Creeping racism

The mass murder of 50 innocent men, women and children at the hands of a radicalised gunman in two Christchurch mosques last Friday has shocked people to the core.
It is a tragedy which has deeply affected many, both in NZ and in Australia – the home of the alleged perpetrator.
The wider finger pointing has already begun, with white supremacists, neo-Nazi extremists, the media and even political leaders all sharing some of the blame.
While it is believed only one man pulled the trigger, the casual racism that can creep unseen into the minds of ordinary people needs to be identified at a moment like this.
A climate of fear of Muslims has steadily been brewing in Australia.
We have been actively at war with Muslim extremists for the best part of 20 years and the political demonisation of Islam has, for most of that time, been both subtle and sustained.
Labeling people “illegal immigrants” when they are lawfully seeking asylum, or political leaders questioning whether Muslims should be allowed to settle in Australia, or the race card being played at election time are all markers of this demonisation.
While the national condemnation of Federal Senator Fraser Anning’s attack on people of Muslim faith has been swift and severe, many of us fail to see that the angst and division has been steadily and insidiously building under the guise of political debate over “border security” and “population control”.
People such as Senator Anning who peddle hate speech hide behind the right to freedom of speech.
This is disingenuous and should be called out for what it is.
But sometimes the messages from other leaders are subtle enough to trickle through society with the resulting ‘quiet racism’ taking root in all but the most alert of minds.
The result is that people of the targeted ethnicity or faith are marginalised, isolated and made to feel unwelcome.
We have lost the art of respectfully disagreeing with each other and compassion and empathy have been drowned out by the baying cries of the political extremes.
In the wake of this latest tragedy let us all take a moment to reflect and identify what we can change within ourselves to ensure our country remains a rich, multicultural society from which we can all benefit.

Aged care change

The State Government’s decision to consult with Strathalbyn residents about the future of aged care in their town is a positive move.
The sudden closure of the Kalimna aged care hostel was sprung on the community by the former State Labor Government in 2017 and upset a large number of the town’s residents.
Its closure was reasonable – it didn’t meet modern safety standards – but it wasn’t handled with appropriate sensitivity and failed to recognise the huge amount of grass-roots community effort that went into fundraising and establishing the hostel in the first place.
The newly elected Liberals have learned from Labor’s mistake and acknowledge the importance of community consultation in expanding the town’s aged care facility and the future use of the Kalimna hostel.
However, it is vital it does not become community consultation in name only.
Whether or not the Government acts on the data it collects from the public forum and the overall engagement process remains to be seen.
Aged care in Strathalbyn – like the wider region and the rest of Australia – is not an issue with a short-term fix.
With an ageing population and ever-increasing strain on the resources and facilities required to properly care for older residents, the decision to effectively consult with residents is a step in the right direction to ease some of the stresses on this industry.
Allowing those who are going to use these facilities to have their say on what they feel they need to enjoy their remaining years is important.
Ensuring the community is part of the solution will no doubt make for a better outcome, even if some people’s wishes are not adopted.
As people who live in communities like Strathalbyn get older, they want to stay in the places they love.
When Kalimna was closed, its residents were displaced – some were moved into temporary beds at the Strathalbyn hospital, others were forced to relocate to facilities in different parts of the State.
These people want to stay close to their families, friends and familiar environments and this consultation period might help create a blueprint for other communities to ensure older residents are able to enjoy their remaining years in comfort and stability.

Fight for funds

With another Federal election looming, the Mt Barker Council has seen an opportunity to push for community gain and seized it with both hands.
The council’s $54m priority project wish list has been handed to both sitting Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie and her main opponent, Liberal candidate Georgina Downer.
Mayor Ann Ferguson and council staff have also spruiked its contents to Labor Leader Bill Shorten and several members of his Shadow Ministry.
It has seen the advantage of a marginal seat and is using the opportunity to leverage as much as it can for the advantage of the district.
While some might criticise the list and any grants that may follow as classic pre-election pork barreling, it shows careful consideration and planning on the council’s part. Last year’s by-election in Mayo netted $15.5m to aid projects backed by the Mt Barker Council.
Already this year the region has secured $8.6m from the Federal Government for the expansion of Mt Barker hospital’s emergency department, which arguably may not have been delivered had Mayo been a safe seat.
But, in a district where the population is set to grow by more than 20,000 over the next two decades, that kind of money is just the tip of the iceberg.
A $54m request sounds audacious, but the total cost of these six projects alone is a whopping $106m. Many of these projects are big-ticket items that the council could never deliver on its own.
Yet items such as the connector road and sports hub are vital for the long-term connectivity and future wellbeing of both existing residents and the thousands of new people coming into the town.
This list also represents a small fraction of the infrastructure and facilities needed by 2036 to counter Mt Barker’s growing pains.
Federal and State Government support are going to be vital over the next 20 years to deliver major projects for this community.
The council’s fears this week about a looming public education crisis are also a symptom of rapid growth forced on a country community.
While any Federal Government grants the council can secure ahead of this year’s election will likely be welcomed with open arms, it also needs the State Government to step up and help deliver on these projects and many others.

Long Valley Road

The State Government’s commitment to review the safety of Long Valley Road is a welcome decision that is overdue.
The road has long been a point of concern for both the Mt Barker and Alexandrina councils, which have contacted the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure to raise their concerns in recent years.
Increasing traffic volumes, the road’s limited overtaking opportunities, sweeping bends and narrow shoulders, as well as a number of minor intersections with poor visibility, contribute to its dangerous nature.
The cause of the two fatality crashes that occurred along the road over the past three months are still being determined.
However, the senseless loss of life demands action.
It will be interesting to see what the promised review reveals, but statistics alone show there is need for improvement.
Alexandrina Mayor Keith Parkes believes the answer is not a reduced speed limit, but that improvements should include more safe overtaking opportunities, sealing of minor roads approaching Long Valley Road and improved lines of sight at intersecting roads.
Such changes may not have prevented the deaths but they are sensible measures that would improve road safety for all.

Rookie errors

Georgina Downer presenting a giant novelty cheque dripping with Liberal branding to an organisation that is the recipient of a Federal Government grant is just another rookie error by the would-be Member for Mayo.
Coupled with basic mistakes such as using a former Liberal staffer in a Facebook video decrying a Labor Party policy without declaring his background and turning up to an Anzac Day service wearing ‘vote for Georgina’ insignia, it is clear that Ms Downer needs more guidance if she is to win the hearts and minds of local voters.
It must be said that she is doing the old fashioned hard yards in door knocking and going to as many events in the region as possible – and that is to be commended.
But much of that hard work is being undone by simple errors which can develop into an avalanche of negative attitudes that can sweep up undecided voters.
The cheque, approved by the State Liberal Party hierarchy, was an easily avoidable blunder which should have been blindingly obvious to everyone, Ms Downer included.

Advertising reaps rewards

Jenny Noske and Joanne Conyers, Elisa, 27/2/19
Joanne Conyers, left, and Jenny Noske from The Courier sales team with the award after a full page advert was judged the best in regional SA.

A full page advertisement designed to showcase a local retailer’s strong links with the community has been recognised at the 2018 SA Country Press awards.
The promotion for the Hahndorf Fruit and Veg Market won the best priced product advert from across regional SA at the awards held in the Barossa Valley on Friday night.
Designed by The Courier’s graphic artist Phil Austin, the advert attracted recognition for the business, with owner Angelo Palma saying the response was “fantastic”.

Border security

Australia’s border control dilemma is a double-edged sword.
It’s easily arguable that keeping refugees locked up indefinitely on isolated islands with limited services is inhumane.
The conditions in Australia’s off-shore detention centers have long drawn criticism, with reports that even children have attempted suicide.
But on the other side of the coin, the Federal Government’s hard-line policy on border control has, in all probability, saved the lives of hundreds of people who could otherwise have perished at sea attempting to reach Australia in leaky boats.
It’s fundamental the Government maintains tight control of our borders and carefully scrutinises the claims of those who seek asylum. The issue of border control divided the nation for many years and was only repaired after the Coalition took a hard line stance to fix the debacle which had developed under Labor, with that party eventually agreeing to prevent maritime arrivals from reaching the mainland.
Now, again, border control seems set to become an election issue. Politics is being played.
Despite the fact that 34 boats have been turned back since 2014, any boat that attempts to enter our waters from now will be heralded by the Government as evidence of “weakened” borders.
In the midst of such political games, it is important to remember that the changes made last week are, on the whole, minor.
The nation’s resolve to keep boat arrivals from ever obtaining permanent residency has not moved.
However, the other edge of the sword is that the new legislation does raise some unanswered questions.
Since the introduction of the Liberal Party’s Sovereign Borders, the nation’s hard-line approach to boat arrivals has shifted ever so slightly – firstly when the Government removed all children from Nauru and Manus, and last week through the medivac Bill.
It could be suggested that this indicates a willingness by some in Parliament to – ever so slowly – compromise the hard-line Sovereign Borders policy.
Parliament made it clear that denying appropriate medical care to off-shore detainees is unacceptable.
That could raise the question, if the boats do start again, will the next step be to extend the medivac legislation to all new arrivals and if so, what comes next?

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.