/Federal election turns quiet as politics becomes personal for Bill Shorten

Federal election turns quiet as politics becomes personal for Bill Shorten

Posted

May 08, 2019 18:46:14

Political press conferences are often raucous, aggressive, noisy affairs.

Today, in a doctor’s surgery in Nowra, you could hear a pin drop.

One thing was loud and clear, though: this was a turning point in the election campaign.

Harsh television lighting glinted in Bill Shorten’s eyes as he fought back tears, lips quivering, while talking about his late mother Ann’s legacy.

“This gotcha shit” was how the Labor leader described reporting splashed across the front page of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper.

The Opposition’s relationship with the News Corp tabloid isn’t warm at the best of times, and that’s not just because of the cold Canberra air.

The newspaper had that morning accused Mr Shorten of being selective about his mother’s career for political purposes.

He’d taken to the airwaves on Monday night’s edition of Q&A, and mentioned how he’d wished his mother could’ve pursued a legal education when she first went to university.

Instead, Ann had taken a teaching scholarship, to support her younger siblings, and went on to have a decades-long career in education.

The front page splash accused Mr Shorten off failing to mention his mother had studied law later in life, before having an “illustrious” career as a barrister.

“At 50, she backed herself. At 53, going to the bar, she got a barrister and she read from the technical term, the apprenticeship. She went down and did some Magistrates Court work,” Mr Shorten said.

“But 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.”

The Prime Minister also appeared uneasy with the article, insisting the election should be a contest about the policies he and Mr Shorten were offering.

Mr Shorten has mentioned his mother’s legal career numerous times before.

Launching the Labor Party’s policy for women in the second week of the election campaign, Mr Shorten spoke about how he wanted his daughters to have the opportunities to explore careers his mother could not.

“My mother was a brilliant woman. She won a teaching scholarship; Catholic family, first to go to university, they weren’t rich. She had to take the teacher’s scholarship to look after the other siblings,” he said.

“Don’t get me wrong, she loved being a teacher and she was very good at it. But she always wanted to be in the law.”

If the Daily Telegraph was hoping to take a cricket bat to Mr Shorten’s credibility, it seems to have had the opposite effect.

It allowed him something political strategists constantly yearn for in campaigns, but rarely find.

He showed his humanity.

By bringing his family into the election campaign, and particularly the mother he lost suddenly to a heart attack more than five years prior, the article threw petrol on what was already something of a personal and dirty campaign bin fire.

News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt — himself no fan of Mr Shorten or Labor — said his home paper, Melbourne’s Herald Sun, didn’t run the story. And he agreed with that editorial call.

There will be some who claim Mr Shorten cried crocodile tears. He, just as many others, have first-hand experience at how messy politics can be.

But it also gave the man who wants to become Australia’s 31st prime minister in just 10 days time some validity in his criticism of certain media outlets, and the perception they are waging war against him and his party.

“I’d say to whoever thought they organised a political hit on me, in the election, to cast some doubt, I can hear my mum now say: ‘Don’t worry about that rubbish’,” Mr Shorten said.

“But she might tell whoever’s pulling down a six-figure sum at the Daily Telegraph — look it up. Look it up. All of what I’ve said is all of what has been said before.”

One Labor source said the silence at the press conference was replicated at Labor HQ, 180 kilometres away in Parramatta, staffers in tears as they watched their leader’s explanation beamed live across the country.

Deafening silence as a campaign shifted, suddenly and dramatically.

Topics:

federal-elections,

bill-shorten,

government-and-politics,

print-media,

alp,

elections,

australia