Q&A: Tanya Plibersek says Labor has ’40 years of evidence’ to back Medicare claim

Tanya Plibersek, Alan Jones and Tony Jones on the ABC’s Q&A program

Tanya Plibersek, Alan Jones and Tony Jones on the ABC’s Q&A program. Plibersek found herself weighing in as the only critic of the Coalition’s $50bn company tax cut proposal. Photograph: ABC

Labor has “40 years of evidence” to back its claim Medicare would face privatisation and service cuts in an “American-style health system” under a future Coalition government, the deputy opposition leader, Tanya Plibersek has told the ABC’s Q&A program.

Plibersek’s response to a question on whether Labor’s so-called “Medi-scare” campaign was “just another desperate pre-election gamut” prompted the finance minister, Mathias Cormann, to deny there was ever “a plan to privatise” Medicare, which was “in very good shape”.

But Plibersek said the Coalition showed its agenda through attempts to charge patients for GP visits – then engineer those costs through the “backdoor” by freezing GP rebates – and raise the cost of prescriptions, x-rays and blood tests.

“At every opportunity, the Liberals are trying to get you to put your hand in your pocket you to put your hands in your pocket and that’s what a privatised American-style health system looks like,” she said.

She said this approach dated back to Labor’s introduction of Medicare forerunner Medibank “and the Fraser government privatised it”.

Economic questions and the local impact of “Brexit” – the British vote to exit the European Union – were repeat themes on the panel talk show ahead of the federal election on Saturday.

Plibersek found herself weighing in as the only critic of the Coalition’s $50bn company tax cut proposal, on a panel that included the economist Chris Richardson, the academic Marcia Langton and the broadcaster Alan Jones.

Richardson, Langton and Jones all backed Cormann’s argument that company tax cuts led to jobs growth, the finance minister arguing they could even lead to growth in revenue.

Plibersek cited the failure of the US president Ronald Reagan to expand his tax base with cuts as proof the Coalition’s “trickle down” approach to economic growth was mislaid.

Richardson said the political fallout of Brexit could be worse than the economic, suggesting it was unlikely to test Australia’s need to tackle its budget deficit by forcing stimulus measures.

He said while the deficit was not “out of control”, it was a problem that needed fixing amid a “temporary [economic] boom, permanent promises” scenario that spawned major spending commitments like Gonski education reforms and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Labor was correct to point out the government’s “zombie measures” to aid the budget that would never pass, Richardson said.

But the problem was “zombie measures would exist whoever is in government” since both major parties in opposition were “increasingly willing to be populist” on questions of economic reform.

Jones said the cost of government debt could fund “a brand new primary school every 8 hours” at $40m and neither major party was serious about tackling deficits by making a case to voters for spending cuts as Paul Keating successfully did three decades ago.

The panel was asked about whether the Brexit vote, with its eclipse of the British youth consensus in a highly divisive referendum, should serve as a warning

Jones dismissed as “alarmist nonsense” concerns about Brexit, which was “a vote” and paled in significance beside an event like the collapse of the Lehman Brothers bank during the global financial crisis.

But Jones said he had received “a stack of correspondence” from people concerned about the divisive effect of a plebiscite on marriage equality as proposed by the Coalition.

“I think we should avoid it,” he said.

The broadcaster said the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, should stay true to the support for a parliamentary vote on the issue which he first outlined to Jones when the minister for telecommunications.

Other topics before the panel included the relegation of Indigenous issues to the margins of discussion during elections, and the Coalition’s opposition to a royal commission into banks and lack of specific initiatives to aid first homebuyers in an increasingly unaffordable property market.

Langton said after “watching elections for 50 years”, the “same old answer” to why Indigenous issues were overlooked was the bipartisan fear of alienating racists by backing “lazy Aborigines”.

“Everybody wants Aborigines to shut up during the election because both sides of politics – and I’m not even talking about the Greens here, there’s no point – don’t want a backlash from the racist backblocks,” Langton said.

Jones, who claimed “people don’t quite understand what is intended” by an Indigenous push for a treaty besides constitutional recognition, said that political neglect was comparable to the experience of any voter “west of the Dividing Range”.

Cormann was confronted by Jeff Morris, a whistleblower in the Commonwealth Bank financial planning scandal, on how a Coalition government could oppose a banking royal commission when financial industry scandals continued to unfold on its watch and it took major donations from banks.

Cormann said the government thought it better to arm the Australian Securities and Investments Commission to take action where royal commissions and other public inquiries could not.

Morris said if ASIC genuinely was a “tough cop”, the scandals would not be recurring, prompting Cormann to say some of these had occurred under opposition leader Bill Shorten’s watch as finance minister.

Jones upbraided Cormann for government inaction on badly conflicted financial planning which left “decent people being thrown under buses”, saying: “Frankly, nothing is happening, Mathias”.