SUBJECTS:  Seaplane Crash, Malcolm Turnbull’s New Year’s resolution, Victorian gang-related violence, Australian Head of State, Alexander Downer.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thank you all for coming out this afternoon and I wanted to start with a few words about the tragic loss of life from the seaplane crash on the Hawkesbury River on new year’s eve. 

We have been in touch with the British High Commission to offer our deepest sympathies for the loss of life of those visitors from overseas and of course, our thoughts are also with the Australian friends and family of the pilot. It is such a tragic loss, it's such a normally happy time and of course, our thoughts are with all of the friends and family of those involved.

I also wanted to say a few words about the new year, it's a time traditionally when people are making a lot of new year’s resolutions and I think it's about time the Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull made a new year’s resolution to actually look out for low and middle-income earners instead of constantly looking out for the big end of town. 

As January starts we'll see 17 billion dollars of cuts to Australian schools begin, we will see recently announced cuts to universities begin, we'll see the continuation of TAFE cuts, we'll see the continuation of cuts to Medicare, the Medicare freeze and continuing cuts to hospitals that will make it harder to see a GP, harder to see a specialist, longer to wait in emergency and longer to wait for elective surgery.

We see all of these cuts to the services people rely on coming on top of historic low wages growth, coming on top of 700,000 Australians losing their penalty rates and 7 million working Australians on low and middle incomes facing an increase in their taxes. 

Why do all of these things have to happen? Well, they have to happen because this Government is prioritising a big business tax cut and a tax cut for people earning more than $180,000 a year. Meaning that someone earning, for example, a million dollars a year gets a $16 400 a year tax cut while ordinary working Australians face a tax increase. 

So at this time when people are making new year’s resolutions, here's one for the Prime Minister: start governing for all Australians, stop governing for the big end of town. 

JOURNALIST: These changes obviously we're seeing a number of them come in, the changes to universities to HECS, to welfare, all in the new year, do you feel Australians will be worse off in 2018 than many of them were in 2017?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think Australians themselves know that they'll be worse off in many respects. We've got historic low wages growth, we've got an attack on penalty rates for 700,000 working Australians, we've got 7 million Australians facing the prospect of a tax increase, and all this while we continue to see attacks on the services that people rely on: healthcare, education most obviously. People themselves know - they're not feeling confident and the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook update that we saw just before Christmas shows that households aren't feeling confident. They don't feel confident to spend a few dollars because they know that their wages aren't going up, they know their penalty rates are under attack, they know that there's more than a million Australians underemployed. That means that people aren't confident to spend, it's a real drag on our economy.

JOURNALIST: What's your assessment of the gang crime situation in Victoria and would Labor be open to supporting this push for a ten-year minimum sentences for violent offenders?

PLIBERSEK: Well of course Labor and all Australians are concerned to ensure that any gang related violence is dealt with appropriately, quickly and completely. 

We don't really have what you'd call a plan from the Prime Minister, we've had a few thought bubbles so if the Prime Minister has a plan that he'd like to discuss with Labor we would be open to any such discussion. At the moment we've just got a Prime Minister who's very quick to shove responsibility onto a state government but remembering that it's this Prime Minister that's cut almost $180 million from the budget of the Australian Federal Police.

JOURNALIST: But do you accept that there is a crisis in Victoria or do you think that this is just a political stunt from Malcolm Turnbull?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's undoubted that many Australians aren't feeling safe, that there are people in Victoria in particular who feel that there is a risk that they will be the victim of gang related violence and it's very important that Commonwealth and state governments work together to reassure people that they can live safely in their communities, in their own homes. 

JOURNALIST: Do you agree with Greg Hunt who has announced that the gang crime is out of control?

PLIBERSEK: Well I think it would be much more useful to have Greg Hunt and Malcolm Turnbull and others offering serious solutions and a bit of support instead of doing things like cutting the budget of Australian Federal Police that might actually be useful in a situation like this. Instead of hyperbole, let's see some concrete propositions then we can have a sensible discussion. 

JOURNALIST: Just in relation to the Prime Minister's remarks yesterday on a potential postal survey for a Republic. Is this governing via postal survey now?

PLIBERSEK: Well, another day another thought bubble from Malcolm Turnbull. He used to be a guy who supported Australia becoming a Republic and now you kind of scratch your head and think wow if only someone with some real power would take an interest in this issue. 

Labor said last year, in July last year that we are committed to putting a simple proposition to the Australian people: should Australia become a Republic, should Australia have an Australian head of state once we've done that - and I believe the majority of Australians will say Yes to an Australian Republic - we can then have a discussion about what form that would take. Whether we have a directly elected head of state or some other model. But the important thing is getting on the record whether the majority of Australians support an Australian head of state, an Australian Republic.

Malcolm Turnbull has had years to do something about this and all he's done is dither it's very disappointing from someone who actually used to be a supporter of the Republic. 

JOURNALIST: So just to be clear, Labor supports a Referendum only or you would support a postal survey for the Republic.

PLIBERSEK: Well let's have a real discussion about this, what is the Government actually proposing? What is the Government's position on this? There isn't one, there's a thought bubble. We have a clear position, we've been very explicit that we would put a simple question to the Australian people - perhaps the Government could join us in putting that simple question to the Australian people. 

JOURNALIST: There does seem to be a divergence now in positions, Labor is saying you do the threshold question first of whether there should be an Australian head of state. Malcolm Turnbull is saying you should actually have the debate about which form the Republic would take, whether it's through a postal survey or some other option before you put the final model. Can you explain why your way is better?

PLIBERSEK: Look I don't actually know what the Government's way is if you can enlighten me and the Australian people that would be a good first step.

JOURNALIST: Well that's the basic nature of it that you discuss - you have a debate about the model first whether it's direct election or by Parliament then you have the in principal debate. Why should you do it the other way around?

PLIBERSEK: Well, we think the threshold question is: do people support an Australian Republic. Why would we have a debate that goes on for years about the best model for a Republic if there isn't majority support for a Republic?

So let's determine, is there a majority of support for an Australian Republic, if the answer is yes, let's talk about the form of that Republic but you know what if Malcolm Turnbull has a different proposition if he's got a specific proposal let’s debate it. 

Of course we'll talk to him about that, Labor supports Australia becoming a Republic and we're happy to work with the Government on whatever proposition they have for advancing this objective of Australia becoming a Republic. 

If he's got a specific proposal of course we'll listen.

JOURNALIST: Postal surveys are very expensive especially ones that would have to be then followed by a Referendum would Labor support that kind of spending in relation to a Referendum- sorry in relation to a Republic or do you think that is wasteful?

PLIBERSEK: We think that determining this most fundamental question about Australia: should Australia stand on its own two feet or should it continue to be part of the British Empire - I think this is a fundamental question for Australia and of course, we would support the necessary Referendum to finally determine that question. But there are other important questions too, the question about recognition of Indigenous Australians in our Constitution another very important question and all the while the most important thing is making sure that people have a job, that they've got decent pay in their pockets, that our healthcare and education systems are strong, that we've got continued productive investment in infrastructure that makes our cities and our communities better to live in and keeps people working. We have to be able to do all of these things at once. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think that Mr Alexander Downer being linked to the FBI investigation into alleged Russian interference will harm Australia's relationship with the Trump administration?

PLIBERSEK: I think it's very important for us to be cautious in the comments that we make while there is an open and ongoing investigation into these matters. At an appropriate time, Labor will seek more information from the Government about the role that any Australian individuals have played in this process. 

JOURNALIST: Just on the nature of the relationship, I mean we know about Donald Trump's vehement opposition to the refugee deal, the US hasn't appointed an ambassador to Australia in more than a year. This is not likely to help that relationship is it?

PLIBERSEK: Well I am not going to comment on the specifics of this because there is an ongoing investigation because we haven't been fully briefed at this time. But I would say that we've got a Government that hasn't handled the relationship with the US particularly well, hasn't handled the relationship with New Zealand particularly well, hasn't handled the relationship with China particularly well, and they don't seem to be particularly good at tending to some of our most important trading and diplomatic relationships.

JOURNALIST: Just to clarify, you said that Labor would consider supporting, well looking at a plan that Malcolm Turnbull has regarding Victoria and violent offenders there. Usually, Labor's default position is against mandatory sentencing in any form, is that - are you saying you would be open to it in this case potentially?

PLIBERSEK: No because we don't - is that the Government's proposition, we don't know and this is thought bubble, top of the hip stuff. We are not supporters of mandatory sentencing because mandatory sentencing doesn't work but if the Government has an actual proposal for dealing - if the Federal Government has an actual proposal for dealing with gang-related violence, instead of the Federal Government saying 'Daniel Andrews ought to do something' and the Federal Government cutting almost $180 million from the Australian Federal Police budget, let's hear what their actual proposals are.

Thanks everyone, have a good day.