Greener future

The proposed Strathalbyn compressed air energy storage facility is an example of a changing Australian energy market.
Where decades ago the nation’s power was generated mostly from coal and gas, with some hydroelectricity, in recent years there has been a growing focus on renewable energy and innovative solutions to improve its reliability.
The five megawatt Strathalbyn facility is essentially a demonstration site, with the capacity to store only 10 megawatt hours of energy – enough to power 4000 homes for two hours.
But the company behind the technology, Hydrostor, is already designing much larger versions, with storage capacities greater than 50 megawatts.
Unlike fossil fuels such as coal, renewable energy – including solar and wind power – presents several obstacles in terms of reliability.
And that’s where storage technology comes into its own.
When used on a much larger scale, systems like compressed air energy storage and pumped hydro storage have the potential to store excess energy from renewable sources when conditions are favorable, for use when they are not.
Both the State and Federal Governments’ investment in this technology is a good sign.
Despite the Federal Government’s pro-coal reputation, the move demonstrates a commitment at both levels of government to explore ways of creating a cleaner energy future.
Already home to the world’s biggest battery, and leading the nation in commercial electricity generation from renewable sources, Hydrostor’s investment in SA helps pave the way for the State to become a national leader in energy innovation.
Without the need for hilly topography – as is the case with pumped hydro storage – the technology is far less restricted by location, giving it the potential to be built anywhere around Australia.
Its use of underground infrastructure also makes disused underground mining sites ideal locations for the facilities, giving closed mines a new purpose.
Compressed air energy storage is not the be all and end all solution to Australia’s energy needs, but it may be a step towards creating a greener future

Banking issues

The handing down of the banking royal commission’s final report on Monday afternoon was a bitter pill for many to swallow.
The fearless, and at times ferocious, demeanor of Commissioner Kenneth Hayne has been replicated in his public assessment of the utterly unprofessional conduct of so-called finance professionals.
Commissioner Hayne says sweeping changes must be made to the finance sector and has made 76 recommendations in his 1000-page report.
It is still possible that criminal or civil charges could be made against some in the industry and the Commissioner has highlighted obvious shortcomings in the way mortgage brokers are paid which, under the current system, effectively has them working for the banks rather than their customers.
During the hearings the public was drip fed a daily diet of what really happens behind the scenes when multi-billion financial enterprises have about as much regard for their customers as Phillipines President Rodrigo Duterte has for drug dealers.
It is no surprise the banking industry now has a public relations problem of epic proportions.
But one must still question if the massive change the entire banking culture needs will be delivered.
It is vital the fox is not put in charge of the hen house.
Before the royal commission was established industry leaders were adamant there was no problem and an inquiry was a waste of time and money.
A “witch hunt” as then Treasurer Scott Morrison called it.
National Australia Bank chairman Ken Henry wrote to Mr Morrison in 2017 saying: “… further inquiries into the sector, including a royal commission, are unwarranted. They are costly and unnecessary distractions at a time when the finance sector faces significant challenges and disruption from technology and growing global macroeconomic uncertainty”.
At the same time Anna Bligh, the head of the Australian Banking Association, said she wasn’t sure what there would be for a royal commission to look at.
Either these two were out of touch … or out of their minds. Bank leaders such as these cannot be allowed to fix the problem.

Boundary changes

The Campbelltown Council’s push to realign its boundary with the Adelaide Hills Council has merit on many levels.
On the surface the proposal appears to be logical, as the high density affected areas have far more in common with their metropolitan neighbors than they do with the rural and peri-urban areas of the Hills.
Located a significant distance from the council’s major community centres, it’s also likely that residents in that part of the council already access community facilities – such as libraries and recreational facilities – outside their council area.
The change may also financially benefit those ratepayers, as established metropolitan councils can often provide services at lower costs to property owners.
The welfare of these ratepayers should be of primary concern.
But while the boundary change may seem sensible on many levels, the proposal could have implications for the Adelaide Hills Council.
High density suburban areas – such as Woodforde and Rostrevor – return high rates of revenue compared with the lower density rural parts of the council while the required services are able to be provided more efficiently and at a lower cost.
If the Adelaide Hills Council loses the 600 plus homes along its boundary with the Campbelltown Council, it could also lose more than $1m in rates revenue – some of which likely offsets costs in other high maintenance parts of the council.
The recent legislation changes make it easier for councils to suggest boundary realignments even though such applications are still subject to investigations into the impacts on affected councils and residents.
The process of such realignments can begin without the agreement of affected councils which may leave peri-urban councils vulnerable.
If the legislation changes trigger a widespread re-evaluation of council boundaries – and more high density, peri-urban areas such as Rostrevor are absorbed by true metropolitan councils – the viability of peri-urban councils without major metropolitan-style centres could be placed under increasing financial pressure. This could trigger talks of more significant changes or even whole amalgamations such as were experienced 20 years ago.

Australia Day

Discussions over the appropriateness of Australia Day being celebrated on January 26 continue each year with increased fervor.
The growth in intensity of this national conversation clearly indicates more Australians are conflicted by the date – chosen to commemorate 11 British ships arriving in Sydney Cove in 1788 to establish a penal colony in a land almost completely unknown by Europeans, but which had been inhabited by Aboriginal people for 60,000 years.
The day has been officially celebrated in NSW since 1818 and by all States since 1935.
But the recent understanding by modern Australian society of the sub-standard treatment of Aboriginal people by previous generations and the insensitivity of celebrating a day which marks the exact point when that abuse began, has pushed the debate of the appropriateness of January 26 to new heights.
More people are of the view that January 26 may not be the most unifying point and are calling for that anomaly to be rectified.
It must be remembered that the wrongs of the past cannot be changed and current Australians are not responsible for the opinions and actions of their forebears.
But what can be changed is for modern Australians to acknowledge those mistakes and, as a part of our inevitable social evolution, engage in honest and open dialogue to ensure this nation does not continue to fudge its history or sugar coat its blemishes as has happened in the past.
It must be remembered that history is written by the victors.
We must all work hard to ensure that any future Australia Day discussions are not hijacked by the extremes of the argument.
A mature, respectful and open debate on an issue of sensitivity is the sign of an intelligent nation – determined to achieve the best outcome.
It cannot be allowed to degenerate into an “us and them” argument and it is important our political and social leaders avoid this dangerous pitfall.
We should all ask ourselves a few questions – what do we stand for, what unites us and what does it mean to be an Australian? They are not complex questions but giving everyone ‘a fair go’ is likely to be a refreshingly familiar response – from gnarled bushies to the inner city latte set.
It’s a good starting point for a discussion.

Council costs

The SA Ombudsman’s finding that the Alexandrina Council committed maladministration by not gaining approval for one of its own projects is an embarrassing look for the council.
The recent verdict relates to a project at the Goolwa Wharf where concrete boat-mooring pontoons were installed and a length of boardwalk widened.
It was undertaken between 2009-11, however, some of the work was shoddy and the pontoons were later removed.
The project initially cost the council $447,000, but the ensuing legal battle to recover the costs of the pontoons has brought that tally up to an eye-watering $775,000.
The district’s ratepayers have covered this bill and the company responsible has gone into voluntary liquidation.
And, to add insult to injury, it emerged during the attempt to recover the costs of the sub-standard pontoons that the project lacked the council’s own legally-required building approvals.
The handling of this project would no doubt frustrate ratepayers, not just because of the waste of money but by either the deliberate decision by staff to ignore the planning rules or, if that’s not the case, then the unprofessional oversight to allow the project to proceed without the correct authority.
Any resident who wants to install something as simple as a shed must dodge, duck and dive through hoops, cut through red tape, tick boxes and pay project lodgment fees in order to be granted approval.
The rules must be applied equally – to residents, businesses and governments.
The key staff primarily responsible for this farce are no longer employed by the council and both they and the council should count their lucky stars the Ombudsman recommended no action be taken against them.
The best that can come of this sorry situation is that lessons are learned and these mistakes are not repeated.
This is a good wake-up call for all councils, which should be reminded to ensure their own house is in order to avoid risking further embarrassments and backlash.
Situations such as this only reinforce the divide between local government and the communities they are there to serve.

Corella problem

How many bureaucratic reports and inquiries does it take to solve a decades-long problem?
When it comes to the control of the overabundant little corella, it appears we don’t yet know.
For over 20 years, increasingly large flocks of little corellas have descended on the Fleurieu and, more recently, Mt Barker to wreak havoc and destruction.
They destroy private property, tear up recreation facilities and parklands, defecate in concentrated areas presenting public health risks, disrupt residents with their incessant noise and are slowly but surely killing some of the region’s historic trees.
For the first time in recent years both the Mt Barker and Alexandrina regions have recorded flocks staying for the whole year, rather than making the annual migration outside the district for the winter.
The problem is not going away.
It is getting worse.
Flock sizes are increasing to thousands of birds.
Yet it appears no-one within the State Government is prepared tO grasp the nettle.
There is no doubt that human settlement and urban development have added to the problem, making ideal habitats for the birds with open green spaces and artificial water sources such as dams and lakes.
There is also the added challenge of community perceptions that the birds should be protected because they are natives – despite corellas not being native to this region and despite the very real impact they are having on displacing locally native species and destroying the local environment.
For years councils have managed the problem as best they can.
But this has been an ad-hoc response lacking any co-ordination to achieve anything but the most temporary of solutions.
The tactics of scaring the birds away from public sites has only succeeded in moving the problem to other areas.
While there are long-term solutions such as developing sacrificial sites and landscaping public places to make them less attractive to the birds, these all take years to develop.
There is no plan for what is really needed – a Statewide control plan and a reduction in the birds’ numbers now.
As a result, communities will go on suffering unless State politicians and bureaucrats find the courage to make a hard call.

Parties to pay

News that former Premier Jay Weatherill and his deputy John Rau will quit Parliament and force by-elections in both their metropolitan seats brings to an end an era of SA Labor politics.
Both men were elected in 2002 and had significant leadership roles in the State Government’s domination of the political landscape until Mr Weatherill’s team lost office earlier this year.
The recent retirement announcements also continue a disturbingly familiar tale of politicians simply walking away from their election promises.
At the March State election both men made it clear that, if elected, they would serve their full four-year term.
But it seems being a humble Opposition backbencher just doesn’t cut it when you’ve experienced the giddy heights of power.
The cost for these expensive by-elections will, of course, be picked up by the SA taxpayer.
In this instance it is the Labor Party that should be paying.
If a politician chooses to quit mid-term for no other reason than “it’s time to move on” or to “spend more time with my family” or to “explore other opportunities”, then the responsibility should fall with their party to pay for the required by-election.
It was no different when long-serving Liberal MP Alexander Downer decided he didn’t want to represent Mayo a few months after being elected in 2007.
The estimated $250,000 to elect his replacement was picked up by the taxpayer for no other reason than Mr Downer, like Mr Weatherill and Mr Rau, didn’t have the enthusiasm for a prolonged period in the political wilderness.
That is not good enough.
Entering politics is not just about being in Government. The unpalatable flip side is Opposition, but it seems those who have enjoyed a taste of power find the alternative a bitter pill to swallow.
If a MP has a legitimate reason for resigning just after being elected – such as a health issue either with themselves or their immediate family – then it is only reasonable the cost fall to the taxpayer.
But to cut and run and brush off the considerable expense as though it doesn’t exist is a trend that must be discouraged in the strongest terms.
Making the party behind perpetrators pay for their actions would focus the mind perfectly.
It is simply

Refreshing change

The decision made by four first-term State Government backbenchers last week to oppose their party’s position and stand up for their communities is a refreshing change in big party politics.
Crossing the floor was once more common in Australian politics, but has become increasingly rare.
In the Labor Party, opposing the party’s position during a division is all but a death sentence, with rogue MPs sometimes expelled for breaking ranks.
The Liberal Party, on the other hand, allows its members to vote against party lines – but as wholesome as this sounds it can have serious ramifications on their political careers.
The actions of Dan Cregan, Fraser Ellis, Nick McBride and Steve Murray do not represent major disunity within the party, but rather highlight a conviction to stick to promises made to their rural communities.
It may not have an impact on the final outcome of the legislation review, but it will allow more discussion about an issue that has the potential to affect the livelihood of thousands of people and the economic future of the State.
Their willingness, after only a few months in the job, to potentially compromise their political careers in order to advocate for their communities is highly commendable and shows they are willing to do what they were elected to do – represent their constituents in Parliament.
At a Federal level, politics is experiencing a widening of the crossbench, with thousands of voters abandoning the major parties in favor of independents who are not tied to a party line.
This direct representation model is gathering momentum.
While there are still many who vote for the ideals of a particular party, no party’s policy can completely appeal to every sector of its voter base – such as this latest skirmish which has vastly different perspectives in regional and metropolitan communities.
This highlights the appeal to voters of an MP who is prepared to devote themselves to the interests of their electorate.
Perhaps this shift will place increasing pressure on major parties to allow their MPs to put their constituents ahead of party lines and crossing the floor may become commonplace again.

Road repair

Last week’s tragic double fatality on Long Valley Road between Strathalbyn and Wistow has reignited calls for improvements to the increasingly busy commuter corridor.
While there is no suggestion that the condition of the road had any influence on this latest accident, the Alexandrina Council has been lobbying State Government authorities for months for action to be taken on the road.
Twice the council wrote to the relevant department and twice it received no reply.
That is as discourteous as it is unprofessional.
The third approach – once again outlining the council’s concerns with limited passing opportunities, bad driver bahavior and the condition of the road’s surface – did receive a reply which Mayor Keith Parkes described as a “fob off”.
Now the community is reeling from the deaths of two local teenagers and once the pain and heartache has eased, attention will invariably return to the condition of the road.
The Long Valley Road carries over 8000 vehicles a day and is the major route linking Mt Barker and Adelaide with the booming communities of Strathalbyn and beyond.
The road has two overtaking lanes (both on hills) and has broad sweeping bends perfectly suited to the 100km/h speed zone.
One major concern is the lack of turn-out lanes for slow moving traffic which can lead to driver frustration and risky behavior on a road primarily used by commuter traffic.
Bad driver behavior can never be condoned, but the reality is that a country road which has become a major commuter thoroughfare in the past few years has different requirements to a country road of lower importance.
There are also a number of minor roads which enter this fast flowing stream of traffic at dangerous locations – Archer Hill Road, Pursell Road, Stirling Hill Road and Gemmell Road – for example.
The continuation of this road from Wistow into Mt Barker is a disgrace.
This part of the road carries even more traffic than the Long Valley Road – admittedly at a lower speed – but it is a wonder that it can be considered in adequate condition by road authorities.
The Transport Minister should take it upon himself to become acquainted with the shortcomings of this road at his earliest opportunity.

Voter participation

Falling voter participation in the Adelaide Hills Council region in the wake of the council’s decision to change its structure has come as a surprise and disappointment to former Mayor Bill Spragg.
The decision to move away from five wards was one of the most controversial decisions made since the council was formed more than two decades ago and, at times, ramifications of the debate are still felt in the chamber.
Supporters of the wardless system believed abolishing or reducing the number of wards would benefit ratepayers by giving them more choice during elections, reducing parochialism and increasing voter participation.
So it’s understandable that Mr Spragg – a strong supporter of a wardless council – is disappointed with the reduced turnout during the most recent election.
Mr Spragg still maintains that the change in ward structure has been a success by reducing parochialism and removing some associations with the former council boundaries.
But its failure to achieve greater voter participation is evident through an almost 10% drop in participation despite an increase in eligible voters.
The trend of decreasing participation is not replicated across the region.
The neighboring Mt Barker Council experienced a significant increase in voter participation while engagement in the Alexandrina Council remained consistent.
So the Adelaide Hills Council’s declining engagement cannot be blamed on voter fatigue after residents and ratepayers were forced to go to the poll twice in the lead-up to the local government elections.
The council has experienced a fairly consistent decline in voter participation since its formation in 1997, but this year’s 9% drop was the second biggest it has seen between two elections.
It may be too soon to blame the new ward structure for the decline in participation, but it’s yet to be seen whether the new structure will begin reversing the decline in future.
Voter participation during future elections will give future councils more information about the impact of the structural change.
It’s important that they use this information – as well as evidence about the other benefits or disadvantages of the change – when undertaking future structural reviews.