The brighter side

There is a lot going on in the world at the moment and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the seemingly constant barrage of negative news.
With a potential war looming in the Middle East threatening oil supplies, half the Amazon on fire, Hong Kong in meltdown, the constant Brexit bickering, China searching for dominance in the Pacific, Kim Jong Un doing heaven knows what and Donald Trump’s usual antics, it is not difficult to feel like the world is teetering on the edge of a calamity.
Closer to home there’s the State Government’s land tax furore, a slowing economy, rising unemployment, drought across much of the country and bushfires in the tropics.
Politically we’ve got a Federal MP who can’t remember to which Chinese Community Party groups she may or may not have belonged … or currently belongs, nasty spite-filled debates over abortion laws, church leaders accused of participating in some sort of paedophile ring and top chief executives earning just shy of $500,000 a week while the wages of their workers remain static.
It is therefore not surprising that many people are turning away from what appears to be an avalanche of negativity in today’s 24-hour news cycle.
Thankfully there’s The Courier to provide some sort of distraction and highlight that the ‘real world’ here in the Hills in which we actively participate is not all negative … as opposed to the ‘global world’ in which we are mere observers.
The story of the presentation of CFS awards to long-serving volunteers is a prime example.
Thousands of men and women, young and old, able-bodied and stiff of limb combine to deliver a world class fire service to our communities.
They put themselves in danger, are on the front line after horrific car accidents and other tragedies, train and prepare relentlessly for no other reward than it makes them feel better for helping others.
So at a time when your thoughts can turn negative and the dark clouds seem rather overwhelming, it is worth looking a little closer to home for inspiration.
Our little patch of the world is not a bad place. In fact it is fantastic.
Let’s not forget that as we forge ahead into the future.

Pool plan

The Mt Barker Council has released its staged development for a multi-million dollar swimming and leisure centre.
Planned for land on Bald Hills Road just below the Laratinga Wetlands, the development is a futuristic vision for the facility which has been broken into stages.
The first stage – expected to cost up to $30m – includes a 25m indoor pool with a second indoor leisure pool as well as associated changing and toilet facilities.
The second stage includes a 50m outdoor pool as well as water slides and playing courts.
The plans have been released for public comment and ratepayers will have the opportunity to make suggestions for a month.
Given that the council has just $10m towards the first stage in the form of a Federal Government grant, it is reasonable to assume the second stage will be built a considerable time later.
Full funding for the first stage is currently far from assured and its progression will rely on another significant cash injection from Canberra, before progress on the second stage can even be thought about.
So what do residents want and expect from an aquatic centre?
The present pool on Cameron Road – which has served the community well for over 50 years – is at the end of its life and its failing infrastructure has become a significant drain on council finances.
That pool is closed during winter meaning the community only has access to a public swimming facility for about half the year.
The community has made it clear in the past that it wants a public indoor facility to allow for swimming and pool-related health activities year round.
But the trade-off is that an indoor pool is unattractive to the many casual swimmers looking to cool down during summer.
Given that the council wants to close the Cameron Road pool as soon as possible to stop the bleed of money, the construction of a new community indoor pool may not improve the overall scenario – instead growing winter use at the expense of summer use.
The upcoming consultation period will go some way to establishing what the community considers important.
The challenge will be for the council to marry that with what is achievable.

Cat confinement

It was no surprise to find non-cat owners responded overwhelmingly in favor of the Mt Barker Council’s proposed cat management by-law during its community consultation phase.
It was, however, encouraging to see that around half of cat owners who responded also supported the proposed changes.
The by-law, which was adopted on Monday and will be enforced in around four month’s time, will require owners to keep their cats indoors between 8pm–7am, register them and only keep two on a property (with some exceptions to the latter).
Felines are widely regarded as one of the major threats to Australia’s natural environment, killing around six million native animals every day.
No matter how cute and cuddly they may seem – or whether they are feral or domestic – cats are tuned to the hunt, and when they see something flutter they can’t help but pounce.
And they’re extremely effective hunters.
As non-natives, they are one of the many animal and disease species introduced to Australia by foreigners that have, over time, upset the natural ecological balance, contributing to the decline of some native animals and birds.
But perhaps cat owners are also seeing that there are other benefits to preventing their pets from roaming outdoors.
A confined cat would avoid a multitude of dangers it would otherwise face wandering the streets.
Confined cats won’t be hit by cars, be killed or injured by other animals (including cats and humans) or simply get lost and not return home.
It is hard to argue against the logic that when someone owns an animal – no matter the species – they are required to contain it and provide it a safe home environment.
A host of other councils around the State are investigating similar measures, particularly the Adelaide Hills Council where cats will be confined to their owner’s properties 24/7 from 2022.
There will continue to be opponents to such regulations, but maybe the increasing community acceptance of cat controls is a sign that residents are more aware of the need to protect our native environment and of the realisation among cat owners they can play an important part in its protection.

Mine decision

With community consultation about the controversial Bird in Hand gold mine set to wrap up next month, its fate will soon be firmly in the hands of the State Government.
Mining is a contentious issue within the Liberal Government, having already twice caused division within the Party’s ranks.
The Woodside mine could provide another obstacle for the Government, with about 200 concerned residents showing up at the Woodside Institute earlier this week, eager to know that their opinions will be listened to – and acted upon.
Local Member Dan Cregan – who has already voted against his Party twice over mining matters in response to community concerns – has given constituents reason to believe that their voices will be heard in this debate.
However, while the Minister has promised to – and is required to – consider the feedback given during the consultation period, the public may hold some reservations after recent controversial mining reforms passed through Parliament despite opposition from the primary production industry and four Liberal backbenchers.
With the State strapped for cash and the mine set to create 140 Hills jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue, it’s essential that the proposal is assessed on all its merits and risks.
Most farmers, tourism operators and residents would likely oppose a mine next to them – regardless of where they lived or the broader benefits of the mine – so it’s important that a decision is made based on the greatest good for the entire State.
Parts of the Strathalbyn community were also outraged when Terramin proposed the Angas Zinc mine several years ago and – with significant water miscalculations aside – the project turned out to be far less disruptive to normal life than some in the community had anticipated.
However, with the Hills emerging as one of the world’s great wine regions, and with tourism growing, the need to prevent long-term detrimental impact to the local water source in Woodside is not negotiable.
If there is any realistic risk to the water supply, the Government must not short-sightedly take the sugar-hit cash injection that the mine will provide, but rather protect an $800m industry that will be around for decades to come.

Flight tragedy

The three deaths in the light aircraft crash shortly after take-off from the Mt Gambier airport two years ago shattered many families and left a huge hole in two country communities.
A volunteer pilot from Mt Barker and a 16-year-old Mt Gambier girl and her mother were all killed just over a minute into the flight to Adelaide. The air safety bureau investigation into the accident found a number of factors contributed to the tragedy.
It revealed the pilot, Mt Barker businessman and community leader Grant Gilbert, was neither qualified or experienced to take off in the low visibility conditions of the day.
Mr Gilbert was forced to undertake a number of low level manoeuvres when approaching the airport due to foggy conditions after flying from Murray Bridge that morning. Those same conditions forced the pilots of two commercial flights heading to Mt Gambier to find alternative solutions at about the same time – one circled the airport for 50 minutes waiting for conditions to improve while another diverted to another airport.
Mr Gilbert took off just 12 minutes after a difficult landing.
The report says he may have been encouraged to do so because the conditions were improving, but suggests it is also possible he felt pressured to take off so as not to delay his passengers who had a scheduled medical appointment.
The medical transfer organisation Angel Flight – to which Mr Gilbert was volunteering both his time and his plane – tells its volunteer pilots that cancelling a flight “is considered a demonstration of good judgement and will never be criticised” but refers to the flights as “missions” and the pilots as “heroes”.
Although the pilots are deserving of high praise, such language must change.
It must be remembered that none of the medical transfers undertaken by the charity are emergencies and the report recommends the organisation use scheduled passenger flights where possible. There are daily return flights between Mt Gambier and Adelaide.
Sadly nothing will change the outcome of that miserable day in Mt Gambier two years ago. Everyone has lost more than can be imagined.
The only good that can come from it is that lessons are learned and procedures improved.

Gun vigilance

A massive cache of illegal guns and ammunition hidden in secret rooms in a property near a quiet Hills town is a disturbing and frightening discovery.
While the alleged owner’s motives – or the way he obtained the weapons – are not yet known, the huge number and serious nature of the unregistered firearms found suggest it’s not just a matter of idle carelessness or oversight.
Police are not painting the matter as a terrorism issue but, as we are frequently reminded by the regular happenings in the US, horrific crimes are not only purpertrated by radicalised fanatics or foreign fighters.
Devastating damage can be done by people who live unseen – hidden in plain sight – because they look and behave on the surface just like regular community members … until they snap.
It only takes one idiot with a gun to irreversibly destroy dozens of lives.
The recent events in Brukunga should serve as a warning of what could be lurking within any community and act as a stark reminder of the importance of vigilance.
Everyone has a role to play in keeping the community safe.
While the police should be commended for the roles they play to keep our community safe – sometimes at the risk of their own lives – a degree of responsibility also falls upon the broader community.
While firearm owners need to remember that their ability to own guns is a privilege that carries heavy responsibility, the Brukunga case also demonstrates the importance of reporting suspicious behavior or illegal activity to authorities.
The US – which has suffered through more than 250 mass shootings already this year (four people killed or injured in an incident, excluding the shooter) – is a perfect example of how a country awash with guns is not safer than one with heavy gun restrictions.
The statistics show widespread gun availability does not provide better protection.
The Australian Government should be commended for its strict stance on guns and immediate action in the wake of our nation’s worst gun tragedy 23 years ago.
The freedoms enshrined in the United States’ second amendment – and all of its deadly consequences – is one American trend Australia should never seek to follow.

Road to nowhere

The ad-hoc construction of Mt Barker’s major bypass road – the Heysen Boulevard – has proven that piecemeal development is not the way to deliver vital infrastructure at a greenfield site.
After years of frustration, Mt Barker Council chief executive Andrew Stuart recently pitched an idea to fast-track the road’s creation to the State’s Infrastructure and Local Government Minister Stephan Knoll.
Rather than continue to rely on housing developers to construct the road within their estates piece by piece – resulting in the current unlinked sections of the road being described as “dysfunctional” and “disorganised” – the council wants the State Government to foot the $40m bill and lead the co-ordinated build of the project’s remaining 6.5km.
The council’s plan involves the Government recouping the costs of construction from developers, which it believes makes the decision to push ahead with the project a no-brainer.
Mr Stuart believes the road should have been built before – or at least coinciding with – the first residential developments following the former Labor Government’s controversial rezoning of 1300ha of rural land in 2010.
With the Mt Barker Council area expected to grow from 36,000 people to almost 57,000 in just over 15 years – alongside droves of people also flocking to nearby Strathalbyn and surrounding towns – the State Government cannot afford to stand by and be reactive when it comes to providing infrastructure.
The massive scale of the Mt Barker rezoning a decade ago was deemed too big by both the council and many members of the community, but their cries were completely ignored by the then Labor Government.
It is galling to realise that the wealth of assistance promised by that Government to assist with the sudden influx of new residents did not eventuate.
The reality is that the Labor Government saw the Hills as a low priority and it has been left to the new Liberal Government to clean up the mess.
The lesson to be learned to avoid future problems in other sites is to build essential infrastructure first and the people will follow.
It’s pretty obvious really.

Traffic congestion

Traffic congestion along the freeway is becoming an increasing concern among Hills commuters.
The planned additional lane between Crafers and Stirling will likely ease some of that congestion in an area deemed a bottleneck for the thousands of commuters that travel to Adelaide for work every day.
The State Government has also flagged a possible extension of the third lane to Mt Barker to address the congestion that is likely to increase as the town rapidly grows.
But while the multi-million dollar solution could help to address the town’s growing pains, there is more than one way to relieve freeway congestion between Mt Barker and Adelaide.
It would be prudent for the State Government to also explore other solutions, including removing some of the traffic from the road.
A fast rail passenger train has long been spruiked as a possible way to address the booming population growth in the Hills and decrease the traffic volume travelling down the hill each day.
But while it would provide commuters with a fast, hassle-free alternative to driving, that project is likely to cost close to $1 billion and may never eventuate.
Other options should also be explored, including creating more jobs within Mt Barker.
Job creation in the region would be one significant step towards permanent traffic relief, preventing the exodus of workers from Mt Barker and surrounds every morning.
Given that creating a third lane along a 1km section of the freeway is tipped to cost $14m, it’s likely that extending that lane the additional 15km to Mt Barker would cost significantly more.
That money may be better spent incentivising Adelaide-based businesses to open offices in the region or offering tax breaks to businesses that establish themselves in the town.
That could save the Government money in the longer term by reducing maintenance and upgrade costs caused by growing traffic volumes.
But the benefits could be much further reaching than that.
Growing local business will stimulate the Hills economy, while engaging more locals in work close to their homes may also improve quality of life and work-life balance by significantly reducing commuting time.

Culling call

The Natural Resources Committee’s recommendation to cull a range of overabundant species – including kangaroos and little corellas – in order to protect the State’s biodiversity puts the Government in a difficult position.
The committee heard the number of kangaroos in the Hills was double sustainable levels while many local communities have been battling corella problems for decades.
It also heard abundant numbers of koalas and fur seals were damaging natural landscapes in other areas of the State.
Its report suggests the Government must reduce the number of kangaroos and corellas by killing them.
That puts the Government in an unenviable position: it will either have to kill the animals – causing community vexation (and political pain) but environmental gain – or ignore the recommendation to please the community, hoping the problem goes away.
It is a difficult decision with possible lose/lose outcomes, but that is the reality of being in government.
Sometimes tough decisions have to be made and true leadership must come to the fore.
The decision will show the Government’s value of public perception over pragmatism.
The fact is that the numbers of these species are too high, a situation partially brought about through human influences.
Clearing land and increasing watering points has made ideal kangaroo and corella habitat and the current boom in kangaroo numbers is a partial reflection of that.
Kangaroo overgrazing destroys the habitats of a variety of other species while corellas cause widespread annoyance and damage to both natural and urban environments.
Local councils have undertaken a range of confusing, expensive and problem-shifting programs in attempts to combat corellas over the years with limited success.
It must be remembered that it is legal to shoot both corellas and kangaroos (the latter with a permit) and thousands of the marsupials are killed every year in remote parts of SA for human consumption.
However, encouraging more widespread killing through the peri-urban areas of the Hills is a different matter again.
The ball is in the Government’s court and the decision will be watched with interest.

Protections for landholders

The four Liberal MPs who crossed the floor to vote against their Government last week made a bold move.
It’s comforting for residents in their electorates to know their MPs are willing to advocate for their concerns, even if may mean opposing their Party’s policy.
With mining activities occurring in the Hills for many years, some local landholders have taken a keen interest in the mining reforms.
There is a danger that the cards are stacked in favor of miners when it comes to land access rights.
Often they have more financial resources than farmers do, leaving them in a better position if a land access matter goes to court.
Governments, which are responsible for approving or rejecting mining activities, also receive royalties from mines – money they don’t receive from the agriculture industry.
Additionally, not all land is the same and not all mines are equal.
Mining in an arid backwater is different to mining in a highly fertile agricultural region.
Large open cut mines are different to underground mines with smaller above-ground footprints.
Legislation that acts as a ‘one size fits all’ may not provide the necessary protections and balances that such complex industries require and it’s important a fair balance is achieved between mining and farming.
The State’s Mining Minister has promised to continue to look for ways to improve the legislation, saying the current changes are just a step in the right direction.
It would be reasonable for him to outline exactly how and when he will review the legislation.
Farmers and MPs alike have advocated for SA to adopt laws more similar to other states, which afford extra protections for highly arable land and better compensation for farmers whose land is accessed by mining companies. Farms are not always easy to buy and sell and often families have farmed the same land for generations.
If a highly valuable mineral deposit is found under a farm, it’s essential that the compensation offered considers more than just the value of the land.
The mining reforms drew particular attention from Hills farmers, some of whom are concerned that a proposal to mine gold at the old Bird in Hand mine in Woodside could damage the local aquifer.
Terramin has recently lodged a mining lease application for the mine, outlining in detail how it plans to manage and protect groundwater. But – regardless of the passage of the mining Bill – it’s imperative that the Government does not allow the mine to go ahead if there’s any real chance of it damaging the water table.