‘One step at a time’: How ‘a new low’ has strengthened Bill Shorten’s resolve

Labor leader Bill Shorten became emotional while defending a story he told on Q&A about his late mother Ann.

Labor leader Bill Shorten became emotional while defending a story he told on Q&A about his late mother Ann. Photo: AAP

Bill Shorten has just ended that tearful press conference about his mum Ann and that “gotcha” front page in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

It’s not even lunchtime. But he’s cried on national television and attacked Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp media empire for running the story questioning his memory of his mother’s battle to become a barrister in her 50s.

He’s just walked out of the doors of the Nowra GP clinic, where he told an elderly female patient: “That’s the thing with pain, you can’t see it, but you know it’s there.”

If voters want to know why he wants to be prime minister, he insists the truth is in this day and that moment when he spoke about his mum.

“What drives me? It is that sense of unfairness. She didn’t get a fair deal,” he told The New Daily.

He admits his mum, who died of a catastrophic heart attack in 2014, has been on his mind.

“That’s the sort of thing I’ve been thinking through as I have approached the campaign.”

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Ann Shorten fulfilled her dream of becoming a lawyer many years after graduating as a teacher. Photo: Supplied

But now, Mr Shorten is remarkably calm and serene.

Smiling at his staff as they board the ‘Bill Bus’, he sits quietly by himself after one of the biggest moments on the campaign trail.

He’s travelling around Nowra in a campaign bus plastered with larger-than-life images of his face.

Just minutes earlier, the Opposition Leader had attacked a newspaper over its front-page report headlined ‘Mother of Invention’. It accused him of omitting the fact that his mother Ann went on to have an “illustrious” career as a barrister in the story he told of her struggles on the ABC’s Q&A program.

He admits it wasn’t that illustrious. In fact, she got just nine briefs as a barrister – a “dispiriting” truth after years of study, which he puts down to her being judged “too old” when she graduated despite topping her class.

That’s why he’s so upset with the story, which he said assumes they know more about his mum that he does.

On the campaign trail, the Labor leader likes to get one of his media staff to look straight into his eye throughout press conferences to provide a sight line so he’s looking straight down the camera and to help him have a person to address his responses to directly.

On this day, that meant his media minder – who was also getting teary as he cried about his mum – had to keep looking him in the eye as he teared up.

If that sounds a little strange, suffice to say it was not a normal press conference.

Did he know he was going to to cry?

“No,’’ he says. “It’s just, my mum is an emotional topic.”

Reading the story after it was put online at 10.30pm on Tuesday, he was angry.

Angry enough to pen a lengthy statement on social media describing the article as “a new low”.

As it turned out, Prime Minister Scott Morrison agreed with him, saying “This election is not about our families”.

But as he tried to keep it together, he told a story at the press conference that made him emotional.

The story is about streamers.

“Remember the shipping liners setting off in the ’50s,” he asked? He told the story of his mother going down to the wharf with her brother.

“The reason why they held the streamers is the people on the wharf would hold one end of the streamer and their family on the boat [hold the other end]. And then eventually as the ship sailed it would break,” he explained.

His mum had wanted to travel the world. Mr Shorten’s voice cracked as he told the streamer story and that was it.

“It just sets me off, that story,” he admits.

It was unexpected.

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Bill Shorten with his mother Ann Shorten. Photo: ABC

Within hours of the tears, betting agency Ladbrokes reported an anonymous punter had put down a $1 million wager on Mr Shorten winning the May 18 election.

So how is the election going?

“Excellent,” he replies.

Asked how many seats he’s going to win, he remains diplomatic.

“Don’t know. Who knows? Let’s see. Let’s just see what happens.”

Labor is keeping its polling under wraps. But for the first time, some are talking about pushing beyond the bottom line of 77 votes required for a majority and provide a Speaker into the low 80s. There are 151 seats in Parliament.

So not a landslide, but enough.

Mr Shorten does appear relaxed and comfortable, as John Howard used to say.

“I’ve hit my straps in the last 10 days. I really feel that I am saying what I think,” he says.

He’s keen not to say too much about Mr Morrison, but what he does say isn’t glowing.

“I think he is what he is.”

“I have strong views. I just don’t think he’s up to the job. I just don’t think he’s the man with the imagination, the character for the nation. I don’t think he has the skills to run a team. I don’t think he has the policy ideas that I think this country needs.”

Even if he wins, many Labor MPs admit the Senate may put the brakes on Mr Shorten’s agenda for reforms on dividend imputation and negative gearing.

But he won’t talk about an election he hasn’t won.

“I live in the now. One step at a time,” he said.

“The reason why is this. Everyone told me I couldn’t beat Abbott. Everyone told me to vote for the 2014 budget. Everyone told me Malcolm Turnbull was unbeatable.

“I am constantly told we are going to fail.

“There was a lot of times when people have told me it’s not going to happen.”

Will it happen on May 18?

Bill Shorten doesn’t have long to find out.

Topics: Bill Shorten
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