Bill Shorten has lashed out at Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper after it described him as a “slippery salesman” who was “loose on the detail” of his late mother Ann’s life and career.
The Labor leader described the report published late Tuesday night as “a new low” for the tabloid, after it accused him of omitting a key detail from the story he told about his working class mum.
On Monday night, Mr Shorten told the ABC’s Q&A program that his mother “could have done anything” but had to “take the teacher scholarship to look after the rest of the kids” instead of studying law.
“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 said.
The Daily Telegraph said Mr Shorten neglected to mention that his mother “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.”
“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,” the report said.
Mr Shorten released a statement late Tuesday night accusing the newspaper of sinking to “a new low” by using his late mother to attack him and her memory.
“They think they know more about my mum than I do,” he said.
The Opposition Leader said his mother was the first member of his family to attend university and had been forced to take a teaching scholarship instead of studying law.
He noted she returned to university late in life, before becoming a barrister in her late 50s. Mr Shorten said his mother was never bitter, but did not get all of the opportunities she deserved.
Mr Shorten was a pallbearer at his mother’s funeral and he has often described her as a huge influence on his life and politics.
Colleagues say he “idolises” his mother, who he also referenced when announcing his plan to tackle cancer costs under Medicare.
Anne Shorten’s mother battled breast cancer before her death in 2014.
Exclusive: Labor leader Bill Shorten will tonight honour the memory of his late mum Ann Shorten, with a plan to overhaul cancer treatment in Australia and tackle affordability. He will declare the next election will be another referendum on Medicare
— 𝕤𝕒𝕞𝕒𝕟𝕥𝕙𝕒 𝕞𝕒𝕚𝕕𝕖𝕟 (@samanthamaiden) April 3, 2019
“My mum was a brilliant woman, she wasn’t bitter. She worked here for 35 years,” Mr Shorten told Q&A.
“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.”
The Daily Telegraph article went on to note that the omission over her late career switch to law “leaves voters to wonder if [Mr Shorten] doesn’t mention this midlife plot twist because it works for him to paint himself as the downtrodden working-class bloke.”
Mr Shorten has previously discussed how he and his mother attended university together after she returned to study as a mature age student.
He is not the first political leader to stand accused of embellishing his life story.
In 2007, Kevin Rudd was accused of claiming his family was evicted from a farm when he was a child, a story that was disputed by the farm owners.