SUBJECTS: Hospital funding cuts; University funding cuts; Government’s $65 billion big business tax cut; Private health insurance; China in the South Pacific; Syria; State government cuts to Nepean hospital.

EMMA HUSAR MP, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR LINDSAY: I'd just like to welcome everyone here today and thank you all for coming. I want to make a special welcome to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek, for coming out here today, to join me in western Sydney to talk about these cuts to our hospitals. And I want to say thank you to Stephen Fuller and the team here at the University of Sydney's Nepean Medical School. I'd like to also acknowledge my Parliamentary colleague Susan Templeman, the Member for Macquarie, who's also affected by these ginormous cuts to this hospital. Since becoming the Member for Lindsay I get contacted regularly about the state that this hospital is in. The cuts that we are now seeing are equivalent to just under 1000 births per year being affected and just about 220 knee replacements that won't happen because of these cuts. Now I'm going to let Tanya and Susan talk more about how these affect the rest of the people in our community, but it's absolutely disgraceful that we are facing a $5.7 million cut to our community in health.

SUSAN TEMPLEMAN MP, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR MACQUARIE: Thank you. As the Member for Macquarie, this is an issue that even though it sits outside my electorate it affects every one of the 150,000 people who live in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury. Not just this hospital, but Blue Mountains Hospital, Springwood Hospital and the Hawkesbury Hospital, as well as Lithgow across the mountains, will face $10 million of cuts. That $10 million is a huge number to the individuals who not just visit here to be cared for but who come here to work. And in this facility alone, to give you an example, at the University of Sydney, there are about 300 people who live in the Mountains, who study at the University of Sydney and who work at the University of Sydney, and they're shared out throughout the campuses. They then go on and they work in institutions like Nepean Hospital. So every time there's a cut, that hurts not just the patients but the doctors, the nurses, and the staff in that hospital and we need to make sure they're protected.

TANYA PLIBERSEK MP, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Thank you Emma and Susan for those opening words. It is a great pleasure to be here in the Sydney University Medical School. It's a building that I was at the opening of in 2012 when I was the Heath Minister and I've seen over the years the fantastic education that is offered here. Now we're standing right across the road from Nepean Hospital. I would have liked to have visited the hospital today as well but the New South Wales Health Minister has refused us the opportunity to visit, noting that Labor is raising the issue of hospital cuts. It is pretty disappointing that the State Health Minister is running a protection racket for his Federal colleagues when it comes to $700 million of hospital cuts over the next few years. As Susan and Emma have both said, that will have a dramatic impact on Nepean Hospital. It means thousands of patients will miss out, about 14,000 outpatients could be seen with the money that's been lost, as Emma said, that's almost 1000 babies delivered, about 200 knee replacements. That's the scale of the cuts that Nepean Hospital is facing.

When you're talking about beautiful facilities like this medical school as well, when Labor was in government we invested; we built this medical school. Right now, the Federal Government is cutting about $700 million from universities in New South Wales alone. So we've got a $700 million, around about, $700 million cut to hospitals around the country over the next few years, and about $700 million cut from New South Wales universities alone over the next few years. You could not have a starker contrast between a government that invests in health and education, and a government that cuts health and education in order to give big business tax cuts. When we were in government we didn't just build this fantastic clinical medical school, we also put about $110 million extra into the Nepean Hospital. We upgraded the mental health facilities here, built a beautiful new mental health facility, we upgraded surgical wards, emergency departments, we made a very substantial contribution to remodelling a hospital that provides an excellent service to this area. A service that is under threat and under pressure because of the budget cuts they are facing. The investment in education that we made in university education - again, critical, building new facilities like this, but also uncapping student numbers, making it possible for more young Australians to get a university degree. You can't help but contrast those priorities that Labor has in government with the priority of Malcolm Turnbull in government. $65 billion worth of big business tax cuts, most of which flows to overseas shareholders and provides very little benefit for Australians and in particular in coming years it provides very little benefit for ordinary workers in Australia. Big business get a $65 billion tax cut, ordinary working people, like the nurses who work across the road, if they're on $60,000 a year they'll pay $300 extra tax a year under Malcolm Turnbull. They're wrong priorities in every respect. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: So when would these cuts take effect?

PLIBERSEK: Pretty much immediately. The next few calendar years will see dramatic multi-million dollar cuts, not just to Nepean, the number for Nepean is about $5.7 million cut over coming years, but those cuts are in every hospital, not just in this local area but right around the country. Every hospital will be facing funding cuts which means thousands of patients will be waiting longer - waiting longer in emergency and waiting longer for elective surgery.

JOURNALIST: When you say things like '1000 babies' does it meant that they're not going to be born, many babies will be delivered, and the state government is investing in hospitals in terms of Mona Vale and elsewhere. Is it fair to make such big, large scale ideas, I mean this is going to happen, I mean those things will still take place no matter what.

PLIBERSEK: So the reason to use a number like babies being born is to illustrate the size of the cut that this hospital is facing. So you're right - if a woman turns up here in labour the baby is going to be born. So where else can the hospital cut services to make up for the funding cut? It means longer waits in emergency, and it definitely means longer waits for elective surgery. Elective surgery is a funny term, because if you need a hip replacement or you need a knee replacement and you're in constant pain, it doesn't feel like that surgery is elective or optional. But hospitals will have no choice but to make those patients wait longer for the treatment that they desperately need because, as you say, if someone turns up ready to have a baby, they can't easily turn that person away.

Sorry one more thing, you mentioned extra infrastructure investment, the new buildings and so on that the state government is proposing, that's a good thing. We're certainly supportive of any new investment in hospitals, and I note that New South Wales Labor has also made commitments around new investments in upgrading hospitals. What I would say is there's no point having a brand spanking new building if you're not prepared to pay the salary of the nurses, the doctors, the allied health professionals, the cleaners, the people who are delivering the meals on the wards - if you're not prepared to pay the salaries of those people with ongoing funding, then all the new buildings in the world won't deliver the services that people so desperately need. When we were in government, we said that we would pay half of the cost of additional activity in our hospital system. Malcolm Turnbull said 'nup, not doing that, we'll only pay 45 per cent of additional activity'. That means that state governments are either going to have to fork out a lot more money themselves - and we know the New South Wales Government isn't doing that - or they'll have to cut services, and that's what people who rely on the Nepean Hospital, and hospitals like it all over the country, are facing.

JOURNALIST: There's been a lot of discussion lately about private health insurance and the increasing gaps and out of pocket costs. What would Labor's proposal be if it gets elected? There's been discussion about setting up separate funds and not subsidising the insurers as much?

PLIBERSEK: There's something wrong with the system where people are paying, where families are paying about $1000 more now for a year's insurance than they were when the Liberals came to office. Health insurers, private health insurers, are making massive profits. Their executives are paid very substantial salaries. They're doing it with a government carrot and a government stick, so there's the subsidy but there's also the punishment if you don't have private health insurance. We say that there needs to be a proper root and branch look at the private health insurance industry. We would ask the Productivity Commission to do that. But in the meanwhile, premium increases should be capped at two per cent for two years. Patients are saying all the time that they don't feel like they are getting good value for money, and when you consider the billions of dollars of taxpayer subsidy that go in every year, you consider the high profitability of this private insurance industry, the fact that the consumers of their products say that the value they are getting is worse and worse all the time, then you see that there is something wrong with the system.

JOURNALIST: Just on another matter the Prime Ministers and Australia and New Zealand reacted yesterday quite alarmingly to evidence that China is seeking to expand its military interests in the Pacific. Do you think that is now a looming possibility and not just in Vanuatu?

PLIBERSEK: I think it’s something that we should take very seriously as a nation. We should be examining very closely any proposals for expanded military presence not just of China but of other nations as well, in the Pacific. I think, the truth is, Australia has left a bit of a vacuum in the Pacific. Our relations with our neighbours in recent years have not been as good or as close as they traditionally have been and you don't see that anywhere as well as you see it in the aid budget. When Australia cuts its aid budget it is no surprise that other nations step in to fill the gap. But we are very keen now to work with the Australian government to make sure we have a bipartisan approach to restoring Australia's relationships and our close friendships with our Pacific neighbours. It is critical for our security interests but there are other very important reasons to do it. Some of the poorest nations in the world are in our region. We can have good solid, strong relationships and support those nations to develop economically and to develop their democratic civil institutions, or we can turn our backs on them and obviously it’s in our interest to do the former.

JOURNALIST: And just finally there has been some devastating scenes in Syria of late in terms of chemical strikes. Does Labor support limited air strikes on Syria by US-led coalition forces?

PLIBERSEK: I think the most important thing to say is that Syria continues to be a horror show and that the international community must facilitate an end to the military conflict there and to support the “day after”, what happens to Syria when the hot-war is over, the reconstruction of Syria. The use of chemical weapons against civilians, at all, in any circumstance, is absolutely abhorrent and the international community should be strong, as strong as it can be, in its condemnation of the use of chemical weapons. We know that Bashar al-Assad's regime has used chemical weapons on their own people, against their own people in the past. It is proof, if you didn't have it already, that this man and this regime is unfit to remain the government of Syria in any post-conflict scenario. What is extremely disappointing about what’s happened in recent times, as far as the international response goes, is Russia's preparedness to back its ally Bashar al-Assad against the civilians who have been murdered with this chemical weapons strike in Syria. Yes of course the international community must condemn in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons and we should very squarely lay the blame where it belongs. Russia should certainly not be running a protection racket for the Assad regime.

JOURNALIST: Does that mean Labor would support air strikes?

PLIBERSEK: Well no, we need to be very careful about the next steps, what the next steps are as far as the international community goes. But at this stage, the very least we should have is a strong, united commitment from the UN Security Council, and the fact that Russia is not prepared to work with other countries to condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria is just appalling.

JOURNALIST: Stepping back to the hospital finding cuts, if Labor wins the next election will you commit to reversing those cuts?

PLIBERSEK: You can judge us on our record. When we were in Government we committed an extra $20 billion to hospital funding by 2020. We said we would find half of the cost of efficient growth in our hospitals - that was the most generous funding deal that states have ever received from the federal government when it comes to co-investment in our magnificent public hospitals. Since then you have seen cut after cut from the 2014 Abbott budget that was $50 billion worth of cuts over the decade mooted in that budget, to Malcolm Turnbull's more recent three year funding cut of $700 million. These are cuts in the face of increasing demand for hospital services. We made commitments before the last election, we will make clear our hospital finding commitments well before the next election but one thing we will be watching very closely is the May budget. This is the opportunity for the Liberals to reverse their disastrous funding cut decision or as we fear perhaps even make further cuts in the area of health and hospital spending. We will be watching that very closely.

JOURNALIST: The government will say though that the Liberals do care about the Nepean Hospital; they are putting billions of dollars of into the Nepean hospital redevelopment. What do you say to that?

PLIBERSEK: I say very clearly that the fact that the NSW Government is spending money on building upgrades is a good thing; we did that when we were in government. The Federal government spent $110 million extra on upgrading the mental health facilitates here, surgical wards, dental facilities, a range of other improvements we made to this hospital and I am proud of those improvements, they are important and they are needed. But if you put money into buildings and then you cut the money that staffs the hospital, that pays the wages of the doctors, the nurses, the physios, the specialists, the cleaners, the people that work in the kitchen, the security guards, the people who keep the plant and equipment running. If you cut the money that runs the hospital then patients will suffer. We have described to you the scale of those cuts; it means 14,000 fewer - the equivalent of - 14,000 fewer outpatient treatments at this hospital. The impact of those funding cuts is severe. So I don't think that you can claim that extra infrastructure funding from the State Government makes up for the shortfall from the Federal Government. And I would say this as well; this is an area that has very fast population growth. This hospital is being upgraded because the demands on it are constantly increasing. It’s a fantastic hospital with fantastic staff that provides fantastic care, but it’s doing it in an environment of increasing pressure all the time and instead of increasing funding to keep up with that additional demand the Federal Government is cutting funding.

HUSAR: They promised the funding to the hospital after we kicked…they came to the table kicking and screaming about actually upgrading to what we needed. I continued to put pressure on the Government, the State Government, they have been in office for six years, they have now promised a billion dollars. It’s finally close to what we need, but there will be more people living this side of Parramatta than the other side of Parramatta by 2050. It is incredibly important that we get this right. This is by and large the most under pressure hospital in New South Wales. Every survey that comes out, every time they reassess, this hospital the most under pressure or worst performing. That is despite the enormous efforts that our doctors and our nurses go to over in that hospital. This Government have taken their time, they have dragged their heels, and have only come to fund this hospital kicking and screaming. They have let infrastructure fall apart, we have had situations where roofs have caved in on labs, and people have not been able to catheterised for their heart treatment and they have to be taken out of this community. We currently have a situation where they have decommissioned the helipad because they could not be bother to keep up with the infrastructure. Make no mistake, the Liberals in NSW are in no way interested in the Nepean Hospital. They have come to this agreement kicking and screaming the entire way.