The Labor leader’s voice broke as he described his mother’s circumstances, to counter claims that he didn’t tell her full story during an appearance on Q&A this week.
“My mum suffered a catastrophic heart attack in her sleep … she never woke up,” he said. “It’s been about five years to last month when she passed away. I miss her every day.
“But I’m glad that she wasn’t here today to read that rubbish,” he said of the reports.
A Daily Telegraph story today suggests Mr Shorten didn’t tell his mother’s full story, as he didn’t reveal his mother graduated with a law degree and practised at the Bar for six years after first qualifying as a teacher.
In a press conference today Mr Shorten said his mother, the eldest of four siblings, came from modest circumstances and when she topped her school, she didn’t have the money to go to uni to study a law degree so instead took a teaching scholarship.
His voice broke as he recalled his uncle telling him as he was preparing the eulogy for his mother five years ago, that she was the bravest woman he had met.
“Do you know — in the 1970s, while she was raising us, she did her PhD?” he said.
“Then in the 1980s, when we were still at school, mum enrolled in law school in her late 40s. She worked full time. She raised us.”
Despite his mum, Dr Ann Shorten, topping her university law course and being awarded the Supreme Court prize, Mr Shorten said his mum couldn’t find a law firm to take her on to do her articles. Aged in her early 50s, she eventually went on to do this through an institute. While his mum was a barrister for six years, her career wasn’t the success she hoped.
“She got about nine briefs in her time,” Mr Shorten said. “It was actually a bit dispiriting. She had wanted to do law when she was 17. She didn’t get that chance. She raised kids.
“She discovered in her mid-50s that sometimes, you’re just too old, and you shouldn’t be too old, but she discovered the discrimination against older women.”
But Mr Shorten proudly added: “Do you know that my mum wrote the book on education and law in Australia? Brilliant. She’s brilliant. And that’s what drives me”.
“I chose to give you that last bit of the battle of her time at the Bar, because my mum would want me to say to older women in Australia — that just because you’ve got grey hair, just because you didn’t go to a special private school, just because you don’t go to the right clubs, just because you’re not part of some back-slapping boy’s club, doesn’t mean you should give up. What I said at Q&A is what drives me.
“What I did on Monday night is I explained who I am. I explained what drives me.
“My mum is the smartest woman I’ve ever known. It has never occurred to me that women are not the equal of men. It’s never occurred to me that women shouldn’t be able to do everything. That is why I work with strong women. That is why I believe in the equal treatment of women. But it’s more than that. My parents sent me to a rich school. But we were not rich.
“We were not poor. We were not rich. We were like hundreds of thousands of other families. My family spent all their spare cash educating Robert and I. We had three holidays when we were kids. Who cares? I got a quality education.
“The point about it is — my mum has taught me that what matters in life — isn’t how rich you are, or how poor you are, it’s not what religion you worship, it doesn’t matter who you know, what church you go to … mum taught me that it doesn’t matter about your gender — it matters how hard you work.”
On Monday night’s Q&A program, Mr Shorten explained that his late mother Ann had always wanted to be a lawyer but took a teaching scholarship because she was the eldest in her family and had 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,” Mr Shorten said on the ABC show.
Daily Telegraph columnist Miranda Devine defended her paper’s front page story on the holes in Mr Shorten’s story.
Ahead of Mr Shorten’s press conference, Devine told Sky New: “All we’ve done on the front page is point out a glaring omission from Bill Shorten’s own narrative that he put forward into the election campaign about his mother. And he’s left out a big chunk.
“We don’t mean any disrespect by pointing it out.”
She said Mr Shorten had seemed to airbrush away a big segment of his mother’s life.
“He’s pretended that she was just a teacher and that she wanted more than anything to do better and to become a lawyer, she would have loved to have become a lawyer etc,” she said.
“That all sounds very plausible until you find out that she was a lawyer and not only was she a lawyer, she went to the Bar and she was very well respected.
“He’s left that out of his life story just he’s conveniently overlooks the fact that he went to one of the most prestigious schools in the country.
“Don’t leave out half the story if you’re pretending to show your true self to the voter.”
However, not all News Corp writers seem to agree, with Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt noting online that his paper had chosen not to run the story.
“I support that decision,” Bolt wrote.
“I point that out not least because there is an unfortunate tendency of critics to assume that what one paper does is part of a wider “Murdoch media” campaign.
“It is not. What one paper does (or this case two, including the Courier Mail) is what one paper does.
“Each have their own reasons, and I hope it is understood by people on both sides of this issue that the “Murdoch media” embraces many views — including, I hope, my own.
“As for Shorten, I have found him much more personable and thoughtful than his critics like to claim. My argument with him is over policy, and nothing personal.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also weighed into the debate.
At the press conference, Mr Morrison was asked whether Mr Shorten’s dead mother should be used as a political tactic.
“This is a very upsetting story and I can understand that Bill would have been very hurt by that story,” Mr Morrison said.
“I mean, Bill lost his mother five years ago and I can understand that that would have upset him a great deal and I’m — I would only extend my best wishes to him. I mean, this election is not about our families.
“It’s not about Bill’s mum. It’s not about my mum, you know.
“It’s not about our mums or our dads or kids or our wives — as great as they are — it’s about the choice between Bill Shorten and myself as Prime Minister, and I know that Bill and I would very much want to keep focused on that choice, not on our families.”