Hills dominate tour stages

Thousands of cyclists and spectators will descend on the Hills next week as the region hosts stages of Australia’s most prestigious bike race. - Read more.

Vietnam sacrifice

The names of hundreds of young men, and some women, are immortalised on honor boards and war memorials across the Hills.
It was important for communities to acknowledge and remember their own who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Last year Australia marked the centenary of Gallipoli and its first bloodied step as a nation.
Just recently we have looked back on the 100th anniversary of Australia’s involvement in the battles of the Western Front.
Last week the country marked the 50th anniversary of yet another wartime milestone – the Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam.
There wasn’t as much local fanfare but as the Vietnamese Government’s stance against the planned ceremonies at the battle site demonstrated, too much hype can sometimes be unwelcome.
But Long Tan was a moment in Australian history that is worth remembering.
It was a true battle against the odds where 108 soldiers faced overwhelming numbers – anywhere between 1500 and 2500 enemy – and survived thanks to bravery, training and air and artillery support.
A few low key services were held in the Hills and they meant a great deal to the local Vietnam veterans who attended.
Some were regular soldiers but many were national servicemen, young 21-year-olds whose birthdays came up in the tragic lottery of conscription.
Many of those who survived came home with external and internal scars.
Unlike their predecessors from WW1 and WW2, Vietnam veterans returned to a community consumed with anti-war sentiments that rejected what their uniforms represented.
Those attitudes eventually changed and Vietnam veterans are remembered in many Hills memorials.
Another 13 names were unveiled on a new Vietnam veterans plaque at the Macclesfield Anzac Memorial Gardens at the 50th anniversary service last week.
These veterans now have a site where their service is remembered and a place where they and their families can reflect.
Perhaps we should all take time to reflect because as a nation we continue to send new generations to war.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Interchange at last

Monday’s opening of the Bald Hills Road freeway interchange marks an important milestone in the steps towards relieving some of Mt Barker’s growing pains.
The $27m project’s construction unfolded in a little over a year, but the idea has been  mooted for more than two decades.
Since then the Mt Barker district’s population has boomed to 33,000 people – a number which will continue to grow.
The new interchange came together through the collaboration of three major players – the Federal and State governments and the Mt Barker Council.
Each should be acknowledged for their efforts in securing this vital piece of infrastructure although it must be noted that the State Government was much slower than their Federal counterparts to recognise the worth of the project and contribute to its construction.
Thankfully the development is a fully-fledged interchange and not a half-interchange, such as the one at Hahndorf, as was planned in early discussions.
The new travel route will be welcomed by thousands of Hills residents – particularly those who live in Mt Barker, Littlehampton and Nairne – as it is claimed it could cut about 10 minutes off their daily commute to Adelaide.
It is also expected to improve traffic congestion in Mt Barker as motorists will no longer be exposed to the traffic gridlock which regularly plagued the town’s existing freeway interchange.
Nairne residents will no longer have to drive through Totness and Littlehampton which will also help reduce the regular traffic snarls in these areas.
The roundabout at the junction of Old Princes Highway and Bald Hills Road – a notorious blackspot for vehicle accidents – will improve safety by allowing for easy access to Bald Hills Road.
The new interchange will also be an advantage for those travelling east as  Monarto is tipped to become a significant employment hub in coming years.
The addition of major road infrastructure has been ticked off the list, but Mt Barker still has many population hurdles to clear.
Mt Barker and the wider Hills region are still crying out for better sports facilities, public transport and health care.
But the new interchange is the first step towards successfully catering for a town set to become the second largest city in SA behind Adelaide.

Rewrite the rules

The push by the Mt Barker Council to strengthen laws prohibiting the early placement of political election signs is a welcome exercise in the obvious.
The move should be supported by all councils across SA and the relevant bylaws re-written before the next State election in 2018.
If such a simple change is not adopted with enthusiasm then the community must question the effectiveness or motives of the bureaucracy.
The Mt Barker Council chief executive claims the law around the early placement of election signs is completely ineffective in that it requires photographic evidence of the candidate or volunteer putting up the poster.
Given the onerous task of providing such evidence in order to achieve the protection of the bylaw, it is easy to conclude the law is designed to fail.
The early placement of signs before the recent Federal election became an issue when the sitting MP Jamie Briggs refused to take his posters down when asked to do so by the Mt Barker and Adelaide Hills councils after many were put up more than a week before the legislated time.
The Adelaide Hills Council went to the effort and expense of taking them down while the Mt Barker Council did nothing.
It is now investing time and money to rectify the root of problem … a move for which it should be congratulated.
It was not just the Liberal Party which broke the law in the Hills as Greens Senate signs were also put up early, but most were removed when requested by the councils.
It must be noted that the early placement of election signs is not the most pressing issue facing our community but it is important to ensure our lawmakers obey the law.
The community wouldn’t tolerate a politician avoiding a parking fine or a speeding ticket. The law must be applied to everyone equally.
The legal threat by the Liberal Party to the Mt Barker Council in the wake of its pre-election request to remove the signs indicates the value they place in this form of advertising.
All political Parties invest in these signs at considerable expense so it is clear they work. They simply need to follow the rules or suffer the consequences … just like everyone else.

Leading the way

Once again Hills businesses are leading the way when it comes to investing in their own enterprises and their community.
The $4.5m joint venture announced this week by The Hills Cider Company, Ashton Valley Fresh, Mismatch Brewing Co and Adelaide Hills Distillery to set up a brewery, distillery and cellar door near Nairne is the latest of many projects taking advantage of the region’s reputation for fine produce.
It is also the latest Hills project to share in the millions set aside in the State Government’s Regional Development Fund to encourage rural investment.
Past beneficiaries of the fund include B.-d. Farm Paris Creek, Beerenberg in Hahndorf, Sidewood Estate, the Lenswood Cold Store Co-operative Society and Ceravolo Orchards in Ashton.
In today’s edition is a story about how the first stage of Beerenberg’s facility expansion is now finished and the iconic Hahndorf family business is on track to double production over the next five years.
These projects demonstrate a commitment to the region and a vision for value-adding to its agricultural industries.

Off and racing

The Olympic Games are due to start later this week and let’s hope Rio de Janiero can finally produce some good news.
For years there has been little coming out of the host city apart from negative stories.
These tales of woe have only increased in recent months and in the past few weeks have reached a crescendo with reports of sub-standard accommodation, thefts from the Australian team, polluted water in the seas designated for the sailing competition, general lawlessness on the streets and, of course, the debacle surrounding the Russian team’s drug taking history and whether the entire nation should be banned from the Games.
Let’s hope the start of competition will focus people’s minds on the athletes and their extraordinary abilities.
The Games offer people – even those who have only a passing interest in sport – a chance to marvel at these men and women from across the globe who come together in the spirit of goodwill.
For a moment the Games might just cool the heat on simmering international tensions.

Cutting waste

As Alexandrina Council ratepayers adjust to their new fortnightly bin collection, the change is heralding a shift that other homeowners across SA are likely to face in the future.
That council’s decision to adopt the new system, which cuts weekly general waste collection to once every two weeks, is reportedly working well so far.
Its Mayor, Keith Parkes, believes the change will help the region weather the escalating cost of the State Government’s Solid Waste Levy.
That levy now looms large as a significant financial burden for councils all over SA.
For example, the levy hike will cost Adelaide Hills Council ratepayers an extra $100,000 this financial year alone.
By 2019/20 that council faces a waste levy bill of $904,000 a year – an exorbitant amount of money for a local government body to find.
If ratepayers do not want to be left footing a bill that large to dump their rubbish, there must be changes both to how waste is collected and how much refuse is produced.
While it may be a nuisance for some in the Alexandrina district and a headache during the initial adjustment period, the fortnightly service will result in better environmental outcomes for the region as more waste is diverted into recycling or reused around the home and garden.
Already locals are increasingly turning to compost bins, worm farms and kitchen caddies to remove waste from their general rubbish bin.
Other strategies such as minimising the purchase of over-packaged goods may also help cut waste volumes.
But frustratingly for local councils, some incentives to reduce landfill are being hampered because the State Government refuses to release almost $86m of the levy funds it has already collected.
Instead, that money sits idle in State Treasury, propping up the Government’s precious budget surplus.
It means money is unavailable for organisations such as disability employment service Finding Workable Solutions, which wants about $22m to establish five new Salvage and Save depots around the State – a move that would substantially help communities divert waste from landfill.

Restoring habitat

Over the past two centuries the Hills has evolved into a world-class destination – a thriving community rich in agriculture and tourism – but that development has come at a cost.
Most of the Mt Lofty Ranges’ native bushland has been cleared since European settlement and if we want to preserve the remaining flora and fauna our country is so well known for, we have to act now.
There’s no doubt urbanisation and deforestation are to blame for the isolation of southern brown bandicoots living in Belair National Park, leading them to inbreed to the detriment of their health.
A potential tunnel to allow them safe passage under Upper Sturt Road could be a step towards encouraging them to breed with other local populations, but it won’t go the full distance to provide a solution.
A big part of the problem is cleared land around Belair National Park which offers no protection from predators.
In order to save the species we still have left, we must also be prepared to restore some of the habitat that was so eagerly torn up in the name of progress.

Team work delivers

The newly upgraded Hahndorf recreation grounds are proof that the old adage “many hands make light work” still rings true.
Used by almost 1000 players for various sports throughout the year, the grounds have benefitted from more than $500,000 worth of improvements.
But in keeping with the region’s strong community spirit, the projects have only been made possible through the dedication and collaboration of a contingent of sporting and community groups in partnership with the Mt Barker Council.
Sports clubs, the council and the local Lions club pitched in with their time, manpower and finances to secure the upgrades for the benefit of all user groups.
In a growing region where an increasing number of facilities will be needed to cater for a rise in population, it is encouraging to see communities maximising the use of the infrastructure they already have.
In a tight economy where government grants are limited, these collaborative efforts may be the best way to secure the sporting infrastructure we need for future generations.

Winners and losers

The State Government’s 2016/17 State Budget delivers a mixed bag for the Hills.

Jobs and education are among the winners, but the region looks set to lose out with little funding coming for much-needed infrastructure.

The Government’s $10,000 cash for jobs incentive won’t be enough to significantly cut the Mt Barker district’s worrying jobless rate of 8.6%, but it is hoped it will be enough to spark some much-needed confidence in the local economy.

The $109m Jobs Creation Grant, announced in last week’s budget, will see payments to small businesses for every new full-time worker hired.

The Hills is renowned for its small and medium enterprises, particularly in the food, wine and retail sectors. Such businesses are among the largest employers in the region.

The $10,000 grant is enough to cover an employee’s penalty rates and could be the difference in a business owner’s decision between hiring a young apprentice or that person becoming another statistic in the jobless toll.

Government schools were also budget winners, with five Hills schools set to undergo transformations in their science and maths laboratories to boost interest in these typically unattractive subjects.

Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis wants science-minded students to become engineers and mathematicians in jobs created by the submarines project or the Olympic Dam mine expansion.

However, it appears the budget ignored one of Mt Barker’s most anticipated and expensive projects, the $28m Mt Barker Regional Sports Hub.

Mr Koutsantonis said the SA Government would not help fund the sports hub unless Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull increased his handout from the promised $3.75m.

This is a worrying announcement given the lengthy list of infrastructure Mt Barker needs to keep pace with the rapid growth foisted upon it by the State Government.

The sports hub is just one of many multi-million dollar sport, recreation, community, health and transport facilities that will be needed in coming years.

While job creation is essential to a healthy local economy, the Government must also realise that, with Mt Barker on track to becoming the State’s second largest city behind Adelaide, infrastructure funding is also paramount.

Mayo matters

A week is a long time in politics.
Last week Nick Xenophon Team candidate Rebekha Sharkie was hoping to be in the position where the result in Mayo would come down to preference counting over several days.
The sheer decisiveness of her win on Saturday, with a 16% swing against sitting Liberal Member Jamie Briggs, stunned everyone – including the new MP.
Although it should be said that the result closely reflected a Newspoll conducted in the district by the Weekend Australian a few weeks before. This week the district has a new MP – its first woman, the first non-conservative since Federation and the first Member for Mayo to not be a member of the Liberal Party since the electorate was created in 1984.
Mr Briggs, who has held the seat since 2008 and won the 2013 election with more than 53% of the primary vote, had to endure a perfect storm at this election.
Nationally there was a swing against the Coalition of less than 4%.
At a State level there was the enormous popularity of SA Senator Nick Xenophon, an anxiousness about the future of SA’s manufacturing industry and a sense of betrayal by the Federal Government.
At a local level there is the growth in Mt Barker which has influenced the demographic profile of the electorate, a mood for change and a dissatisfaction with the personal and professional performance of Mr Briggs.
Australian Democrat candidate John Schumann might have been too far to the left to get over the line against Liberal MP Alexander Downer in the 1998 election.
Ms Sharkie, with her “centrist” NXT brand and Liberal Party associations, was the conservative alternative who was in the right place at the right time.
She also worked hard with a “grass roots” campaign, backed by appearances by Senator Xenophon.
It was enough to overcome millions of dollars in spending promises by the Coalition, backed by appearances from current and former PMs.
Mayo has gone out on a limb for the NXT candidate so she needs to perform.
Whatever the outcome of the election, Ms Sharkie has enormous expectations to fulfil and she can expect the Liberal Party to fight hard to win Mayo back to the fold.
But at the very least she has made Mayo matter.

Staggering poll

It’s no wonder Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) candidate Rebekha Sharkie expressed surprise at The Weekend Australian’s Newspoll results for the Federal seat of Mayo.
No political hopeful can afford to go into a campaign with a defeatist attitude, but to go from the position of a rank outsider to attracting an estimated 38% of the primary vote is nothing short of staggering.
Ms Sharkie’s support has come at the expense of all other candidates.
The Greens vote has halved to 7%, Labor has dropped from 21% at the last election  to 9% and support for Mr Briggs has fallen from 54% to 42%.
If those results were repeated on polling day it would complete a staggering turnaround in a safe Liberal seat held by a 12.5% margin.
There are 11 days left in the campaign and things are starting to get serious.
The major Parties have released their attack ads and this time everyone has NXT in their sights.
Both Labor and Liberal are clearly worried.
It is interesting to note that what the polls suggest is happening in Mayo is being replicated in other seats across the State.
The safe Liberal seat of Grey is in danger of falling to the NXT and even the people living in the Labor heartland of Port Adelaide are flirting outrageously with an alternative Party.
The political dynamics of Port Adelaide and Grey are different to Mayo but the common denominator appears to be that voters are dissatisfied with the style of politics offered by both major Parties.
Both quite correctly argue that it’s easy for NXT to be a “third Party” when it doesn’t  have to form government or come up with policies on unpopular issues.
They have consistently attacked Senator Xenophon as a “personality cult” with a Party of unknown and potentially maverick candidates, citing Australia’s brief fling with Queensland businessman Clive Palmer as a warning.
Indeed, a valid point.
Voters might not be familiar with all the NXT policies or their candidates but they like what they have seen of Mr Xenophon over many years and he presents as the anti-politician – even though it’s in his DNA.
He occupies the middle ground and the NXT is not too far left or right to be considered much more than a protest vote.

Traffic gridlock

The need for the opening of the new Bald Hills Road freeway interchange at the earliest opportunity becomes glaringly obvious when one is stuck in traffic on Adelaide Road in Mt Barker, usually on a Friday afternoon.
Motorists at that time are often brought to a standstill in both directions as hundreds of drivers try to navigate their way in and out of the town’s limited exits and entrances.
The Courier is aware of numerous anecdotes from the regular traffic snarls which include one driver who spent 25 minutes trying to make the 1.7km journey from Cornerstone College, via Cameron Road, Druids Avenue and Adelaide Road, to the city-bound freeway on-ramp.
In the end it took them less time to reach the city than it did to navigate the traffic in Mt Barker.
Other drivers have told of a complete gridlock on the bridge over the freeway.
Last Friday, on the eve of the long weekend, the traffic congestion again returned as cars crawled bumper-to-bumper along Adelaide Road from about 3.30pm.
Calls by Mt Barker Councillors Lindsay Campbell and Carol Bailey for a redesign of the freeway intersection on Adelaide Road are valid – but only if the new interchange offers no substantial relief when it opens in September.
If the new junction makes little difference, the Mt Barker Council and transport authorities must quickly develop a strategy to free up this precinct – perhaps by creating slip lanes for right-turning drivers.
Until significant improvements are made drivers must keep enduring the traffic frustrations and hope no catastrophic incident – such as a bushfire – unfolds in Mt Barker.
The Adelaide bound on-ramp is the only fast way out of the town and as Cr Campbell put it, “trying to squeeze everything through the one bottle top” is already proving difficult.
The traffic snarls are a result of Mt Barker’s growing pains, which have also put a strain on parking facilities in the town’s CBD.
If Mt Barker’s traffic and parking is bad now, wait until the district hits its predicted population of 52,000.