Transcript - radio interview - ABC South East SA with Selina Green

SELINA GREEN (HOST): Well, representing the South Australian Premier at the Wulanda official opening today is MLC Clare Scriven, South Australia's Minister for Regional Development and Catherine King MP, Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Catherine King joins me this morning. Good morning to you.

CATHERINE KING (MINISTER): Good morning. Lovely to be with you.

SELINA GREEN: And I know you're about to hit the road to the official opening this morning, so we do appreciate you setting aside some time. Aside from the official opening today, have you got much else on your agenda while you're in the region?

CATHERINE KING: Well, the main purpose for me being there is to represent the Australian Government at the opening. This is a terrific project and alongside Claire, representing the South Australian Government, I know we're both looking forward to seeing how the facilities unfolded, how important it has been as a precinct for Mount Gambier and really, not just the jobs and investment that has come from it, but really what it means for the local community more broadly. I'll then have a meeting with the Mayor and the CEO about obviously other priorities for Mount Gambier and more broadly, the Limestone Coast.

SELINA GREEN: I know we've spoken to you previously on the program about skill shortages in the past, having facilities like this in regional areas. What does it do for the liveability, the attractiveness of regional life?

CATHERINE KING: Well, I think, as you pointed out with your last caller, that really lots of people during Covid moved into regional areas and we thought, well, maybe they will stay. We weren't sure, but we can certainly see that people are staying. We're seeing that for lifestyle reasons. But people also need to be able to have access to amenities, whether it's sporting and cultural facilities. Obviously, jobs are incredibly important for people to be able to stay in regional areas as well. So, these sorts of projects, which really are not just about one project, they're about a combination. And the thing I like about this project, in particular, is that it has been a precinct development, it's been about an aquatic centre, a recreation centre, bringing in allied health professionals and then also providing convention and other spaces.

So, it's not just one small sporting facility, it's a combination of things. But really, as you point out, it is critical if you're going to get people to come and live and stay, people are looking for amenities. And if you're competing against communities and towns that already have those facilities, it is hard to attract people. So, hopefully, we'll see a big population growth in Mount Gambier as a result of this, but also as a result of it being such a fabulous place to live.

SELINA GREEN: Well, speaking of population growth, and so we have seen some very interesting statistics in recent years about the movement of people from major cities to regional Australia and then Covid certainly sparing that along. Obviously, that brings bring opportunities, but it can also bring some pretty big challenges and strains on services like transport services, health services, et cetera. So, how's the Federal Government helping regional towns and cities deal with some of these challenges of growth?

CATHERINE KING: Well, one of the really big things we've been left is a real - after a decade, frankly, of undermining a general practice is a real problem in our primary care system that is going to take us time to fix. I think that the decision by the previous government to freeze the Medicare rebate and it couldn't get its GP tax through the Senate has meant we've seen a real collapse over that decade in general practice in particular. And general practice is really incredibly important for keeping people well in the community, being able to provide that gateway service into other, more specialised, other specialist services, as well as ensuring we keep people well in the community.

And so we've had a Medicare task force, almost a billion dollars put in to try and reinvigorate primary care, but where we know we've got a really big job on our hands to actually keep that. The general practice is the backbone of our healthcare system and if that collapses, as we're seeing with the massive drop in bulk billing that we've seen emerge over the decade, that's really where we've got to concentrate our energies and efforts. And that's really what you've seen Mark Butler, as a Health Minister said, a great South Australian really trying to do is actually make sure that general practice has a strong and sustainable future in this country.

SELINA GREEN: Minister we know you've got to hit the road this morning. We do appreciate you setting aside some time for us. Thanks for joining us.

CATHERINE KING: Great to be with you.

SELINA GREEN: That is the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King.