers or local residents – are under any illusions that an 11-hour music festival with two main stages is going to make a huge amount of noise.
What residents seem to be unhappy about is the lack of transparency about how much noise is going to reach their homes and the lack of accountability on festival organisers if the event continues to deliver the level of inconvenience they found intolerable last year.
It is an issue that more lead-in time and better consultation with residents might have saved Groovin the Moo valuable time.

A matter of when

Hills dwellers have always been told another 1983 Ash Wednesday-style bushfire would happen in their area.
It was a matter of when, not if.
The ‘when’ happened on January 2 when a fire (cause yet to be verified) started in a place called Sampson Flat between One Tree Hill and Kersbrook that is close to vast tracts of scrub and forestry land.
While the fire was at its most voracious in the first 24-hours, this was a blaze that burnt for nearly a week, destroying 27 homes, threatening several towns and sweeping through more than 12,000ha of land before rain helped contain it.
Firefighters and residents suffered some injuries but no lives were lost, and that’s where this community and the State demonstrated how far they had come since Ash Wednesday.
A better educated community with better access to timely information made more informed choices about when to evacuate and if they should stay and defend.
In this fire there were no motorists who died in cars on roads because they fled at the very last minute.
This time around the CFS volunteers had the trucks, the equipment, the communication and management systems and the training it never had in 1983.
Firefighters who fought in Ash Wednesday and in Sampson Flat likened the contrast in resources and planning to the difference between “chalk and cheese”.
They also had the back-up of firefighting aircraft and the reconnaissance of surveillance planes.
Ground crews put out fires but there are plenty of residents who will attest that if it wasn’t for a strategically placed load of retardant, the fight to save their home would have been lost.
But that’s where the Sampson Flat Bushfire throws up another lesson.
This fire took off in the late afternoon and was at its most dangerous during the night, when no water bombers can fly.
The CFS was receiving multiple triple zero calls from desperate residents at hours when most of SA was sleeping.
The rest of the Hills should be conscious of that and make sure their bushfire action plans take into account that winds change and fire might be on their doorstep at inconvenient times.

An own goal

The saga that has plagued the Hills Football League (HFL) since the Central Division grand final has been an embarrassment for everyone.
Sadly the issue could not be resolved internally and the matter had to clog the already overburdened court system.
The only good thing about the final decision announced in the Supreme Court on Monday is that it gives some closure to the issue and allows everyone the opportunity to move on.
As soon as the farcical situation became clear that, under the HFL rules, the club which won the competition’s A-grade premiership would have to be demoted due to the poor performances of its B-grade and junior sides, the matter has staggered from the sublime to the ridiculous.
It might have been common knowledge to clubs that the relegation rule hinged on points given to minor round games only, but the wording of the by-law fails to make that clear which paved the way for Echunga’s ultimately successful legal challenge.
The real pity is that the matter had to chew up an estimated $50,000 in legal fees … money raised largely through hard working volunteers cooking barbecues and organising chook raffles.
The makeup of next year’s Central Division competition looks likely to be one of 11 teams including Echunga and the promoted Mt Lofty.
The real question is why the league’s administrators and the club delegates could not grasp the oft-mentioned shortcomings in the by-law and recognise that playing an 11-team competition for 12 months while the constitution was professionally rewritten and tightened was the best outcome.
Sending the Central Division premiers back to Country Division was not good for that competition, the image of the league or football in general.
It is galling, especially for club volunteers, that all this money was spent on lawyers only to arrive at a conclusion that was obvious to almost all fans of Hills football.
As soon as it was realised the constitution was flawed all parties needed to come together and make practical decisions to allow football, not lawyers, to be the winner.

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.

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