Leader profile: Bill Shorten

Leader profile: Bill Shorten Source: AAP

SBS World News Radio: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's election as leader of the Labor Party in 2013 fulfilled a long-held ambition for the former union head; now his eyes are on an even bigger prize - becoming prime minister of Australia.

On July 2, Mr Shorten will battle it out at the polling booths with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to see who will lead the country for the next three years.

Bill Shorten has long been touted as a future leader by former Labor leaders such as Bob Hawke, Simon Crean and Kim Beazley.

When first elected opposition leader, he made it clear at a debate in Sydney he had a vision for the future as leader of the nation.

"I'd like to be known as the prime minister for the powerless, for the disempowered, for people who don't have a voice in our society. Through my work ... and I thought I'd seen second-class treatment when I was a union rep, but nothing prepared me for when I started work in disabilities about the second-class lives of people with disabilities and their carers' leave. And then through various highways and byways, I've become more aware of domestic violence and how 250,000 women will have been assaulted in the last 12 months by men."

After becoming involved in the Labor Party at university, Mr Shorten worked as a lawyer at the firm Maurice Blackburn Cashman after finishing his studies.

He joined the union movement in 1994 when he began work at the Australian Workers Union as an organiser.

Mr Shorten rose through the ranks to become national secretary of the union from 2001 to 2007.

His public profile was boosted during the 2006 Beaconsfield mine disaster, when two miners were trapped a kilometre underground for two weeks.

Bill Shorten, as secretary of the union, became the unofficial spokesman for the families and the community.

The following year, he entered federal parliament, winning the safe Labor seat of Maribyrnong, (MAIR-ih-bihr-nong) in outer Melbourne.

He says he entered parliament because he understands the pressure many ordinary Australians are under and what they need for a successful, happy life.

"I'm a person who stood up for the fair go my whole working life. I'm a person who has been in the workplaces of Australia, standing up for people, ensuring there are cooperative enterprises, making sure that people are well-paid and that companies are successful in their business. This is the way I look at Australia."

Mr Shorten's political life is steeped in the backroom of the Labor factions.

He has been instrumental in the removal of two sitting Australian prime ministers.

He was one of the main powerbrokers behind the ousting of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2010.

Three years later, he abandoned Prime Minister Julia Gillard to back Mr Rudd just before the 2013 election, explaining himself this way:

"I have carefully considered my position. I have now come to the view that Labor stands the best chance to defend the legacies of this term of government and to continue improving the lives of millions of Australians if Kevin Rudd is our leader."

Mr Shorten is a father of three and a stepfather.

In a radio interview, he said his roots in Australia go back a long way because his ancestors came to Australia as convicts.

"I need to make a declaration, and I'm a bit surprised the Liberals haven't put it in one of their attack ads, but one of my ancestors was -- wait for it -- a convict. Mind you, that was in the 1830s. Then another one, John O'Shea, jumped ship, so he was an illegal arrival. He went looking for gold. He didn't find any."

But as in all election campaigns, it appears the issue most critical to Australia's more than 12 million voters is the economy.

Both major parties have announced their intention to bring the budget back to the positive side of the ledger while expanding the economy.

The Opposition has unveiled more than 6 billion dollars in budget spending cuts.

It has also announced it would adopt some of the Coalition's proposed changes in higher-education funding and student-loan repayments if it wins power.

And it is those decisions that have caused some grief for the Opposition Leader.

The double-dissolution election was called because Labor promised never to accept many of those cuts.

The Independent senators, too, refused to support the measures, causing the Government to declare the parliament unworkable.

Bill Shorten says Labor has been forced to make difficult policy decisions, including changing its mind about the Coalition's cuts.

"For Australia to be able to afford the investments we need, and the priorities of working in middle-class Australians, we would need to take in the policies that we've outlined. And because it is most important that, over the next four and 10 years, we start the action to fundamentally reduce the level of government debt in this country, we will need to make difficult decisions as this election unfolds."

Many analysts believe Labor has little chance of picking up the 19 seats from the Coalition it needs to win on July the 2nd.

But the polls are tightening, and some believe there is a real possibility of Australia facing another hung parliament.*

However Labor, like the Coalition, has ruled out a power-sharing deal with the Greens or minor parties.

In such an eventuality, that could mean election-weary Australians facing another election almost as soon as the first one ends.

 

 

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