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.

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.

Centre of attention

Prime Ministers from both sides of politics have visited the Federal seat of Mayo over its 32-year history.
Even Labor leader Julia Gillard snuck into the district a few years ago to take a peek at the defence housing at Inverbrackie before announcing her intention to turn the place into a detention facility.
But The Courier cannot recall a Prime Minister doing any active campaigning in this traditionally safe Liberal stronghold over the previous 12 elections.
Now in the space of five days the region has had a visit from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull offering $3.75m for a much-needed regional sports hub in Mt Barker, and a visit from one of Australia’s most popular former Coalition leaders, John Howard, warning voters about the dangers of flirting with a minor Party and deviating from the two-Party preferred system of government.
Even if the internal polling for sitting member Jamie Briggs is not as dire as his opponents would like, SA Senator Nick Xenophon is right – the Liberals are spooked.
Mr Briggs was re-elected in 2013 with nearly 54% of the primary vote and held the seat with a 12.5% margin.
He shouldn’t be worried.
Other Liberals in more marginal seats have greater cause for concern but Mr Howard chose to spend some very public time in Mayo.
That could be because Mr Briggs was his former adviser and was Mr Howard’s “captain’s pick” for Mayo when former member Alexander Downer resigned in 2008. Mr Howard was certainly at pains yesterday to point out his admiration for Mr Briggs.
However, what is more likely is that Liberal polling shows support for the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) is high enough to be considered a threat.
Mr Xenophon is seen as someone who stuck up for SA when the major Parties showed little conviction in addressing the State’s looming jobs crisis.
With his centralist politics more palatable to traditionally conservative voters, his willingness and ability to negotiate and a perceived level of dissatisfaction with Mr Briggs in the electorate, his NXT candidate Rebekha Sharkie could well secure enough votes to shake up Mayo.
If that means more attention on this region, then bring on marginal status and more visits from PMs – past or present.

Vision for the future

The $113m crowdfunding campaign to secure the last vacant block of land in Mt Barker’s CBD and develop it into a town square is an exciting venture but with many significant hurdles to overcome.
The Mt Barker and District Residents’ Association hopes it can drive enough interest from both local and overseas investors to secure the millions to create what Mt Barker so clearly needs.
But the land’s owner – retail giant Woolworths – has indicated it is yet to determine whether the parcel, bordered by Hutchinson Street and Druids Avenue, will even hit the market, and if it does, what price it will ask.
It’s also possible Woolworths could accept a higher offer from another party with a vision for the square that is different to that of architect Geof Nairn, who hopes to see a boutique hotel, and apartments built on the site.
But the fact that the residents’ association has turned the seed of an idea into action is a strong start.
The company managing the investment scheme – DomaCom – is a reputable investment firm which has already drawn $80m from investors towards the purchase of the Kidman cattle stations in outback Australia.
Hopefully DomaCom’s success will carry on in the heart of Mt Barker.
The Federal, State or local governments are unlikely to solely fund this town square project, leaving crowdfunding as the most promising way of achieving this vision.
But even if the investment scheme fails, Mr Nairn’s town square design has largely done its job … it has generated interest and enthusiasm.
The residents’ association has proven it cares for its town’s ambience and the livelihood and wellbeing of its people.
There is no ulterior motive at play.
And if the doubts come creeping in, one only has to look at Carey Gully’s high profile squatter Iain Herridge who received two last-minute donations to clear nearly $40,000 in outstanding council rates, stalling his possible eviction from an old cottage on Rangeview Road.
While drawing $113m in today’s economic climate is a much tougher assignment, it only takes one willing investor to turn the plans into reality.

New urban plan

A Development Plan Amendment (DPA) that represents more than a decade of work (and rework) has finally been released to the residents of the Adelaide Hills Council.
Called the Townships and Urban Areas DPA, this document reviews all the residential areas in the district in an attempt to make policies more streamlined in a council that faces many challenges and restrictions because of the high bushfire risk and sensitive watershed environment.
It looks at a number of issues but because the council is not allowed to increase its urban boundaries, it only provides mechanisms to provide another 470 building lots beyond the current, “optimal” potential to develop just over 1000 new housing allotments under current planning rules.
It’s a far cry from the State Government-imposed Ministerial DPA for Mt Barker which was pushed through in late 2010 and opened up 1300ha of farmland for housing and industry.
That DPA created the potential to bring at least 25,000 more people to the Mt Barker and Nairne region with some 7000 more homes.
The scale in the Adelaide Hills Council is significantly smaller but elected members might have to do some slick consultation to avoid flack from the various communities within their district.
The council often comes under fire for being slow and difficult to deal with when it comes to planning.
Many of those problems are because of the rules it has to work under (hence the DPA) but sometimes the delays are because local residents are passionate about their patch and they are motivated to fight any change they don’t like.
Here the council is hoping to bring about changes residents do want, and that is the chance to provide for a “diversity of housing” so seniors can downsize to a more manageable dwelling and young people have the opportunity to enter the housing market.
Compared with other councils, the district is woefully short on units and townhouses so residents often have to move away to find accommodation they need or can afford.
This DPA attempts to meet that need within the space available and is worth a read.

Long running issue

It speaks volumes about the effectiveness of an organisation’s communication procedures when politicians have to step in and organise a public meeting in order to bring an issue to a head.
But hopefully Opposition spokesman for emergency services Duncan McFetridge and local Hills MP Mark Goldsworthy can bring about something positive from such a meeting and break the impasse between State Emergency Service (SES)  management and the striking Onkaparinga SES Unit over triaging and response times for trees across minor roads and potential house flooding.
These are issues that have been simmering for years and, despite the finger pointing and the threats against speaking out, the concerns expressed are not isolated to the central Hills.
Allegations of unnecessary delays stretch across the Hills and into the Strathalbyn and Fleurieu region.
SES management says the Onkaparinga unit “just doesn’t get it” and the unit says the same of those in charge.
What the public doesn’t get is why a fallen tree limb can block a lane of a busy feeder road in Stirling, not far from the Stirling CFS, and the first response is to send an SES unit based at Coromandel Valley to clean it up.
Someone has taken their eye off the ball, and if they haven’t, the reasons why have not been adequately articulated by management to the volunteers, or the public.
The public has an expectation that their emergency services will operate effectively.
Volunteers, from all units and services, do their best to meet that expectation – for no financial reward and often in trying conditions.
This internal stand-off at Onkaparinga should not be seen as a slur on the SES volunteers across the State who worked tirelessly during the storm last week.
Nor should it be seen as an issue isolated to a small group of troublemakers.
Many of the 40 plus Onkaparinga volunteers who recently sent a letter outlining their concerns to Emergency Services Minister Peter Malinauskas have 30 to 50 years of experience in the SES.
They think this triaging problem poses a risk to their community and they want it sorted out and that’s not an unreasonable request.

Sign of the times

Local Federal MP Jamie Briggs appears to have a plethora of very bruised and battered election posters clinging drunkenly to Stobie poles across the district.
Some of his posters went up on Saturday night – even before Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called the election – but the wild winds of Monday played havoc with many leaving the Member for Mayo looking rather knocked about.
But the dishevelled state of his image appears to be of little concern to the incumbent as he is not taking them down … even though he has been ordered to do so.
The problem is the rules state that election posters can’t be placed on public property until the writs are issued meaning this period of visual vandalism the community must suffer at every election cannot commence before 6pm next Monday.
This rule has not changed from previous elections but it seems Labor, Liberal and the Greens went ahead anyway and volunteers began putting the posters up more than a week early in their desperation to lift the public recognition levels of their candidates.
Dozens of posters extolling the virtues of Greens Senate candidates as well as Mr Briggs were placed around the Hills … until the local councils on Monday ordered their removal within 24 hours.
No Labor, NXT or Greens posters for Mayo have been spotted in the district.
The Greens began removing their Senate signs on Tuesday but Mr Briggs has refused to remove his saying the issue was minor and that the furore would all blow over and be forgotten in a couple of days.
Mr Briggs strengthened his resolve against the request from both the Adelaide Hills and Mt Barker councils by saying there had been a legal precedence set in a case in WA which meant that, even though the law hadn’t changed, the posters could go up as soon as the election was called.
That point is disputed by the Local Government Association and it informed all councils that candidates could be required to remove all the posters.
Other options are for council workers to remove the signs at the council’s own expense or impose a fine and take the offending candidates to court.
Either way the whole things is a shambles and Mr Briggs’ defiant challenge to the rules is an election strategy he should seriously reconsider.