“I wish the Tories well in the election, naturally, and I’m not in the business of giving them political advice because they have plenty of experienced people there already,” Mr Turnbull told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. “But our lived experience in Australia in 2016 was that something as absurd as saying ‘Malcolm Turnbull is going to sell Medicare will get legs,”
“The conventional political wisdom used to be – and it was the advice we had in 2016 – that if you rebut these things too strongly you end up giving the lie more salience than it otherwise would have.
“I don’t think that’s a risk you can take anymore. So now, when people tell an outrageous falsehood you have to nail it and nail it as aggressively and comprehensively as you can.”
Australian Labor’s claims that the Coalition has secretly plotted to privatise Medicare rocked Mr Turnbull’s campaign. The tactic culminated in Labor sending election day text messages to thousands of voters – purporting to be from Medicare – warning Mr Turnbull planned to privatise the public health system.
A senior UK Labour source said the party had closely monitored Mr Shorten’s 2016 campaign but stressed it was not an inspiration for Mr Corbyn’s anti-privatisation pitch.
Mr Corbyn’s claim that the NHS would be sold has evolved from concerns that British hospitals could pay more for drugs under any new trade deal with the US following the UK’s departure from the EU – something Mr Turnbull said was “not even remotely approaching privatisation”.
The Tory manifesto says drug prices “will not be on the table” and having earlier said pharmaceuticals would be part of negotiations, US President Donald Trump this week promised the US had no interested in the NHS even if it was “handed it to us on a silver platter”.
But Mr Turnbull said his own experience negotiating trade deals as prime minister demonstrated that the Americans try to drive a hard bargain over medicines.
“If Labour is claiming that Boris is going to sell the NHS, that is obviously absurd. It can’t be sold, it can’t be sold any more than Medicare could be sold,” the former Liberal leader said.
“But I think the substance behind what Corbyn is claiming is that the price of a trade deal with the United States will be paying more to the American pharmaceutical companies.
“The American pharma industry in Washington is very vocal, very well funded and very influential and they believe they are disadvantaged by countries like Australia and the UK because of the way our national health systems work essentially as monopsonies.
“There is no doubt that Boris and the UK will come under a lot of pressure in negotiating a trade deal with the Americans, but he will just have to take that off the table right from the outset and he seems to have very clearly done that.”
Labour has claimed a post-Brexit trade deal with the US could cost the health system $1 billion a year in higher drug prices. The party drew the figure from a television interview conducted by a university expert who has since distanced himself from the “worst case scenario” calculation.
Bevan Shields is the Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.