Basmah Qazi

“I can’t make it right for my mum”: The incredible legacy of Bill Shorten’s mother Ann

“I can’t make it right for my mum”: The incredible legacy of Bill Shorten’s mother Ann

In 1985 Ann Shorten graduated from Monash University, the same year her twin sons Bill and Robert begun their first year at the same institution.

It was no easy feat, but she successfully managed to complete her law degree and obtain multiple accolades in the process, winning the Supreme Court Prize and the Flos Greig Memorial Prize.

It was a lifelong dream, one that she set aside for decades to focus on her family.

Appearing on ABC’s Q&A on Monday night, Bill Shorten spoke fondly of his mother, saying it was her dedication and drive that pushed him towards his political career.

“My mum came from a working class family,” he said. “She was the first in our family, in the early '50s, to ever go to university … she became a teacher, but she wanted to be a lawyer. But she was the eldest in the family and needed to take the teacher scholarship to look after the rest of the kids. My mum was a brilliant woman. She wasn’t bitter. She worked here for 35 years. But I also know 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. But my point is this: 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,” he concluded.

It was praised as an election-winning moment. Neil McMahon, columnist for Sydney Morning Herald described it as “the most powerful and personal” moment of the federal election campaign.

But the success was short-lived, as soon after, the Daily Telegraph published a front page story accusing the aspiring Prime Minister of being a phoney, saying he intentionally left out critical details of his mother’s story as he did not mention that she became a lawyer later on in life.

Shorten fired back at the publication along with his opponent, Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The 51-year-old recounted the same story in a Facebook post, and again at a press conference on Wednesday. He spoke about his mother’s resilience, her ability to overcome obstacles and to obtain a law degree in her 50s. He acknowledged the sacrifices she made for her family and how she remained humble and kind despite the bitterness she faced throughout her life.

But he also raised his voice against the injustices she faced for being a woman and coming from a poor family. And then later on in life, when she was an older woman working in a male-dominated industry.

In her six years at the bar, she was given a total of nine briefs, which Shorten described as “a bit dispiriting.”

“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.”

In 1991, Anne founded the Australian & New Zealand Education Law Association (ANZELA).

The Victorian Bar obituary states that ANZELA introduced the annual Ann Shorten Doctoral Award, given to those who produce the best thesis in education law research.

In 2012, she was recognised as the first Life Member of the Association.

Dr Anne Shorten passed away on the night of Saturday, April 5, 2014. She was 79 years old.

Shorten delivered an emotional eulogy the day of her funeral.

“She believed in merit,” he said. “She taught me that merit is a legitimate human condition. That people should not be defied because of some ill-defined birth right or the wealth of an individual.”

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday in the NSW electoral division of Gilmore, Shorten once again explained how his mother is responsible for his upbringing and everything he has achieved.

“What I did on Monday night [on Q&A] is I explained who I am. I explained what drives me. My mum is the smartest woman I’ve ever known,” he told the media.

“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.”

He said that it was his mum that instilled in him that regardless of whether you’re rich or poor. What religion you follow or what news you listen to, you deserve equal opportunity.

“She’s brilliant,” he said. “And that’s what drives me.”