Water concerns

The apparent lack of effort by authorities to find the source of a heavy, dark and putrid-smelling water flow that rushed down the dry Mt Barker Creek in February is disturbing.
Independent test results from samples of this water – commissioned by Mt Barker Springs cattle farmer Bill Chester – found over 14,000 units of e.coli in 100ml of water.
These results were massively above safe levels and should have rung alarm bells with authorities.
However, it appears there are no active efforts to locate the source of the contamination by either the State’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) or the Mt Barker Council.
The council – whose wastewater treatment plant is about a kilometre upstream from Mr Chester’s property – has denied it was responsible for the flow.
A significant flow of fresh water followed the putrid water later that same day but by the time the EPA conducted its own tests the e.coli levels had returned to normal.
The level of commitment by the EPA to discover the source of the flow is bizarre, as is the revelation that the authority doesn’t test for bacteria during its routine waterway examinations.
If the creek was polluted by a significant chemical spill or a private landowner was deliberately dumping their waste into the waterway, the EPA would be onto it in a flash. That is its job.
It is difficult to ascertain why a large flow of water polluted with faecal bacteria has been treated any differently.
The flow clearly started upstream from Mr Chester’s Springs Road property but it is unclear what attempts have been made to ascertain the point of origin.
The EPA has certainly not kept the community and landholders along the waterway informed about the progress of any investigation.
Federal Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie is asking for urgent e.coli tests in the creek – a waterway that flows past hundreds of commercial farmers and lifestyle property owners.
A flow of filthy water in a previously dry creek is a significant public health issue and it needs to be treated seriously, investigated promptly with the results released to the community.
To do anything less undermines public confidence.

Money v merit

In a sparsely populated country almost the size of Europe, providing infrastructure to keep up with fast-developing technology is an ever-present and expensive problem.
Mobile phone connectivity is one of Australia’s most important infrastructure issues, playing a key role in safety, education and tourism. And with about 500 nominated mobile black spots across SA, many communities are guaranteed to miss out on new infrastructure during this round of Mobile Black Spot funding.
But the State Government’s plan to give communities priority for the funding if they co-contribute is at best a double edged sword.
It could be argued that communities that were desperate for the infrastructure would find ways to raise the money.
And in some cases, co-funding could be a way of ensuring the whole community was on board – preventing a repeat of the recent scenario in Cherryville in which some residents successfully rejected the new infrastructure after funding was allocated.
But it’s also important that all communities – regardless of their wealth – have equal opportunity to put forward their case for better infrastructure. While it may be appropriate to give some consideration to a community’s willingness to co-contribute, the most emphasis should be based on merit and need – not bank balance.

Rock art revival

News that Aboriginal rock art paintings are still being found just over 40km from the centre of a bustling city of more than a million people is remarkable.
Local expert Robin Coles believes more art lurks in the hills and gullies around Rockleigh and Tungkillo.
Mr Coles will next week give an address on the cultural significance these sites held for the Peramangk people who painted them.
The majority of early migrant generations to this land ignored – indeed ridiculed and despised – the culture of the original inhabitants.
But thankfully things are changing and the joy and fascination which accompanies the announcement of the discovery of new rock art sites shows a new, more accepting, indeed wondrous attitude is emerging.
Only now are mainstream Australians openly recognising and appreciating the deep cultural roots established by Australia’s Indigenous inhabitants.
We are fortunate to have people such as Mr Coles willing to provide a link between the cultures. And we are also fortunate that ordinary people are now willing to cross that divide to learn about an almost obliterated culture which inhabited these same Hills less than 200 years ago.

Creek clean call falls on deaf ears

A Mt Barker man’s experience with the local council over a stretch of Railway Creek that runs along the back of his home highlights the problem that if a waterway isn’t bordered by a highly-utilised public walkway – like the hugely popular Laratinga Linear Trail – it can easily be forgotten.
Creeks are important waterways which are experiencing increased run-off caused by the many hectares of former farmland that are now covered by housing developments.
Water that once soaked into paddocks is now diverted directly into the area’s waterways – including Railway Creek – and the problems are likely to be exacerbated in future years.
But things other than water are often washed into these watercourses which only add to the increased stresses already placed on them.
They can become overgrown, inundated with natural and artificial waste, and a haven for feral animals if they aren’t properly maintained.
It’s a case of out of sight, out of mind.
In wet months a build up of vegetation and other waste restricts water flow, potentially raising creeks to dangerous levels at times of extreme flows.
In the summer months the vegetation and waste build up become an obvious fire risk.
The problems never seem to subside for immediate residents.
The disappointing aspect of Julian Havard’s case highlighted in today’s Courier is that he has been voicing his concerns about the creek near his home to the Mt Barker Council for years without success.
His requests for regular small-scale maintenance works appear to be legitimate, but, as he put it, this little problem has grown into a bigger issue because those minor works had not been done.
It is now a bigger and more complicated problem that requires larger scale and more expensive works than Mr Havard originally had in mind.
Mr Havard believes the region’s creeks are more important than ever and his requests for more maintenance efforts appear legitimate.
A review of this creek and all others should be undertaken as a matter of priority.

Speeding fines

The State Government is no doubt feeling the squeeze from a sizable cut in GST revenue allocated to SA by the independent Commonwealth Grants Commission.
After proudly touting a strong pre-election message that speed cameras should not be all about raising revenue, it has been forced to dramatically abandon that promise, admitting that huge speeding fine increases are intended to do exactly that.
The GST cuts leave the Government forced to find half a billion dollars.
Given the size of the deficit, it’s reasonable that the shortfall will need to be raised from across a range of budget cuts and savings … and it’s inevitable that the squeeze will be felt by many South Australians.
The Government is attempting to recover a portion of that shortfall through “voluntary taxes” – also known as fines handed out for breaking the law. But the mark of any civil society is that a punishment fits the crime.
A 60% hike in fines may be appropriate for a motorist who deliberately speeds for their own thrill, putting their own and other people’s lives at risk.
But it could be argued that it’s not appropriate for the law-abiding citizen who – for any number of legitimate reasons – may miss an unexpected change in speed limit, suddenly finding themselves traveling 30km/h over that limit – right past a camera.
The variable speed signs on the freeway are a perfect example of this.
While it’s the responsibility of drivers to be aware of speed limits, there are times when a sign can be reasonably missed – such as when the unsafe behavior of another driver demands a motorist’s full attention, potentially distracting them from an unexpected change in speed limit.
For low-income motorists who genuinely try to do the right thing, a $1600 fine for a simple mistake could be crippling.
While everything should be done to prevent reckless and dangerous driving, a case could be made for exempting the variable signs from the dramatic fine hikes.
It could be argued such increases should only be applied to motorists caught by police officers who have witnessed the reckless behavior or to fixed cameras where the speed limit has not been reduced below the norm. With the squeeze on State income, the Government is in a difficult position.
But it’s vital to ensure that law-abiding, responsible citizens are not crippled by extreme punishments that are intended for reckless criminals.

Election surprise

The resounding win of Scott Morrison’s team in Saturday’s Federal election came as a surprise to many astute political observers … and politicians as well.
The thumping handed to Labor was nothing short of astounding with voters, particularly in Queensland, armed with baseball bats and not afraid to use them.
Bill Shorten was a shattered man on Saturday night as it became increasingly clear that his unlosable election was lost.
It is likely the Liberals will gain two seats while Labor will lose two.
Labor’s significant policy announcements gave their opponents many easy attack options while their complex suite of changes was probably too hard to sell to the electorate … especially for Mr Shorten, a man who has always struggled in the popularity stakes.
It is worth noting that many senior Coalition MPs expected the election was going to be a disaster and chose not to re-contest their seats. It was a clean-out of monumental proportions – no doubt aided by the prospect of a couple of terms in Opposition – but Saturday’s win means the Liberals have successfully been returned with 13 fresh faces.
Perhaps not enough of these are female but it has been a massive renewal for the Party without the usual electoral pain.
The loss of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott may be viewed with sadness by some but it is possible his removal will have a positive outcome for both the Party and the Parliament.
The former PM has often been a divisive and destabilising figure in recent years and the Liberals are likely to be a more cohesive unit without him which may also help them establish a more forward thinking energy and climate policy.
The much maligned National Party – the ‘significant other’ in the Coalition relationship – was also predicted to face a whipping but had all their MPs re-elected which may keep their own version of Tony Abbott – Barnaby Joyce – on a short leash allowing leader Michael McCormack some breathing space.
It is also interesting to note that there were no changes in any SA lower house seats.
The make-up of the Senate may work more efficiently without the likes of Fraser Anning and David Leyonhjelm, but the addition of Jacqui Lambie could mean the two Centre Alliance Senators have a pivotal role in passing legislation – which can only be good for SA.

Election day

With little change in the Mayo polls since last year’s by-election, Saturday’s election is likely to result in a comfortable win for sitting member Rebekha Sharkie.
But even before the election’s first public poll in Mayo earlier this month showed Ms Sharkie with a 57% two party preferred advantage, the Liberal Party appeared to have seen the writing on the wall.
The Liberal Party, while directing about $15m in funding towards Mayo since the election was called, has been almost entirely focused on saving the neighboring seat of Boothby – SA’s most marginal seat.
Mayo has attracted little attention from senior Government politicians in recent weeks indicating the Liberals have decided putting valuable time and effort into Mayo is unlikely to reap rewards.
In the past month Prime Minister Scott Morrison has made four visits to Boothby in an effort to protect first-term MP Nicole Flint who holds the seat by a margin of just 2.7%.
By comparison, Mr Morrison has visited Mayo just once – for a very brief ‘meet and greet’ photo opportunity on the seat’s fringes during, you guessed it, one of his regular trips to Boothby.
Of course, elections are not all about high profile visitors but they do indicate where a party believes the extremely valuable time of its leader is best spent.
Internal Liberal polling must indicate that a reversal of last year’s strong by-election win by Ms Sharkie is not on its radar.
If Labor forms Government on Saturday the next three years will be a test for Ms Sharkie as it remains to be seen if she is capable of delivering for Mayo under a Labor Government.
Labor may be willing to support Ms Sharkie and listen to her requests – not only to fund much needed local projects but also for wider political reform – in order to prevent a future Liberal candidate re-claiming what was once a certain win for the conservatives.
Labor has no hope of ever winning Mayo and its main interest will be keeping the Liberals out. The best way it can do that is to keep Ms Sharkie delivering.
However, the scenario that delivers the best outcome for the residents of Mayo is to keep the seat marginal.
This is a difficult balancing act but marginal seats reap the biggest rewards – irrespective of which side of politics is in government – and we only have to look over the fence at Boothby for a perfect example.

Facebook fools

An embarrassing number of candidates preparing for this month’s Federal election have been sensationally dropped by their parties after their online histories displayed an ugly array of sexist, racist, homophobic and just plain crazy posts.
This shows two things.
Firstly, the background checking of candidates by political parties remains appalling – despite earnest promises to the contrary after the Section 44 scandal which showed background checking over eligibility criteria was not being done effectively, an oversight which cost taxpayers millions in by-election costs.
It also shows these recently exposed candidates to be either politically unaware, deeply unprofessional or completely self absorbed. Perhaps some are all three.
Either way it beggars belief how they emerged as the best person to be pre-selected by major parties and shows the selection of candidates is of an amateur standard.
The real world is miles ahead.
Last year’s hand wringing apologies from the major parties to improve their internal processes has not translated into action and the fact that five additional pre-selected candidiates have also been late withdrawals due to citizenship uncertainty gives a bad name to amateurs.
For a candidate to suggest, as Labor’s Wayne Kurnoth did, that the world is being run by a secret ­society of shape shifting lizards and not consider that it would come back to haunt him is bizarre.
Victorian Liberal candidate Jeremy Hearn once argued that Muslims should be prevented from getting Australian citizenship.
Labor’s Luke Creasey shared pornography and a joke about rape while the Liberal’s Jessica Whelan reportedly advocated for the genital mutilation of Muslim women and selling them as slaves.
The nature of some of their posts, likes or shares makes it obvious these people are not fit for office.
The reality is that social media can be dangerous – especially to impressionable and impulsive young people who had probably not even considered a career in politics when some of the posts were made.
The hard lesson to learn is that what is written online can almost never be erased and shows the often wayward journey from immature youth to responsible adult.

Early voting trend finds support

People across Australia are expected to take advantage of pre-poll voting opportunities which opened this week.
Hills folk will be no different and a steady stream of Mayo voters will be heading into the special Mt Barker, Strathalbyn and Bridgewater polling stations to elect a local representative and wrestle with a Senate paper the size of a bedsheet in a cardboard booth as big as a bathmat.
Early voting has been warmly embraced since its relatively recent introduction and 30% of people are expected to vote before the May 18 election date.
This change to the voting system is very convenient for many people – especially those who work or have other regular commitments on Saturdays – but it poses a number of problems for political parties.
The impact of a final week cash splash or a signature announcement is lessened significantly if a third of the population has already voted, while the benefit of last-minute advertising blitzes and annoying robo calls may be brought into question for the same reason.
The much vaunted ‘leaders debates’ will become just more background noise for early voters.
This means political parties must broadcast their policies and intentions early in the campaign which allows for greater scrutiny from the media, interest groups and their political opponents.
This can only be good.
Early voting also means that those who take advantage of this opportunity will probably switch off and become completely disengaged for the rest of the campaign.
And with negative campaigns which deliberately denigrate opponents rather than highlighting the proponent’s positives becoming normal, it is little wonder that average people – many of whom do not engage with politics at all or perhaps only on a very superficial level – find the whole process utterly unattractive and unedifying.
Elections should be about electing a party with a vision for the future and a well-constructed plan of how to get there.
However, much of what is currently being delivered by both sides of politics is driving people into the cardboard booths in pre-poll centres in their millions so they can tick a few boxes and switch off.

Grave error

Fresh Adelaide Hills Councillor Leith Mudge has learned the power of social media the hard way.
Within days of posting online what he probably believed to be a popular opinion, he’s found himself publicly disgraced, leading him to withdraw his rash statements and voluntarily apologise – not only online – but also at a public council meeting.
And his actions could still have further ramifications, if he is found to have breached the Councillor Code of Conduct, which says that Councillors must “act in a reasonable, just, respectful and non-discriminatory way when dealing with people; show respect for others if making comments publicly; and ensure that personal comments … clearly indicate that it is a private view”.
Cr Mudge is entitled to his personal opinions – including whether or not to patronise businesses that also offer services to controversial Senators.
However, it seems that he doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of calling for a public boycott of a local business.
Business owners risk a lot to establish and grow their enterprises.
By encouraging a local boycott Cr Mudge could have harmed not just the owners, but the dozens of local staff they employ as well as other local producers and suppliers.
As Cr Mudge has since acknowledged he should have first approached the business privately, offering it a right of reply before he made his concerns public.
Signing off the public letter as an Adelaide Hills Councillor and posting it on a personal Facebook page that he uses to promote himself as a Councillor further added to the controversy.
It’s dragged the council into the fray and could have been seen as an attempt to use his position to intimidate or influence the business.
To Cr Mudge’s credit, he removed the post fairly promptly after the backlash became obvious and has since issued an apology and encouraged the community to support the Old Mill.
But while his words can be removed from social media, they can’t as easily be removed from public memory.
They are certain to outlive the post and have longer lasting consequences – possibly for the Old Mill – but almost definitely for him.

Driver warning

School holidays have begun and Easter is almost upon us, so many people will take advantage of the public holidays and enjoy a time of relaxation and enjoyment.
But it is also a time to take care on our roads.
As entire families and groups of friends pack up and head away for their holidays, the sheer number of cars on our road network can be overwhelming.
Country roads become utilised by drivers from metropolitan Adelaide who are often not used to the special skills required for long regional commutes.
Road safety should always be in the back of our minds, but extra care must be taken during times of heightened traffic and when using unfamiliar roads.
At total of 36 people have been killed on the State’s roads since the start of the year, while another 123 people have been seriously injured.
This figure amounts to almost half of last year’s total road fatalities.
The story of Holly Scott featured on page one of today’s Courier is a timely reminder of how lives can be irreversibly changed in a split second.
In 2017, the now 23-year-old Mt Barker woman was involved in a life-threatening single-vehicle crash just one street away from her boyfriend’s home near Echunga.
She made a simple over-correction error and slammed into a tree.
She suffered horrific injuries and her distraught family was told she wouldn’t survive.
However, Ms Scott defied all those predictions and is now using her tragic experience to help educate young road users about the potential dangers of driving.
What stands out about Ms Scott’s story is that she is relaying the usually untold impacts of a serious crash.
She is sharing details of her long and strenuous physical and emotional rehabilitation, the injuries that will affect her life forever and the emotional turmoil experienced by her loved ones.
The impacts of Ms Scott’s crash will last a lifetime and she will never fully recover.
Easter and school holidays are times to connect with friends and family and to escape from day-to-day routines, but they are also times for all road users to be cautious.
As the saying goes, it is better late than never.