SUBJECTS:  Day three of 2018, Liberals are at war with each other - on climate change, on the republic; Malcolm Turnbull’s cuts to hospitals and Medicare; US Ambassador to Australia; Liberals’ welfare changes.

TANYA PLIBERSEK, ACTING LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thank you very much for coming out this morning, it's a terrific opportunity for me to visit a wonderful hospital that I've visited many times in the past. But to take this opportunity to thank the staff of the hospital for the fine work that they've been doing over the Christmas and New Year period. 

We know that right across Australia, in hospitals and other front-line service positions people have been working while most Australians are kicking back at the beach, people have been working through the Christmas and New Year period to keep Australians safe and healthy. The doctors, the nurses the other medical staff but of course also the cleaners, the cooks, the security personnel, all of them working over the Christmas and New Year period and that's why it is so important to thank those emergency personnel but also make sure that they are properly paid and looked after when it comes to things like penalty rates as well.

Visiting a hospital like this also reminds us how important it is that our health budget is properly funded, and that's why it is so disappointing that between now and 2020 New South Wales will lose $630 million from its public hospital budget because of cuts made by the federal government.  Around Australia, public hospitals will lose billions of dollars because of health cuts from the Turnbull Government and it's not just hospital funding that is being lost. We know that the freeze on GP rebates, specialist rebates and allied health services rebates continues and that this Government has been stopped from increasing the cost of medicines in the way that they wanted to. So when it comes to hospitals, when it comes to visiting a GP, a specialist, when it comes to every possible out of pocket expense this Government is cutting health funding and asking patients to pay more.

Thanks, any questions?

JOURNALIST: It's interesting you bring that up given the Government’s just announced that they are going to go back to review the out of pocket health expenses for patients, what are your thoughts on that?

PLIBERSEK: Well isn't it ridiculous, I mean this is in their fifth year of office this Government's cut funding for GP rebates and specialist rebates and allied health services rebates, they've tried to put up the costs of medicines, and they've cut funding to our hospitals, and they scratch their heads and say why are out of pocket expenses increasing? Out of pocket expenses are increasing because government funding is decreasing - you don't have to be a brain surgeon to work that one out. 

If the Government is genuinely interested in keeping out of pocket costs low then they should properly fund our hospitals, properly fund visits to doctors, and make sure that the cost of medicines is kept affordable.

JOURNALIST: What do you think of the Xenophon team or reports that the Xenophon team have reached a deal with the Government on welfare reform?

PLIBERSEK: It'll be interesting to see what the deal is. Labor has been absolutely opposed to the idea that vulnerable Australians should have their welfare benefits cut and particularly because there is a risk that people will be pushed into homelessness and even potentially pushed into a life of crime. We don't want that outcome. 

Of course, people who can work should work. We should be helping every Australian to find a job, having a job is the best and most certain way of ensuring that someone is not living in poverty and that they feel a part of the society, the community that they're part of. 

But simply punishing vulnerable Australians has never worked in the past and it would be disappointing if the Xenophon deal pushed vulnerable Australians further into poverty.

JOURNALIST: What are your thoughts on Tim Fischer's comments that Australia has been downgraded because the US still hasn't appointed an Ambassador?

PLIBERSEK: I think it is a concern that we still don't have a full-time Ambassador from the United States, it is a very important relationship between Australia and the United States but I think it's fair to say it's not just the relationship with the United States that needs more careful tending. 

We've been recently in some degree of official conflict with the Chinese Government, unbelievably we've had a Foreign Minister attacking the government of New Zealand. We've had all sorts of quite awkward periods in our relationships with our major trading and diplomatic partners in recent times.

JOURNALIST: You just mentioned awkward, [inaudible] the story about Alexander Downer, his connection to the FBI investigation into Russia that must be [inaudible] - do you think that's grown tensions between Australia and the US?

PLIBERSEK: Look I'm not going to make any comments about an ongoing investigation and as I said yesterday, we will seek more information at the appropriate time about the involvement of any of our officials in these investigations but this is not a matter to be canvassed in public at this time.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that the lack of a US Ambassador in Australia is due to tensions between the US and Australia?

PLIBERSEK: I can't answer that - it could be, more likely I think, that it's just not a top priority for the US administration - that in itself would be very disappointing. 

JOURNALIST: Is that a diplomatic insult to us?

PLIBERSEK: I'm not going inflame any sort of relationship by canvassing those issues, I think it is certainly desirable to have a full-time appointment sooner rather than later.

JOURNALIST: Just on a separate issue, a few weeks back there was a video that did the rounds of a starving polar bear in Canada as a result of the effects of climate change. Is Australia doing enough, how can we do more?

PLIBERSEK: Australia is certainly not doing enough when it comes to reducing our carbon pollution, in fact, we are seeing emissions go up in every sector of the economy, we continue to be off track when it comes to - even to meeting the pretty unambitious pollution reduction targets that this Australian Government has signed up to. Australia is certainly not doing enough to reduce our share of contribution to global warming. 

And I think it's - you know, when you see this footage of stranded wildlife, it tugs at the heartstrings, but this is a much bigger and more serious issue than you know, one polar bear on an iceberg. This potentially affects our economy, economy-wide, if we have serious effects of climate change in Australia, of course it affects our wildlife but it also affects our agricultural sector, it potentially affects our tourism sector, it has a serious effect on the health and wellbeing of ordinary Australians if we see more extreme temperatures, we see greater risk of natural disasters which has a terrible impact on the lives of ordinary Australians but also ends up costing us all a great deal more in storm mitigation, firefighting and so on.

The effects of climate change will be with us in every area of our lives and Australia ought to be doing more.  And isn't it extraordinary that just three days into the new year, Malcolm Turnbull's 'year of reset' as it was going to be, we once again see the Liberals at war on whether to do anything serious about climate change. Day three of 2018 and they're already fighting, parts of the Liberal Party arguing to do less to reduce carbon pollution, to do less to tackle climate change.

JOURNALIST: Some would argue that's quite the opposite given the Turnbull Government finished quite strong at the end of last year I mean -

PLIBERSEK: Did they really? I mean, did they? We had an expensive divisive plebiscite to determine an issue, marriage equality, where we all knew what the outcome was going to be because every single published survey had told us what the outcome was going to be for years. And we had the Liberals win back a safe Liberal seat with a swing to Labor and the Nationals win back a safe Nationals seat with a swing to Labor. So I'm not sure that anyone would really claim that the end of 2017 was a great outcome for Malcolm Turnbull, and here we are day three of 2018 and we've already got the right wing of the Liberal Party saying to Malcolm Turnbull that his ambition for a republic is wrong, he should get back in his box and stop talking about a republic, and by the way we should do less to reduce the dangers of climate change, we should do less to reduce pollution. 

It's not a great start to 2018 either. 

JOURNALIST: Do you think the Government's National Energy Guarantee is in hot water after Tony Abbott voiced concerns about [inaudiable].

PLIBERSEK: Honestly, another week, another Liberal policy when it comes to climate change. First of all it was direct action, well that sank without a trace, and we've had a proposal for a clean energy target, a proposal for an emissions intensity scheme. The minute Tony Abbott complains about taking action on climate change, Malcolm Turnbull dumps whatever action was being proposed. Who knows what the future of the National Energy Guarantee is - if Tony Abbott's on the warpath again, there's one thing you can be guaranteed for sure, it's that Malcolm Turnbull will go to water.

JOURNALIST: Do you think buying international carbon credits is a carbon tax by stealth?

PLIBERSEK: I think the real question is: is it a sensible idea, and Labor thinks that it is sensible to reduce our pollution in the cheapest most effective way and that includes trading in well-regulated carbon markets overseas. And by the way, it's not just Labor that thinks this, every major industry group and business group thinks that it makes sense if you can reduce your pollution by trading in well-regulated carbon markets- then you should be able to do so.

JOURNALIST: You were just talking about infighting with Tony Abbott, so do you think Malcolm Turnbull's leadership is in question still?

PLIBERSEK: I think Malcolm Turnbull thinks his leadership is in question, and he’ll do anything to protect it, we've got another year ahead of us and Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberals fighting over their jobs instead of thinking about the jobs of Australians -  making sure that we have decent well paid work for ordinary Australians. Instead of that, they're going to be fighting each other on the republic, climate change, on anything else under the sun. They should be focused on the jobs of Australians not their own jobs. 

JOURNALIST: On welfare reforms, do you concede that changes could be made to welfare package by opposing them you could stop that from happening?

PLIBERSEK: I mean it depends what the changes are. We are very concerned about elements of the welfare package, there were some elements that we were prepared to consider, but as a whole we were very concerned that the welfare package would push vulnerable Australians further into poverty and that's not good for anyone. It's certainly not good for those people who are affected but we don't want to live in a society where people are made homeless, or made more likely to turn to a life of crime because of measures that the Government has imposed upon them. That makes no sense at all, it doesn't help any of us. 

Thanks everyone.