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.

Cost shifting

The recent solid waste levy hike is another example of a government caught in a quandary because of a huge GST revenue gap.
With $500m lost as a result of the shortfall, holes in the budget must be plugged.
But passing a significant portion of that financial pressure onto councils is a prime example of cost-shifting that inconspicuously passes costs on to taxpayers, all the while putting councils in the frame.
Several SA councils have already increased their rates in the wake of the levy increase and the Adelaide Hills Council joined those ranks last week, passing on the cost through a $10 increase to the fixed charge component of rates, in addition to its planned 2.8% rate in the dollar increase.
The State Government’s levy hike put the council in a lose-lose situation.
Absorb the fee and the Government assumes the council has enough fat in its budget to handle such cost-shifting.
Pass it on and face the backlash from residents who face more financial pressure in a difficult economic climate.
The cost-shifting exercise is particularly distasteful in the wake of the State Government’s pre-election campaign aimed at putting a cap on the amount by which councils can raise rates each year – a proposal that the Government seems disinclined to let go, despite the Bill having stalled in Parliament.
But to make matters worse, the revenue raised by the new fee – the burden of which will be carried in part by Adelaide Hills ratepayers – will mostly go towards shifting sand between metropolitan beaches – some 20km from the nearest Hills resident.
The Local Government Association and individual councils – including the Adelaide Hills and Alexandrina councils – have called for the Government to use the revenue to promote recycling and find innovative new ways to deal with waste.
These calls have a lot of merit.
Credit must be given to the Government for being upfront about where the money will be spent – and for using it for environmental purposes.
But if revenue is to be raised from increasing the waste levy, the Government should use it as an opportunity to tackle the major and growing environmental problem that is our State’s waste.

Waste burden

The massive cost burden dumped on local councils by the State Government last week in the form of an increased waste levy has infuriated and alarmed many in local government.
The issue should infuriate and alarm ratepayers as well because it is they who will be paying it.
In the weeks leading up to setting their own budgets, councils now have to factor in another significant cost with the three Hills councils – Adelaide Hills, Mt Barker and Alexandrina – being forced to find a combined extra $600,000 per year.
It seems remarkable that when the levy was first set in 2003/04 it was $5 per tonne. It will now be $140 per tonne for metropolitan administrations.
The lateness of the recent announcement and the lack of consultation appear to have caught many by surprise.
There is no doubt the issue of our waste and what to do with it is slowly climbing the greasy pole of political awareness.
Australians are a wasteful lot and the old attitude of simply digging a hole and burying it has been ‘situation normal’ for too long.
It is clear we have not been smart about our waste – or our recycling – and the recent decision by many Asian countries to not take our plastic waste has sharpened our focus on a problem of our own making.
The lack of action on growing our recycling industry shows how the ball that has been dropped by successive Federal and State governments.
It is likely ratepayers would be more inclined to agree to an increase in their rubbish dumping charges if they knew the money raised was being used to tackle this growing issue.
However, according to the State Government budget papers, the $8.5m raised by the increases in the levy will be spent repairing West Beach and doing other coastal works.
I’m sure those along the coast might think it a grand idea, but it is galling to many ratepayers that the tax slug has almost no relationship to the problem to which it is attached.
It is a cash grab. Pure and simple.
And this from a government which refuses to allow metropolitan councils to even consider shifting to a fortnightly bin collection system which has proven hugely successful in cutting landfill waste from regional councils which have adopted it.

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.