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.

Hungry students

The increasing number of Hills students being sent to school without breakfast is an issue which should alarm our community.
Kickstart for Kids (KSFK), a charity which provides food for school breakfast programs, has issued a call for donations in the wake of a significant increase in the number of SA schools needing to feed their students before lessons.
Nearly 30 Hills schools run KSFK breakfast programs, meaning hundreds of the region’s children are going to school hungry every day.
There are a number of reasons why children might be sent to school without eating – drug and alcohol abuse in the home, poverty or poor bahavior on behalf of parents or their children.
But the fact remains that the child starting the day without breakfast is the victim and it is a sad indictment that schools are having to pick up the pieces for what is a basic parental responsibility.
Breakfast need not be an expensive meal.
What it does take is a little time and some basic organisation.
Sadly, these skills must be beyond an increasing number of parents.
Poor eating patterns can impair adolescent development, while eating breakfast has been shown to improve behavior in the classroom.
A morning meal has been linked to increased feelings of alertness and motivation which can result in better academic performances.
It is well established that education is one of the keys to escaping the poverty cycle, and if a child isn’t even getting the basics at home before they get to school, they’re facing an uphill battle from the moment they wake.
It is admirable that teachers, school staff and outside organisations are banding together to help give students the best start in life – but it should not be their responsibility to feed other people’s children.
Teachers and their support staff have enough to do without adding catering to their list of responsibilities.
It would not be a surprise if some parents were taking advantage of the generosity of others and selfishly view the provision of breakfast for their children at school each morning as a reason not to bother.
The problem is not likely to go away in a hurry so if you can help either KSFK or your local school, the assistance would be greatly appreciated.

Rate cap review

The State Government’s plan to cap council rates is approaching its final hurdle, with the matter expected to be debated in the Upper House in the coming months.
But the concept still contains many unknowns which are causing angst among those in the local government sector.
While rate capping has been welcomed by many ratepayers, SA councils have been left questioning how they will satisfy residents’ needs without the autonomy to raise the needed revenue.
Many councils are concerned the cap will result in more red tape, cuts to services and a backlog of infrastructure projects. Experiences interstate seem to validate these concerns.
Before the plan is adopted, the fears of councils should be considered and addressed, more details released and safeguards implemented to ensure equity for all councils, especially those in high growth or regional areas.
If the Government is determined to pursue the plan, a review period should be included to assess whether it has provided the promised financial relief for ratepayers and at what cost to council services and infrastructure.

Speed zone cuts

Drive through Mt Barker’s town centre on any given week day and your car’s speedometer would struggle to nudge past 40km/h.
The CBD has become so busy that reaching its maximum speed limit of 50km/h seems almost impossible.
Increasing traffic and pedestrians, along with the growing number of pedestrian crossing points, have combined to slow down the pace of motorists.
So the Mt Barker Council’s bid to have the limit formally changed to 40km/h is really just following an existing trend.
Its decision to seek speed limit reductions on several other roads is another indicator of the impact that growth is having on the town.
Many roads on Mt Barker’s outskirts were comfortable 80km/h zones. Now there are more cars and trucks using these routes, including many servicing or accessing the new housing estates.
This has led to a conflict where an increasing number of high-speed vehicles meet cars and trucks trying to exit their properties.
It is only a matter of time before these limits will need to be cut too, in order to prevent a road tragedy.

Liberal lament

Mayo’s by-election has been run and won, with voters clearly demonstrating their will to reappoint Centre Alliance candidate Rebekha Sharkie as their representative in Canberra.
In a result that is all but disastrous for the Liberal Party, Ms Sharkie has extended her two party preferred lead in the once blue-ribbon Liberal seat and is now the favorite to hold the electorate for the long-haul.
Liberal candidate Georgina Downer appeared to be a very capable person with a list of star qualities including a political upbringing, high-end Government connections, an impressive academic record and experience as a foreign diplomat and lawyer.
Her family has a long history in the Hills and her father, Alexander Downer, enjoyed the significant support of Mayo voters for 24 years.
Mayo slipped from the Liberals’ grasp at the 2016 general election as the result of a deeply unpopular Liberal candidate brought in to replace Mr Downer.
That election was a ‘perfect storm’ with the Nick Xenophon factor – to which Ms Sharkie was attached – shining brightly.
It would have been reasonable to assume that in the current political landscape – without Jamie Briggs or Nick Xenophon – most protest voting conservatives would have returned to the fold.
Not so. Despite Ms Downer’s impressive qualifications she barely managed to match the level of support given to Mr Briggs.
Ms Sharkie’s hard-working, approachable reputation made her a tough opponent and Ms Downer had plenty of lead in her saddlebags from the start.
She was burdened by the fact that she had not lived in SA for 20 years, had previously stood for preselection in a safe Liberal seat in Melbourne, was a member of the ‘Downer dynasty’ and was employed by the right-leaning IPA.
Regardless of the merit of these perceptions, the same residents who elected three Liberal MPs at the March State election failed to follow their earlier conservative leanings on Saturday.
The approaching general Federal election may be fought on national rather than local matters – which could change people’s voting habits.
But the Party must be disappointed that its star candidate failed to reverse the polls, only just managing to maintain the low point set in 2016.

Mayo now matters

A decade ago the good voters of Mayo did their civic duty and trooped off to the polls for a by-election after our Federal representative Alexander Downer decided – eight months into a three-year term – there was more to life than being an opposition backbencher.
To replace Mr Downer the Liberal Party chose a staffer of former Prime Minister John Howard ahead of a string of other locals marking the beginning of the end for one of the Liberals’ safest SA seats. Mr Briggs won that by-election narrowly from the Greens with the Labor Party not fielding a candidate.
That by-election was dominated by the condition of the River Murray but it is interesting to note there were no significant local pledges to the people of Mayo. There were no incentives. No pork barreling. It was just a handover from one Liberal MP to the next.
In 2008 the Labor Party had just taken Government and had no interest in the outcome of the by-election – but fast forward to today and the value of a seat in dispute is obvious.
Georgina Downer, the daughter of Alexander, has been working hard to win the seat held by her father for 24 years from Rebekha Sharkie.
This time almost $20m of special Mayobased funding has been promised by the Liberals and a string of high-profile MPs have been accompanying the candidate on the hustings.
But despite regular Prime Ministerial visits and funding announcements the polls have not shifted.
If those who were questioned stay true to their word Ms Sharkie will be returned comfortably on Saturday … perhaps with an increased majority.
But the real winner in this political dogfight are the people of Mayo.
Granted, $20m of funding is not anywhere near what is required to ease the growing pains felt by this rapidly expanding community, but it is a start.
Mayo is now being viewed with interest from both sides of the political divide.
At the next Federal election in a few months Labor will be at pains to ensure Ms Sharkie is returned (assuming she wins on Saturday) while the Liberals will be just as keen to win back their coveted prize. Mayo is in the box seat because Mayo now matters.

Speed cameras

The State Government’s new freeway speed camera next to the existing Leawood Gardens camera will specifically target trucks and buses and is being done to improve safety on the descent, according to the department responsible.
Maybe truck and bus drivers have been flouting the lower speed limit and lower gear rules, and if the Government wants to make them accountable for these potentially dangerous actions, then all power to them.
While campaigning, the State Liberals were adamant that regular speed cameras should only be located on dangerous stretches of roads and pledged to conduct an audit to ensure that was the case.
That audit is currently underway, but the Government must complete it as soon as possible and make the findings public in order to clear the air around the placement of all fixed cameras.
It is clear that speed cameras were a major cash cow for the previous State Labor Government and the Leawood Gardens camera rakes in $4m in fines each year.
This new government must keep its word and ensure the placement of all cameras is based on accident statistics alone.

Interest in Mayo

The plethora of political heavyweights visiting Mayo in the past few weeks shows that Canberra is suddenly taking an interest in the seat.
On the Government side of the ledger we’ve had the Prime Minister (three times), Deputy Prime Minister, Finance Minister, Health Minister and Foreign Minister all visit, talking up the credentials of their candidate Georgina Downer and promising to invest about $16m to assist local issues.
We’ve also have the Leader of the Opposition and the Greens leader here supporting their candidates.
The only other time a sitting Prime Minister has visited Mayo during an election campaign was in 2016 when the Liberals knew their candidate was in a world of trouble.
So for all the obvious desire by the conservatives to see Mayo return to its former Liberal status, it is a little surprising that the funding promises in this seat are so far behind other marginal by-election seats with the Liberals promising the voters of Braddon (Tasmania) $38m and those in Longman (Queensland) $42m.

Rate capping

The State Government’s plan to scrutinise local government spending has some merit.
While most local governments manage their budgets responsibly there is undoubtedly scope for them to be more efficient with their resources.
The much publicised approach by some councils to spending (Onkaparinga) has clearly dented the public’s trust in the system and there is a perception that some councils are not good financial managers.
This is further enhanced by the constantly increasing cost of living (while wages largely remain stagnant) and it is not difficult to understand the level of discomfort felt by many who are battling to make ends meet.
However, councils are not immune to unexpected cost pressures themselves, often having to find resources to administer new State Government initiatives, which are added to their workload without adequate compensation, as well as having to deal with significant cost increases, such as those caused by the fall-out of the Chinese recycling ban.
Rate capping is likely to be a popular solution for those who fear opening their rate notice each year but it can be a blunt instrument which, if not flexible enough to allow for a wide variety of individual council circumstances, could have a negative impact on the very people it is designed to help.
While established metropolitan councils may be able to easily keep their costs relatively low, councils such as those in the Hills face special pressures – rapid growth, difficult topography, vulnerability to flood and fire and significant and expensive road maintenance and infrastructure responsibilities.
Regional councils are also burdened by having to provide the required level of services which in many cases is not balanced by high density living meaning they must be paid for by fewer ratepayers.
If rate capping is the Government’s chosen means to relieve financial pressure, these factors need to be considered when the cap is set and any negotiating system must be free flowing, transparent and not overly onerous on councils.
Perhaps consideration could be given by the State Government to increasing concessions to the most disadvantaged in the community rather than making the entire district suffer if the result of a rate cap is a reduction in established or new services.

Council rates

Council rates usually elicit a grumble from homeowners who open their notice only to find the annual fee has crept up again.
For those already feeling the financial pinch, the annual increase is another impost that adds further stress.
The Mt Barker Council’s decision to shave 0.33% off its rate rise for 2018/19 will ease the burden slightly for local ratepayers.
Councils must be mindful of their community’s ability to pay when setting rate increases and annual budgets.
The Mt Barker Council concedes it can cut projects to meet the $91,000 in rates lost through the change from its anticipated 3.2% rise to 2.9% without impacting on services.
But its message is that rate increases will be necessary to ensure sustainability into the future.
It has a multi-million project list for the next decade – a $66m sewer scheme, a $25m regional aquatic centre and a $28-30m regional sports hub just to name a few.
Without considerable State and Federal Government funding support, or partnerships with the private sector, the cost burden for providing the infrastructure this rapidly growing region needs will continue to fall to ratepayers.

Road repairs

Lobbying the State Government to make improvements on one of the region’s most utilised roads is a commendable decision by the Alexandrina Council.
The Mt Barker to Strathalbyn stretch of the B37 route – which includes Wellington Road from Mt Barker to Wistow and Long Valley Road from Wistow to Strathalbyn – certainly requires improvements.
From Mt Barker to Wistow, the road’s surface and width and its intersections with other roads are the most glaring issues, while from Wistow to Strathalbyn, more overtaking lanes and the widening of sections of the road are needed.
These issues combined can create quite a dangerous driving environment.
Slow vehicles are unable to pull over, potentially leading to risky behaviors from drivers wishing to pass, cars turn onto a 100km/h road from almost blind corners, and so on.
For a road that records over 8000 traffic movements a day and links two rapidly growing towns, its condition is inadequate.
All power to Strathalbyn Ward Councillor Ben Brazzalotto for raising his concerns and to the elected members for prioritising an issue that effects more people than those solely living in their council area.

Positive step

The State Government’s commitment to exploring the viability of the GlobeLink freight bypass is a positive step that could have long-term benefits for SA’s economic future.
The master plan is expected to take several months, if not years, and GlobeLink itself – if it does eventuate – is likely to take more than a decade.
But significant progress often requires long term planning and sometimes an element of risk.
The study itself is likely to cost around $20m and could find the concept unviable.
But at least through thorough research an informed decision can be made, based on the actual benefits it will bring and the costs to the taxpayer.
And if those benefits are found to be worth the investment, the impact will reach far wider than the State’s primary producers.
While the concept is likely to make SA more competitive in both national and global markets, it will also benefit thousands of Hills and Adelaide commuters by diverting freight trucks away from the freeway and Portrush Road.
But perhaps the greatest benefit to commuters would be the potential opening of the current rail corridor to provide a fast public transport corridor linking the Hills with the city.

Election signs

If there’s one issue that could unite voters on all sides of politics at election time it’s a mutual disdain for election posters.
They spring up overnight as soon as the writs are issued and launch an assault of the aesthetic kind along just about every main road.
You can’t drop the kids at school, commute to work or head to a sports match without being followed by the beady eyes of smiling candidates all clamoring for your vote.
They’re expensive for the candidates and they are ugly for the residents … particularly in our beautiful Hills environment.
The recent thefts of hundreds of posters belonging to both the Liberal Party and Centre Alliance points to organised removals and appears to go well beyond the usual election-time shenanigans where the odd sign is taken down through random acts of skylarking.
It should be remembered the removal of signs is illegal and should not be condoned.
The removal of so many signs points to either a massive rejection of this form of advertising by members of the public who have chosen to cleanse entire towns of their stain or campaigns by over-enthusiastic political junkies determined to damage the chances of the ‘enemy’.
Either way, many would argue they’re doing the region a favor.

Forgive me father

The Catholic Church continues to place its own interests ahead of the children hurt by members of its own clergy.
Later this year SA will join the ACT in requiring priests to report abuse revealed in confession.
Those who do not comply face a $10,000 penalty.
Last week, however, Acting Adelaide Archbishop Greg O’Kelly announced that the change “doesn’t affect us”.
Others within the church have said priests will go to jail, rather than break what the church considers to be its most sacred rule.
In the face of this change, the Catholic Church continues to deny protection to the most vulnerable members of the community, preferring instead to adhere to its rule that what is said in the confessional, stays in the confessional.
For Heaven’s sake, this is not a footy trip!
The Catholic Church’s schooling arm – Catholic Education SA – educates some 46,000 students across 103 schools at any one time.
It is an institution that places the safety of its students as one of its key priorities.
It is in sharp contrast to the church itself, which seemingly fails to grasp the community’s anger and horror at its track record of denial, risk minimisation and hushing up of child sex abuse.
Church leaders have said paedophiles are not in the habit of confessing their sins in the confessional which makes the new rule unlikely to identify any offenders.
This may well be true but its refusal to co-operate further damages the institution’s already tattered reputation.
There is no denying that the seal of the confessional is a fundamental aspect of the Catholic faith. But imagine for a moment if another faith – let’s say Islam – wanted to offer its followers the same protection.
Or if another religion ignored Australian laws – such as to allow child marriage or female genital mutilation – on the basis of faith. There would be community outrage.
So why, then, is it acceptable for the Catholic Church to appear to place the protection of abusers as a higher priority than the protection of vulnerable children?
Australia is a secular country.
Since our settlement we have had a reputation as a haven for those of different beliefs, many of whom have been persecuted for belonging to certain religions.
Freedom of religious expression is enshrined in our constitution.
But it does not – and rightly should not – place the views of any one faith above the interests of the nation and its people as a whole.
And certainly not above our children’s right to safety.

Jobs creation

A shortcoming in Australia’s political system is that significant long-term projects are often ignored by political parties because the all important three-year electoral cycle takes centre stage.
The result is that worthy but distant projects are shuffled around and ultimately shelved only to re-emerge decades later at an exorbitant price when reality bites and the political pain becomes too intense.
In the meantime ‘trinkets’ are offered to voters at election times – particularly in marginal seats – with the underlying aim of achieving a political outcome for the lowest price.
But as next month’s Mayo by-election is showing, an increasing number of influential people are demanding a major project – a road and rail bypass to take traffic from Monarto, through Palmer and into the city’s northern industrial suburbs – be seriously considered.
This is a big money project.
For too long this region has been ignored by Federal governments of both persuasions but it now finds itself very much in the national political spotlight and voters are rightfully demanding attention.
The benefits of such a project to this fast-growing region are enormous.
In a nutshell:
• Removing the majority of semi-trailers from the freeway will enable it to cope with the region’s booming population and reduce congestion on Portrush Road.
• Removing freight trains from the rail line will allow the development of an efficient public transport corridor (train or O-Bahn) that could be expanded to Murray Bridge and Victor Harbor.
• A job generating transport hub can be developed at Monarto including a possible freight airport.
• This will allow intensive horticultural and associated processing industries to emerge, taking advantage of recycled water from the booming suburbs of Mt Barker.
Swimming pools and sports grounds are necessary but what this region is also demanding are commitments to develop jobs for the next generation.
The State Liberal Government has agreed to a benefit study into the bypass and what Mayo voters want to see is some serious Federal interest in the project.
Now is the perfect time for the two levels of government to work together towards securing this region’s future. Rest assured, there are plenty of votes in it.