ABC News Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Well, Kristy McBain, you are definitely not in a territory right now, but you are in William Creek in a pretty distinctive, unique part of regional Australia. You’re announcing $1 million for the Royal Flying Doctor Service there today. What exactly will that buy?

KRISTY MCBAIN, MINISTER: Well, thank you very much, Greg. And welcome to William Creek in outback South Australia. It’s a real pleasure to be here. I’ve been travelling in outback South Australia for the last couple of days visiting places like Pimba, Roxby Downs, Andamooka, Woomera and William Creek. And today I was joined by the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Minister Geoff Brock and Minister Clare Scriven from the South Australian Government to announce that the Albanese Labor Government is committing $1 million through our Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Program to build a purpose-built clinic for the Royal Flying Doctor Service here.

They perform about 30 clinics in this location every year. This gives them a purpose-built centre where they can see patients in that primary healthcare setting, but they can also take those patients in an emergency setting and speak to a first responder via telehealth before the Royal Flying Doctor Service comes in.

It will be a huge win for this community. So many people have accessed primary health, immunisations, general check-ups at the local hotel here thanks to Trevor Wright, who does an amazing job here. But the community really needs that dedicated space and we are seeing thousands of people travel the Oodnadatta Track every year. At any one time Trevor has told us they can have up to 600 people in this township. So this clinic is a real game-changer and builds on our commitment that, regardless of your postcode, regardless of how many people in your area, an Albanese Labor Government is there to make sure that you access the services you need.

JENNETT: And does it mean or does it follow from the creation of this clinic that they’ll actually be able to see and treat more patients?

MCBAIN: Absolutely. I think the number one thing that local people have told us – and Trevor was there in the announcement today as well as a number of station owners from around the William Creek area – was that they sometimes go without asking the questions because they don’t want to ring the Royal Flying Doctor Service. This clinic, I guess, provides that dedicated space so people will feel more comfortable coming in and talking about some of their issues.

And we’ve heard today from locals that, you know, it really is important to have that space to talk about mental health issues. You know, I was speaking to a local earlier today who said that, you know, she had to have a pap smear on a hotel bed which was being occupied later that day by a fly-in clinician.

So this is a dedicated space for community to come to. It will have all of the convenience of any other health space, so all the technology, access to telehealth and, most importantly, someone at the other end. It will be staffed during those fly-in, fly-out clinics, and when it’s not staffed and there is an emergency it allows that dedicated space to bring people to so that they can speak to first responders over the telephone or the internet and actually get some really good advice as the Royal Flying Doctor Service is on its way out here.

JENNETT: Yeah, sounds like it might be long overdue, and probably also means that the pub can get back to core business there in William Creek as well.

Let’s move on to a couple of territory matters, though, now, Kristy. Firstly, we’ll go to the Northern Territory and then Norfolk Island. But in the territory because there is so much national attention and we’re promised a multi-faceted response to problems in places like Alice Springs but not limited to Alice Springs, are you preparing or have you been asked to prepare to provide extra resources for the territory? I’m thinking about school education and other infrastructure and facilities that will be needed as part of this response?

MCBAIN: Look, I think it’s fabulous that the Albanese Labor Government has committed to deal with some of the issues with the Northern Territory. And what we really need is the levels of government working together. I mean, the problems that we have been seeing in Alice Springs aren’t new problems, but they need new and innovative solutions. And I think what our government is doing is actually listening to people on the ground because we know local people have the best solutions for their local area. The one-size-fits-all approach just doesn’t work, and we need to make sure that we’re listening to communities about the things that they really need.

So, it’s fantastic that the Northern Territory Government have now outlined a series of measures that they are putting in place. And we are there to assist them with any additional measures that they want. But, again, it needs to be the collaboration between levels of government and a whole-of-government approach. And, most importantly, it’s about listening to those local communities about the solutions they think are going to work for them. You know, I think to myself if we had been listening to local people for years gone by perhaps the situation in Alice Springs might not be what it is today.

JENNETT: Perhaps. And it doesn’t always come down to dollars, but just back to my original question: is it foreseeable? Are you being asked to prepare or is your department preparing in anticipation for more funds to sit behind some of these services?

MCBAIN: Again, the Albanese Labor Government remains committed to helping Northern Territory and Alice Springs if and when we are asked. And we will continue to liaise with both Chief Minister Fyles and the local community about what services, what assistance they want. We’ve committed some dollars already to increasing police presence, to additional CCTV facilities in the area. We want to make sure that the programs we put in place and any infrastructure we put in place is going to be used to its best ability and capability in the territory. And, again, we will work with community on what that looks like going forward.

JENNETT: All right. Well skipping all over this vast country of ours, Kristy, out to Norfolk Island, as I foreshadowed. You’ve just completed a consultation process there which is meant to take that island a step closer towards modernised port facilities. What is the next step? When will funds be committed or an enhanced port be designed and built there?

MCBAIN: Norfolk Island is a fabulous community and is a really unique part of Australia. It’s been fantastic going over there the last couple of months talking to community members. Indeed, we were there in mid-November and we held a town hall meeting about some of the big issues that they were facing in Norfolk Island. From my first trip to the last town hall meeting, people were talking about the costs of freight and shipping to the island. It’s great to see MPDL, which is a shipping provider, now commit dollars to a dedicated ship for Norfolk Island, and hopefully that will start to alleviate some of the consistency issues. And we now stand ready to work with the community over infrastructure long term, what the looks like for the port and working with those shipping providers to make sure that they will be able to utilise it.

There’s no easy solutions around Norfolk Island because there’s no harbour or safe bay to pull into, so it is about making sure that we can be flexible and work with community to assess what will be needed long term.

JENNETT: And is it possible – I know it was in one of the possible submissions to you – is it possible you end up with some sort of naval facility there?

MCBAIN: Look, that would be a matter for the Department of Defence. That is not being planned at this point currently. But, you know, who knows what will happen. We’ll continue to liaise with my colleague the Deputy Prime Minister about any Defence opportunities for Norfolk or anywhere in the South Pacific.

JENNETT: All right. Well, you are most definitely landlocked today there in William Creek, so we’ll let you get back to the other duties that you’re meant to be preparing there or performing there and we’ll talk again soon. Kristy McBain, thanks for joining us.