‘I have been run­ning since I was a teen ... I know I can do this’

Be­com­ing PM has fired Bill Shorten since he was a teenager

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - TROY BRAMSTON SE­NIOR WRITER

Bill Shorten has been run­ning for prime min­is­ter since he was a teenager. Am­bi­tion pul­sates through his veins. He has never been short of ego or self-be­lief. Yet he has of­ten been un­der­es­ti­mated, which he sees as an ad­van­tage.

“In my late teens, I thought I’d like to be prime min­is­ter,” Shorten tells The Aus­tralian. “But when did I think I could be prime min­is­ter? That was prob­a­bly the de­feat of the La­bor gov­ern­ment in 2013. I thought I could ac­tu­ally do the job. I could do the job of unit­ing La­bor. I could do the job of putting the pol­icy to­gether and get­ting the best out of our team.”

In his most per­son­ally re­veal­ing elec­tion in­ter­view, Shorten spoke about his in­spi­ra­tional mother, his es­tranged re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther, his blended fam­ily with Chloe Shorten, his val­ues and what drives him.

Shorten’s par­ents, Ann and Bill, di­vorced in 1988. The break-up was dif­fi­cult and Shorten was es­tranged from his fa­ther for many years, which he now re­grets. He has come to see him­self as a blend of his par­ents’ per­son­al­i­ties.

“My dad was a peo­ple per­son,” he ex­plains. “He had a mas­sive amount of charm. I’m not sure I am fully him, but I have some of that gre­gar­i­ous­ness.

“Mum was strong, per­sis­tent and hard­work­ing. I re­ally value and re­spect hard work.

“My mum and dad were very ca­pa­ble peo­ple and they did ac­com­plish good things over time. But I be­lieve that, given dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties, there was so much more that they could have done. And that’s what drives me.”

The for­ma­tive in­flu­ences in Shorten’s life have been his love of his­tory, Je­suit ed­u­ca­tion, work­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and fam­ily.

Be­ing a par­ent of three chil­dren has also changed him. “It has made me less self­ish,” he says.

“My kids love me un­re­servedly, which has taught me to love them un­re­servedly back.”

What­ever the out­come of the elec­tion, it will be the end of a long road for Shorten. His race will be run. If La­bor loses, judg­ment will be bru­tal. If La­bor wins, he’ll be vin­di­cated and join the party’s hero ranks.

“Ev­ery day that I’ve been Op­po­si­tion Leader, I’ve wanted to be prime min­is­ter and I’ve thought I could win — good days and bad days,” he says. “I have an in­ner con­fi­dence and a de­gree of re­silience. Some peo­ple are good at wreck­ing, I’m good at unit­ing.”

In the early morn­ing hours, Bill Shorten runs. He runs through parks and along­side rivers, through city streets and sub­urbs, and of­ten with staff, fel­low MPs and com­mu­nity lead­ers.

Shorten has been run­ning his en­tire life. He has been run­ning for prime min­is­ter since he was a teenager. As he runs, he some­times al­lows a mo­ment of re­flec­tion on the jour­ney that has brought him to this thresh­old mo­ment, with the prime min­is­ter­ship in reach.

“I’ve been in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics since my teenage years,” Shorten, 52, tells The Aus­tralian in an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view. “Pol­i­tics was al­ways dis­cussed around the fam­ily din­ner ta­ble. So at some point in my late teens, I thought I’d like to be prime min­is­ter.

“But when did I think I could be prime min­is­ter? That was prob­a­bly the de­feat of the La­bor gov­ern­ment in 2013. I thought I could ac­tu­ally do the job. I could do the job of unit­ing La­bor. I could do the job of putting the pol­icy to­gether and get­ting the best out of our team.”

Shorten speaks more per­son­ally than he has so far in this elec­tion cam­paign — about him­self, his mother and fa­ther, his blended fam­ily with Chloe Shorten, his faith, his val­ues and what drives him.

His­tory of am­bi­tion

He cred­its high school teacher Des King with open­ing his eyes to the for­ma­tive pe­riod in Aus­tralian pol­i­tics pre and post-Fed­er­a­tion, from about 1890 to 1914, which saw the ex­pan­sion of trade union­ism, the for­ma­tion of the La­bor Party and the birth of a na­tion.

But his mother Ann and fa­ther Bill had al­ready sparked his in­ter­est in his­tory and pol­i­tics in their dis­cus­sions around the din­ner ta­ble. He re­mem­bers hand­ing out La­bor how-to-vote cards in the mid-1970s. Shorten de­scribes the elec­tion of the Cain gov­ern­ment in Vic­to­ria in 1982 and the Hawke fed­eral gov­ern­ment in 1983 as “sem­i­nal mo­ments” in his po­lit­i­cal awak­en­ing.

“Mum made me fall in love with his­tory when I was four or five, and then I got in­ter­ested in pol­i­tics,” Shorten re­calls. “Be­cause my par­ents were raised in po­lit­i­cal house­holds them­selves, pol­i­tics was some­thing we did talk about. Dad worked on the water­front and he’d come home and tell tales from life on the water­front, so that was in­ter­est­ing too.”

Shorten was deeply up­set when he was ac­cused of omit­ting de­tails about his mother’s ca­reer last week for po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage. It prompted an emo­tional pub­lic re­sponse. His mother had wanted to study law but took a teacher’s schol­ar­ship be­cause she could not af­ford to go to univer­sity and had to look af­ter the fam­ily. She en­rolled in law school and be­came a bar­ris­ter later in life, some­thing Shorten has never hid­den.

Ann died in 2014 and Bill Sr died in 2000. He misses them both. When he meets some­body who knew his par­ents and they share a memory of some­thing they once said or did, it is like a “gift” from the past where you can “hear them again”, he says. “It’s one of those boomerangs in time.”

A dairy farmer near Gee­long told Shorten his mum was an “im­pres­sive teacher” and “a fem­i­nist be­fore there were fem­i­nists”. His uncle Ge­orge and aunt He­len re­cently told him his mum would be “very proud” of him.

A union­ist in Perth told him his fa­ther was re­spected by those who worked along­side him at the docks on the Yarra River. Shorten re­cently met his dad’s cousin, who said his Bri­tish grand­mother, Betty Shorten, could not pos­si­bly com­pre­hend that her grand­son “is run­ning for prime min­is­ter” be­cause she grew up dirt-poor in Eng­land.

Miss­ing par­ents

Shorten wishes his par­ents, who di­vorced in 1988, were still around. The mar­riage breakup was not easy and he was es­tranged from his fa­ther for many years. He has slowly come to see him­self as a com­bi­na­tion of their re­spec­tive per­son­al­i­ties, val­ues and out­looks on life.

“My dad was a peo­ple per­son,” Shorten ex­plains. “He had a mas­sive amount of charm. I’m not sure I am fully him but I have some of that gre­gar­i­ous­ness. Mum was strong, per­sis­tent and hard­work­ing. I re­ally value and re­spect hard work. This is a truth which I’ve only been able to fully ar­tic­u­late in more re­cent times. My mum and dad were very ca­pa­ble peo­ple and they did ac­com­plish good things over time. But I be­lieve that, given dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties, there was so much more that they could have done. And that’s what drives me.”

Shorten does not talk much about his fa­ther, who re­mar­ried af­ter the di­vorce. Shorten did not see a lot of his fa­ther in the 1990s but they did talk shortly be­fore Bill Sr died. The La­bor leader re­grets not spend­ing more time with him but ex­plains that Ann was the “big­ger in­flu­ence” in his life. “I’m very proud of my fa­ther,” he says. “You grow apart when one’s par­ents split up.” Shorten re­mem­bers be­ing teased about his par­ents while study­ing at Xavier Col­lege in Mel­bourne in the late 70s and early 80s. Few stu­dents caught the same train or tram to the less af­flu­ent sub­urbs in Mel­bourne’s south­east. He was asked why his mum never worked in the tuck­shop and why she had grey hair, and why his dad had been a sea­farer who worked on the blue-col­lar docks.

“Kids can be cruel,” he says. “It taught me that you don’t ever treat any­one as your su­pe­rior or any­one as in­fe­rior.”

The di­vorce also had an im­pact on his twin brother, Robert. The Shorten brothers talk and text reg­u­larly. “He’s a great fella,” Shorten says of his brother. “He’s my old­est friend.”

Bill, Robert and Ann stud­ied at Monash Univer­sity at the same time in the 80s. Shorten grad­u­ated with de­grees in arts and law, and later earned an MBA from the Univer­sity of Mel­bourne. (He would be the first prime min­is­ter with an MBA.) Robert and Ann were at the top of their re­spec­tive fac­ul­ties, eco­nomics and law, at Monash. And what did Shorten do? “I’m run­ning for prime min­is­ter,” he says with a laugh. It is a telling com­ment. The prime min­is­ter­ship has al­ways been his goal.

Faith and fam­ily

The for­ma­tive in­flu­ences in Shorten’s life, he says, have been his fam­ily, his love of his­tory, work­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and Je­suit ed­u­ca­tion. “I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve but I do be­lieve in some fun­da­men­tal tenets of Chris­tian­ity, such as treat­ing one an­other as you would like to be treated,” he says, just be­fore the is­sue of re­li­gious be­lief be­came a cam­paign is­sue.

He con­verted to Angli­can­ism to marry Chloe Bryce in 2009, af­ter his eight-year mar­riage to Deb­bie Beale ended.

Chloe had two chil­dren, Ru­pert (now 17) and Ge­or­gette (16), from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage to ar­chi­tect Roger Parkin. Bill and Chloe also have a daughter, Cle­men­tine, 9. They would be the first blended prime min­is­te­rial fam­ily. They have not de­cided whether to move into the Lodge or Kir­ri­billi House if La­bor wins the elec­tion.

Shorten says be­ing a fa­ther of three has changed him. “It has straight­ened me up a bit,” he ex­plains. “It has made me less self­ish. It has taught me the im­por­tance of com­part­men­tal­is­ing work and fam­ily, and not bring­ing work home. My kids love me un­re­servedly, which has taught me to love them un­re­servedly back.”

Be­ing the child of a politi­cian is not easy, par­tic­u­larly given the toxic na­ture of Aus­tralia’s po­lit­i­cal dis­course. Shorten ac­knowl­edges that they have been af­fected. “They didn’t ask Chloe and I to fall in love and get mar­ried. I’m deeply con­scious that the pub­lic pro­file of my job might bur­den and put some pres­sures on them.”

Have they given him ad­vice? “They give me ad­vice on fash­ion, they told me not to ‘dab’ and they told me not to park the ‘Bill Bus’ any­where near the house.”

Bill and Chloe love each other deeply. He val­ues her in­tel­li­gence, judg­ment and spirit. What role would she play if he be­comes prime min­is­ter? “She has spent her life be­ing ei­ther her mother’s daughter (Chloe’s mother is for­mer gov­er­nor-gen­eral Quentin Bryce) or her hus­band’s wife. The re­al­ity is she is Chloe Shorten, and that’s who she will be,” he says. “She’ll bring all her pas­sions, ex­pe­ri­ences and ca­pac­i­ties, but she is not run­ning for of­fice.”

Hid­den strengths

As the clock winds down to elec­tion day, Shorten’s am­bi­tion pul­sates through his veins. He knows he has of­ten been un­der­es­ti­mated and sees this as an ad­van­tage.

“Ev­ery day that I’ve been Op­po­si­tion Leader I’ve wanted to be prime min­is­ter and I’ve thought I could win — good days and bad days, and ev­ery other day,” he says. “I have an in­ner con­fi­dence and a de­gree of re­silience. I’m good at putting things to­gether. Some peo­ple are good at wreck­ing, I’m good at unit­ing.”

Shorten has never been short on ego or self-be­lief. At school or univer­sity, as a young state po­lit­i­cal ad­viser or bud­ding lawyer with Mau­rice Black­burn Cash­man, or as Vic­to­rian state and then na­tional sec­re­tary of the Aus­tralian Work­ers Union, cab­i­net min­is­ter or party leader, his self-as­sured­ness has hardly been con­cealed.

Shorten, like most politi­cians, craves love. But he has come to terms with the fact he is not a mes­siah. There is no groundswell of enthusiasm for Shorten, per­son­ally, as there was for Gough Whit­lam in 1972, Bob Hawke in 1983 or Kevin Rudd, al­beit briefly, in 2007.

His lead­er­ship strengths are mostly hid­den from pub­lic. Shorten has al­ways been an en­er­getic net­worker, al­liance builder and deal-maker. He is a supreme prag­ma­tist. His great skill is in close re­la­tions. In an in­ter­view with The Aus­tralian in March, he em­braced the sug­ges­tion that he is a trans­ac­tional leader. He says this ap­proach to lead­er­ship will pay a div­i­dend on elec­tion day.

Shorten united the war­ring tribes of the AWU. He ne­go­ti­ated the Na­tional Dis­abil­ity In­sur­ance Scheme. He brought La­bor to­gether af­ter a shat­ter­ing de­feat six years ago, kept its trust and re­freshed the party’s pol­icy agenda. His tools, as al­ways, are ne­go­ti­a­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion and what he calls find­ing “mu­tual value” and then cre­at­ing “ad­di­tional value” by work­ing to­gether.

He says his ap­proach to lead­er­ship suits the times. “I be­lieve I’m the best per­son at this elec­tion to be­come prime min­is­ter. I be­lieve that be­cause of my united team. I be­lieve that be­cause of our poli­cies. I be­lieve that be­cause of the skills and pas­sions that I bring to the job.”

Shorten is look­ing for­ward to his last early morn­ing run as Op­po­si­tion Leader on Satur­day. It will be the end of a long road what­ever the out­come of the elec­tion. His race will be run. If La­bor loses, his­tory’s judg­ment will be bru­tal. If La­bor wins, he’ll be vin­di­cated. What will he be think­ing about?

“I feel in­cred­i­bly lucky, priv­i­leged and hon­oured that Betty Shorten’s grand­son gets the chance to run. I don’t want to let peo­ple down. That’s what will be go­ing through my head.

“I want to do ev­ery­thing I can to ful­fil the trust, faith and hope that mil­lions of Aus­tralians have and want from a La­bor vic­tory.”

‘I have an in­ner con­fi­dence and a de­gree of re­silience. I’m good at putting things to­gether. Some peo­ple are good at wreck­ing, I’m good at unit­ing’ BILL SHORTEN

KYM SMITH

Bill and Chloe Shorten share a mo­ment at Crown casino in Perth yes­ter­day

KYM SMITH

Shorten on his morn­ing jog in Mel­bourne’s As­cot Vale. He says he has been run­ning all his life

LIAM KIDSTON

Chloe Shorten and her chil­dren ad­vise the La­bor leader to avoid dab­bing or park­ing the ‘Bill Bus’ close to home

TWIT­TER

Shorten and twin brother Robert with their mother, Ann

Shorten in the Xavier Col­lege se­nior soccer side in 1979. He grew up in a home in which pol­i­tics was of­ten dis­cussed

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