CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten fought back tears on Friday and won widespread public support as he attacked a newspaper that challenged his version of his mother’s life story that inspired his political career.
Sydney-based The Daily Telegraph’s accusation that Shorten had omitted part of his mother Ann Shorten’s story to support the center-left political narrative of his Labor Party has been condemned by conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison and provided voters with a rare glimpse of the opposition leader’s emotional side ahead of elections next week.
Shorten had come under attack for saying in a television interview on Monday that his mother as top of her high school class in the 1950s had wanted to become a lawyer but had to accept a university scholarship to study teaching because her working-class parents could not afford law school fees. She died in 2014.
The newspaper reported on Wednesday that Shorten “omitted the fact that she went on to enjoy an illustrious career as a barrister.”
Shorten described the newspaper report as “rubbish.” He said while his mother put herself through law school in the 1980s after raising her children and topped her year when she graduated at age 51, age discrimination worked against her. She rarely found clients and turned to other work.
“She’s brilliant and that’s what drives me,” a teary Shorten told reporters.
“My mom 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 boys’ club, doesn’t mean you should give up,” he added.
Morrison sided with Shorten, saying in the third and final leaders’ debate of the election campaign on Wednesday that “our families shouldn’t be part of the things that happen in terms of politics and political exchange.”
Labor is leading the ruling conservative coalition in opinion polls ahead of the July 18 elections. But the polls also show that Morrison is a more popular leader than Shorten.
Panels of undecided voters put Shorten narrowly ahead of Morrison in the first two leaders’ debates. But there was no panel to judge the third debate.