Mr Shorten and his mum, Ann Shorten
Mr Shorten and his mum, Ann Shorten

Shorten’s heartfelt tale missing vital fact

BILL Shorten's live TV monologue about how his mother's ambitions to be a lawyer were thwarted by her working-class roots has been hailed as an election-winning moment, but omitted the fact that she went on to enjoy an illustrious career as a barrister after a midlife occupation change.

Mr Shorten's meandering, almost four-minute answer to the final question of Monday's Q&A program gave a heartfelt account of how his late mother Ann "could have done anything" and wanted to be a lawyer, but had to "take the teacher scholarship to look after the rest of the kids".

"What motivates me, if you really want to know who Bill Shorten is, I can't make it right for my mum but I can make it right for everyone else," the Labor leader told the ABC show's audience.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on ABC’s Q&A on Monday night. Picture: ABC
Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on ABC’s Q&A on Monday night. Picture: ABC


However, he neglected to mention that Mrs Shorten, who sent him to Melbourne's elite Xavier College, graduated with a law degree from Monash University in 1985 with first-class honours, and went on to practice at the bar for six years.

She excelled and was celebrated on many fronts, including winning university prizes for law when she graduated.

The Victorian Bar Council penned an obituary for her in 2014.

Bill Shorten with his mum Ann Shorten and the family dog Theodore in 2013.
Bill Shorten with his mum Ann Shorten and the family dog Theodore in 2013.

Mr Shorten's lengthy comments on his mother's life mentioned none of this, as he explained how her working-class life had motivated him.

"My mum, she became a teacher - but she wanted to be a lawyer," he said.

"But she was the eldest in the family so needed to take the teacher scholarship to look after the rest of the kids.

"My mum was a brilliant woman, she wasn't bitter. She worked here for 35 years.

"But I also know that if she had other opportunities, she could have done anything. I can't make it right for my mum. And she wouldn't want me to.

"But my point is this. What motivates me, if you really want to know who Bill Shorten is, I can't make it right for my mum but I can make it right for everyone else."

Bill Shorten with his twin brother Robert (Bob) and their mother Ann. Mr Shorten posted the picture to his Twitter on National Twin Day in August 2018.
Bill Shorten with his twin brother Robert (Bob) and their mother Ann. Mr Shorten posted the picture to his Twitter on National Twin Day in August 2018.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts and Diploma of Education, Mrs Shorten taught before becoming a school principal and then later a university lecturer

Mr Shorten, who is known to idolise his mother, has repeatedly evoked her memory during this election campaign. He has talked about her battle with breast cancer as part of his motivation for his centrepiece health policy and on Sunday at the party's campaign launch in Brisbane he again raised her life as a teacher.

"Now my mum was a teacher. She was raised in a Labor house, she knew the Whitlam words," he said. "Liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of Australian people."

 

When asked by The Daily Telegraph why he did not mention his mother's legal career, Mr Shorten's office last night pointed to his women's launch speech two weeks ago where he mentioned his mother winning the Supreme Court prize.

"Don't get my wrong, she loved being a teacher and she was very good at it. But she always wanted to be in the law," Mr Shorten said in the speech. "Later in life, when my twin brother and I went to university, she was enrolled at the same faculty. She distinguished herself and got the Supreme Court prize."

Multiple major media outlets lauded Mr Shorten's response to the final Q&A question on Monday night as a winning moment.

Nine newspapers wrote that the sentence about how he couldn't make it right for his mum was "perhaps the most powerful personal sentence uttered in the campaign". And website 10 Daily wrote that "Monday's Q&A may be remembered as the moment Bill Shorten won the election".

The comments about his mother, who died in 2014, came after Mr Shorten was asked what his leadership style would be as Prime Minister­. He said he was "not a lone ranger" and "not a messiah" but rather wanted to be more like a coach. "Don't believe in the sort of authoritarian strong man … that doesn't work," he said.

 

BILL'S LONG SPIEL TO ABC CROWD

I'm going to finish on this point. I went to this university. The reason I went to this university is 'cause my mum worked here for 33 years.

My mum came from a working-class family. She was the first in our family in the early '50s to ever go to university, ever. No-one ever thought … My grandma, English grandma, she was a cleaner and a barmaid. They wouldn't have thought we'd ever be sitting here, talking to you like this.

But if my mum … And she became a teacher, but she wanted to be a lawyer, but she was the eldest in the family, so needed to take the teacher scholarship to look after the rest of the kids. My mum was a brilliant woman. She wasn't bitter. She worked here for 35 years. But I also know that if she had had other opportunities, she could have done anything.

The comments Mr Shorten made on Q&A and what he left out.
The comments Mr Shorten made on Q&A and what he left out.

I can't make it right for my mum. And she wouldn't want me to. But my point is this - what motivates me, if you really want to know who Bill Shorten is, I can't make it right for my mum but I can make it right for everyone else.

This is a country … I don't care who you vote for - I'd like you to vote for us - I don't care what god you worship, I don't care how long you've been here, your accent, your family, what job they do, but I reckon that if this country can just let people be as talented and as capable by giving them all the same opportunity, we won't all be the same at the end of the day, but then nothing's gonna hold this country back. When we're equal, when we get equal opportunity.

We are going to be the best country in the world, with no arrogance. That's my leadership style.

COMMENT: ANOTHER SIGN OF A SHIPSHOD SALESMAN

Bill Shorten's slipperiness on detail is haunting him.

Just a day after his Q&A monologue about his mum was hailed as one of the most powerful moments of this campaign, we learn that the prime ministerial hopeful didn't quite tell the full story of her life.

Mr Shorten on Monday night’s Q&A program. Picture: ABC
Mr Shorten on Monday night’s Q&A program. Picture: ABC

Make no mistake - Shorten did not lie. But a glaring omission in his story means that he comes off as the slippery salesman yet again, playing straight into the Liberals' attack line.

Mr Shorten paints a true picture of his mother's hardworking life, but fails to mention how she still realised her dream of studying law in 1985.

Not only that, but she also won prizes for her study and went on to practice law for six years, with even the Victorian Bar immortalising her with a glowing obituary when she died in 2014.

It's bizarre that Mr Shorten didn't mention any of this, because it doesn't lessen his tale of how his mum couldn't choose the degree she wanted in the first place.

What it does do though is undermine Mr Shorten.

It leaves voters to wonder if he doesn't mention this midlife plot twist because it works for him to paint himself as the downtrodden working-class bloke.

He also didn't mention that Mrs Shorten worked relentlessly to pay to send her twin boys to Melbourne's excusive Xavier College.

It's possible that Shorten may fear these facts undermine his working-class credentials, but what failing to mention them does is worse - it undermines his credibility. It plays into the perception that he is loose on detail.

- Anna Caldwell