STATE Liberal leader Steven Marshall has backed growing community calls for more competition at the Mount Gambier Airport.
Mr Marshall – who mingled with constituents during a “politics in the pub” and business breakfast – said jobs, the high cost of living and country health services appeared to be the most pressing issues in the Blue Lake city.
He revealed the Mount Gambier Airport was among the key issues highlighted by business leaders and the community amid the backlash over sky-high ticket prices and unreliability of services.
The Liberal leader said his candidate Craig Marsh was the only firm contender from a major party running in the election in Mount Gambier at this stage.
Asked if he believed former Liberal Party recruit Troy Bell should contest the seat, Mr Marshall said that was a decision for the sitting independent member.
Mr Bell – who is scheduled to appear in court on Monday on numerous charges related to the alleged misappropriation of $2m in taxpayer funds – resigned from the party in August.
Speaking to The Border Watch during a street walk along Commercial Street yesterday, Mr Marshall said it was vital the Mount Gambier Airport continued to grow.
“The Liberal Party always loves competition – we know competition will drive lower prices and better services for local people,” Mr Marshall said.
“This would increase visitation from interstate and potentially overseas into this wonderfully productive part of our economy.”
Mr Marshall said the party had made commitments about the upgrade in the past and would have another fresh look at the redevelopment project.
He said it was also vital to introduce policies to drive population growth in Mount Gambier, which would increase aviation passenger numbers.
The party leader said the Labor government had overseen a downward spiral in population growth in regional areas.
“We do not accept that, other regional areas around the country are growing and we need to see that happen in the South East,” Mr Marshall said.
“That’s why we announced the $150m Regional Growth Fund, the Royalities for Regions announcement and our decentralisation policies around health governance.
“We can grow population in the country if we have quality services, in particular health and educativon, quality infrastructure, such as roads and mobile blackspot funding, and an overall focus on growing regional economies.”
Meanwhile, Mount Gambier Liberal candidate Craig Marsh said the airport was a high priority for the community.
“We need to get competition here, not just boycotting Regional Express,” Mr Marsh said.
“It is about getting competition to bring down prices so we can have improved services.”
Mr Marshall also lashed out at the Labor Government’s track record on providing regional health services.
“People are still livid with the State Government for not doing anything for country patients whatsoever,” the opposition leader said.
He claimed the only health network to be handed a reduced budget last financial year was Country Health SA.
“Money going to country health is actually diminishing – this is impossible to believe,” Mr Marshall said.
“More importantly, Labor is not giving people in the country a say about their facilities and services.”
He said the introduction of a regional board – which was key Liberal policy – would turn this around by putting grassroots clinicians and community leaders in charge.
“They are more responsive to the needs of that community,” Mr Marshall said.
He said he was buoyed his party had committed to the $2m redevelopment of the Mount Gambier Hospital’s sub-standard renal unit.
“This is in contrast to Labor that had its Health Minister Peter Malinauskas come down, look at the problem and go back to Adelaide and announce a $90m upgrade of the Modbury Hospital,” Mr Marshall said.
“We have had the shadow health minister Stephen Wade come down and immediately announced the commitment.”
Mr Marshall said the Liberal Party had also announced a cluster of policies to drive down the cost of living.
“We will also ease the cost of living by cutting Emergency Services Levy bills by $360m, cut the average household power bill by $302 once our Liberal Energy Solution is fully implemented and cap council rate as well as NRM levy increases,” he said.