SUBJECTS: Labor’s funding announcement to reduce elective surgery waiting times; Labor’s cancer care package; Labor’s funding for public schools.

ALI CLARKE, PRESENTER: And joining us now is Shadow Minister for Education, Shadow Minister for Women, and also Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Tanya Plibersek, who is flying into Adelaide. Good morning.
CLARKE: Good. Now I understand Labor will be announcing $16 million to reduce waiting times for South Australians needing surgery, elective surgery, including knee, hip, and cataract operations. What exactly is $16 million going to do?
PLIBERSEK: Well, it's the equivalent of 1000 hip or knee replacements, it’s the equivalent of four thousand cataract operations, so it does make a dent on the elective surgery waiting lists. I always think elective surgery is a bit of a strange name for it because if your knee's gone and you're in pain, constant pain, or your hip's gone and you're in constant pain, you don't really think you've got many options. But what we've seen in recent times is a blowout in surgery waiting times right around Australia, because of the cuts to hospital funding. In South Australia, that cut is $144 million and that means that the average waiting time now is about 42 days for elective surgery. We think we can bring that down by this strategic investment, really targeting these elective surgery waiting lists. But this isn't obviously our only investment in health, but it is a targeted investment to reduce waiting times for these surgeries. 
CLARKE: Of this targeted investment though, Tanya Plibersek, what percentage is South Australia getting?
PLIBERSEK: It's getting its normal population share, so there's a $250 million investment nationally, and the share for South Australia is $16 million, and that's a very substantial dent on the waiting lists that South Australia's currently experiencing.
CLARKE: Is it true though, that 85 per cent of South Australians who needed elective surgery, they were seen on time last year, but then those that actually missed out had to have 90 days waiting, then 112 days waiting, which actually makes us the worst in the nation, except for the Northern Territory?
PLIBERSEK: Look I don't have those figures in front of me and I guess there'd be people better qualified to answer that question, but normally what happens is if it’s very specialised surgery that only a few surgeons can undertake, yes, you can see those longer waiting times in particular surgeries. But this elective surgery blitz comes on top of, obviously our bigger investment in cancer care. We've made a $2.3 billion announcement, as you know, in reducing out-of-pocket costs for cancer care, and, of course, we've also said that we'll be returning to a 50/50 share with states of health funding for the growth in health services in hospitals.
PLIBERSEK: So, this is part of our very substantial offering that goes across health and hospitals.
CLARKE: Well, I want to get to that cancer care policy in a moment, but we just did offer South Australian Health Minister, Stephen Wade, the ability to come on here. He's unavailable, but a statement from his office says one of the biggest problems for elective surgery waiting lists was the state Labor government's decision to close the Repat in Boothby. Now, we also know state Labor leader, Peter Malinauskas, now says he regrets that decision. You'll be campaigning in Boothby today, you must be ready for that issue. So, what were you thinking in the Federal office, watching a Labor government close a hospital?
PLIBERSEK: Well, look we were very pleased with the investment in the new hospitals that we saw in South Australia. We do want people to have really first-rate, new equipment, and hospital facilities do get run down over time. But, I think it's much better for South Australians to make decisions about which hospitals are fit-for-purpose than for people in Canberra to be making those decisions. People who are living it day-to-day, on the ground-
CLARKE: So it was the right decision then?
PLIBERSEK: Well, I don't think it's a decision for a Federal government to be making and I think if Peter Malinauskas has said that it's a mistake then I'll back his judgement on that.
CLARKE: OK. So let's go to the cancer care policy. Now, The Australian is reporting that Health Department analysis suggests what you're proposing which is funding free access to all cancer-related items currently listed under Medicare will be virtually impossible. How do you respond?
PLIBERSEK: Yeah, well, I respond by saying they're not modelling or describing Labor's policy so I don't think you could really call it 'Health Department' analysis - I think you could call it a 'dodgy story dreamt up in the Minister's office' and then, you know, slipped onto a Health Department letterhead. It really is ridiculous - I mean, this has been a pattern during this election campaign - on our car policy, on our costings policies - the government puts out things that it claims are Labor party policies that they've modelled that simply aren't Labor party policies. So, we do have a really important cancer package, a $2.3 billion cancer package, because nearly half of cancer patients in Australia pay more than $5,000 in out-of-pocket costs, and about a quarter pay more than $10,000 in out-of-pocket costs. People are trying to access their super early and do all sorts of things because they are so worried about the cost of their cancer treatment. We don't think that's acceptable so we are talking about $600 million to eliminate out-of-pocket costs for diagnostic imaging and more than $430 million to fund millions of free consultations with oncologists and surgeons and of course they're making sure that the drugs are listed on our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. All of these are really important in reducing out-of-pocket costs for cancer.
CLARKE: The Coalition though says you'll need to find $6 billion.
PLIBERSEK: But they're not modelling our policy. They've just made it up. It's frustrating and I can explain to you what they've done. They've made assumptions about our policy that just don't reflect what our policy is.
CLARKE: OK. As Shadow Education Minister, a major issue for some voters in Boothby this year has been shifting school zones, and many families have moved out of the popular Adelaide High School zone. Now I know this is a state issue, but if you're Federal Education Minister after the election, is there anything you might do for those families?
PLIBERSEK: Well we need to make sure that every single school is a great school and that's what the extra investment in education is all about. Needs-based funding enables principals, for a start, and school communities to make decisions at a local level about where to invest the extra money. I think that's really important. We know that the quality of teaching in the school and the quality of the leadership in the school are the biggest single factors determining success, aside from parental background. So investing more in continuing professional development for teachers and leadership for principals is really important. Having more teachers, more teaching assistants, more subject choice, catching kids who are falling behind much earlier and then having the ability to pull them out, one on one, or in small groups and help them catch up, all of that comes with extra investment in schools and it's only Labor that is proposing this extra funding for our schools.
CLARKE: OK. So with all of that there is still nothing that you would do to reverse that specific decision?
PLIBERSEK: Well, we don't run schools. We don't run schools in South Australia but there's no real choice while some schools are underfunded, and what we've got at the moment is a Liberal Federal government that has restored the funding cut from Catholic and Independent schools but refused to do that for public schools. Public schools are $14 billion worse off because of that and talking about a choice, school choice and so on, is all just a fraud unless we are properly funding our public schools.
CLARKE: OK. Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Opposition, thanks for your time.
PLIBERSEK: Thank you.