Now that Bill Shorten’s name has been cleared, politicians should focus on policy debates, one of his senior colleagues says.

Unfounded rape allegations against Opposition Leader Bill Shorten show the need for both sides of politics to focus on policy debates, a senior Labor frontbencher says.

Mr Shorten has received bipartisan praise for revealing he was the centre of a police investigation which cleared him of any wrongdoing almost three decades ago.

Labor’s shadow treasurer Chris Bowen says the matter shows the need for politicians to focus on issues other than each others’ personal lives.

“People can get on and say all sorts of things about anybody in public life,” he told a Queensland Media Club lunch in Brisbane on Friday.

“I agree that our debate should be focused on policy, our debate should be focused on alternative visions for the nation, our debate should be focused on some of the big questions that aren’t being asked.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s youthful past has previously been the subject of political discussion, after journalist David Marr wrote in 2012 that the former student politician had punched a wall on either side of a female rival’s head in 1977.

Barbara Ramjan, a University of Sydney student, maintains the incident occurred but Mr Abbott has denied it.

Mr Bowen said Labor had not raised this matter.

“I don’t think you’ll find any Labor member of parliament, a member of the shadow ministry, making links to Tony Abbott’s past,” he said.

But in 2012, then health minister Tania Plibersek alluded to it in response to coalition claims about Labor prime minister Julia Gillard’s union dealings decades earlier.

“Normally I would say probably all of us have done things at university that we’ve been embarrassed about, but I just think Tony Abbott has made such a point of saying that the Prime Minister has questions to answer about her young days, I think he could probably apply the same rules to himself,” Ms Plibersek told ABC TV.

The allegations against Mr Shorten were first published on the Facebook page of former prime minister Kevin Rudd in October 2013, soon after he became Labor leader.

A woman, who cannot be named, alleged that she was raped during an overnight camp organised by Victorian Young Labor near Geelong in 1986, when Mr Shorten was 19 and she was 16.

Mr Shorten dismissed the allegations as “untrue and abhorrent”.