William Richard Shorten (born 12 May 1967) is an Australian politician who served as Leader of the Opposition and leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) from 2013 to 2019. Shorten was first elected as the member of parliament (MP) for Maribyrnong in 2007, and was a cabinet minister in the Gillard and Rudd Governments from 2010 to 2013.
Born in Melbourne, Shorten studied law at Monash University. He worked in politics and in law before becoming an organiser with the Australian Workers' Union (AWU) in 1994. He was elected State Secretary of the Victorian Branch of the AWU in 1998 before becoming AWU National Secretary in 2001. In this role, Shorten played a prominent role as a negotiator following the Beaconsfield Mine collapse in 2006, which first brought him to national prominence.
Shorten was elected to the House of Representatives in 2007 for the Division of Maribyrnong and was immediately appointed a parliamentary secretary. Following the 2010 election, he was promoted to the Cabinet, serving first as Assistant Treasurer, then as Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Workplace Relations in the Gillard Government. In 2013, he was briefly Minister for Education until the defeat of the Rudd Government that year.
Shorten stood in the subsequent leadership election against Anthony Albanese, the first such election that allowed a vote of party members as well as Members of Parliament, and was declared the winner on 13 October 2013. Shorten led Labor to gain 14 seats at the 2016 federal election, when the Coalition retained its majority by one seat. Shorten announced his pending resignation after Labor's defeat in the 2019 federal election, remaining leader of the Labor Party until a new leader was elected in a leadership ballot in which Anthony Albanese was elected unopposed.
Birth and family background
Shorten was born on 12 May 1967 at St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, the son of Ann Rosemary (née McGrath) and William Robert Shorten. He has a twin brother, Robert. According to a statement given during the 2017–18 dual citizenship scandal, Shorten held British citizenship by descent until 2006, when he renounced it in order to run for parliament.
Shorten's mother was a university academic and lawyer who completed a doctorate at Monash University and ended her career there as a senior lecturer in education. She completed a law degree later in life and practised as a barrister for six years. She was originally from Ballarat, descended from "a long line of Irish Australians" who arrived during the Victorian gold rush. Shorten's father was a marine engineer born in Tyneside, England. After settling in Australia he worked as a manager at the Duke and Orr Dry Docks on Melbourne's Yarra River, where he was frequently in contact with union leaders. Shorten's parents divorced in 1988 and his father remarried a few years later. He subsequently became estranged from his father, who died in 2000.
Shorten grew up in Melbourne's south-east, living in Murrumbeena or Hughesdale.[note 1] He attended St Mary's Catholic Primary School in Malvern East. He and his brother were offered scholarships to De La Salle College, but their mother instead chose to send them to Xavier College, Kew. They began attending Kostka Hall, the college's junior campus, in 1977. Shorten was chosen for the state debating team in 1984, his final year at the school. He excelled at fencing and was the state under-15 champion in the sabre division.
In 1985, Shorten began studying at Monash University, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1989 and a Bachelor of Laws in 1992. He was active in student politics, both in the university's ALP Club and in Young Labor. He helped establish Network, a Labor Right-aligned faction of Young Labor; in 1986 it "took control of Young Labor from the Left for the first time". Shorten briefly worked in a butcher's shop during his first years at university, and was also a member of the Australian Army Reserve from 1985 to 1986, holding the rank of private. He volunteered in Senator Gareth Evans' office, and then after the 1988 Victorian state election was employed as a youth affairs adviser to Neil Pope, a Victorian government minister. He took a gap year in 1990, travelling overseas for the first time and backpacking through Central Europe. He was subsequently involved in Network's abortive attempt to take over the state branch of the Australian Theatrical and Amusement Employees' Association.
After graduating, Shorten worked for twenty months as a lawyer for Maurice Blackburn Cashman. In 1994, he began his union career as a trainee organiser under the ACTU's Organising Works program at the Australian Workers' Union (AWU), before being elected Victorian state secretary in 1998. His time as secretary was marked by a reform of the union's structures.
Shorten was elected as the AWU's national secretary in 2001 and was re-elected in 2005. He resigned as Victorian state secretary of the AWU in August 2007. He was an active member of the Labor Party and was a member of the party's national executive until 2011, as well as the administrative committee of the Victorian branch. He was also director of the Superannuation Trust of Australia (now Australian Super) and the Victorian Funds Management Corporation. From December 2005 until May 2008 he was the Victorian state president of the Labor Party. He was also a member of the Australian Council of Trade Unions executive. Until early 2006, he was a board member of GetUp.org.au.
During his time as AWU national secretary, Shorten was the interim chief executive of the Australian Netball Players Association (ANPA), following an alliance between the AWU and ANPA in 2005. Shorten also served on the advisory board of the Australian Cricketers' Association.
Entry into politics
Prior to the 1996 federal election, aged 28, Shorten contested Labor preselection for the Division of Maribyrnong. He was defeated by Bob Sercombe, who went on to retain the seat for Labor at the election. In February 1998, Shorten won preselection for the safe Labor seat of Melton at the 1999 state election. He was not a resident of the electorate, located on the rural–urban fringe to Melbourne's north-west. He subsequently resigned as a candidate in order to become state secretary of the AWU.
In 2005, Shorten announced that he would again seek preselection for the Division of Maribyrnong, challenging Bob Sercombe (the sitting member and a member of the Beazley shadow ministry). Justifying his challenge to an incumbent Labor MP, Shorten said, "...we haven't won a federal election since 1993. When your footy team loses four consecutive grand finals, you renew the team."
On 28 February, Sercombe announced that he was withdrawing his candidacy for re-selection, a few days before the vote of local members in which Shorten was expected to poll very strongly. As a result, Shorten was selected unopposed to contest the seat. During the Beaconsfield Mine collapse, Shorten, as National Secretary of the AWU, played a role as a negotiator and commentator on developments in the immediate aftermath and the ensuing rescue operations. The mine rescue operations drew mass national media coverage, and raised Shorten's political profile ahead of the 2007 election.
At the 2007 federal election, Shorten was elected to the House of Representatives as the Labor MP for Maribyrnong. It was speculated that with his high public profile and general popularity within the Labor Party, he might immediately be given a front-bench portfolio; however, when asked about the possibility, new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said that he believed parliamentary experience was essential when designating front-bench portfolios. On 29 November, Rudd announced that Shorten would become Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services. As Parliamentary Secretary, Shorten pushed hard for the National Disability Insurance Scheme, something which was later to become a key policy of the Labor Government.
Shorten would later become one of the main factional leaders involved in the replacement of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labor Party with Julia Gillard in the 2010 leadership challenge.
Following the 2010 federal election, there was speculation that Shorten might seek to oust Prime Minister Julia Gillard from her position within the year; former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke and former Labor Opposition Leader Kim Beazley had both previously endorsed Shorten as a potential future Labor Leader. Shorten denied this speculation, and was promoted to the Cabinet as Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation. In 2011, he was also given the position of Minister for Workplace Relations.
Following a period of persistent leadership tensions, Shorten announced immediately before a June 2013 leadership ballot took place that he would back Rudd against Gillard, and would resign from the Cabinet should she win. Rudd subsequently won the ballot and became Prime Minister for a second time, appointing Shorten as Minister for Education, with particular responsibility for implementing the Gonski school funding reforms.
Leader of the Opposition
Election as leader
Following the defeat of the Labor government at the 2013 federal election, Kevin Rudd announced that he would stand down as Leader of the Labor Party. Shorten subsequently announced his candidacy to be his successor, in a contest with Anthony Albanese that would be the first time party members would be eligible to vote. Shorten subsequently gained 63.9% of the party caucus vote and 40.8% of the rank-and-file members' vote, which when weighted equally gave Shorten a 52.02% victory over Albanese.
First term as leader
His first speech acknowledged the role of women in his election success. He distanced himself from Tony Abbott's social conservatism, saying "I reject the assumption that merit is more located in the brains of men than women" and highlighting the proportion of women in Labor's leadership, with Tanya Plibersek as Deputy Leader and Penny Wong as Senate Opposition Leader.
Shorten had been consistently polling better than Abbott and Labor better than the Abbott Coalition Government from the July 2014 Australian federal budget until the September 2015 Liberal leadership ballot when Malcolm Turnbull succeeded Abbott as Prime Minister. Turnbull's honeymoon polling soared above Shorten with the Turnbull Coalition Government taking the lead over Labor. Brendan Nelson holds the record for lowest Newspoll "Better Prime Minister" rating of 7% (29 February-2 March 2008). Three leaders including Shorten hold the combined second-lowest rating of 14% – Simon Crean (28–30 November 2003), Malcolm Turnbull (27–29 November 2009) and Shorten (4–6 December 2015). The December 2015 Newspoll saw a continued 53-47 two-party vote to the government, however Turnbull's personal ratings were significantly lessened, with personal approval down eight to 52% and personal disapproval up eight to 30%. Some media outlets opined Turnbull's honeymoon to be over.
In early 2015, leading up to Australia Day, Shorten called for a new push for Australia to become a republic. Former ARM chair Malcolm Turnbull said upon his appointment as Prime Minister in September of the same year he would not pursue "his dream" of Australia becoming a republic until after the end of the Queen's reign, instead focusing his efforts toward the economy. In July 2017, Shorten revealed that should the Labor Party be elected to government at the 2019 federal election, they would legislate for a compulsory plebiscite on the issue. Should that plebiscite be supported by a majority of Australians, a referendum would be held, asking the public for their support for a specific model of government.
In 2015, Shorten said that the voting age should be lowered to 16. In February 2016, Shorten called Cory Bernardi a "homophobe". In March 2016, Shorten committed that the party would oppose any effort to extend discrimination law exemptions to allow people who object to same-sex marriage to deny goods and services to same-sex couples.
2016 federal election
In 2016, Shorten led Labor to gain 14 seats at the federal election when Malcolm Turnbull and the Liberal-National Coalition retained majority government by a single seat. The result was the closest since the 1961 federal election.
2019 federal election
Shorten led Labor into the Australian federal election in 2019. Labor had led most polls for the better part of two years, particularly after a series of leadership spills knocked the Coalition down to a predicted minority government.
However, a number of factors, including third-party preferences in Queensland, allowed the Coalition–now led by Scott Morrison–to hang onto power. With projections showing the Coalition likely on the way to at least a minority government Shorten conceded defeat on election night and subsequently announced he would step down as the leader of the Labor Party. After the final ballot count, it emerged the Coalition had managed to regain its majority.
Resignation as Labor Party leader and Opposition Leader
Shorten announced his resignation as Leader of the Labor Party on 18 May 2019, following Labor's unexpected defeat in the 2019 election. The day after, Anthony Albanese announced his candidacy in the subsequent leadership election. On 21 May, Chris Bowen announced he would also contest the ballot; however, the next day, he announced his withdrawal, citing his lack of support among the party membership. With no other candidate stepping forward, Albanese took the leadership unopposed on 30 May, with Richard Marles as his deputy.
In March 2000, Shorten married Debbie Beale, daughter of businessman and former Liberal MP Julian Beale. They divorced in 2008. In 2009, Shorten married Chloe Bryce, daughter of then Governor-General Quentin Bryce.
The Shortens live in Moonee Ponds, Victoria with their daughter, as well as Chloe Shorten's other two children from her previous marriage to Brisbane architect Roger Parkin, who shares their parental responsibility.
In 2013, after being elected as leader of the Australian Labor Party, Shorten publicly identified himself as the senior ALP figure at the centre of an allegation of rape said to have occurred in 1986. Shorten strongly denied the allegations. After Victoria Police investigated, the Office of Public Prosecutions advised there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction and no charges were laid.
Shorten was raised Catholic, but converted to Anglicanism before his second marriage – as well as it being his wife's religion, he "had come to disagree with the [Catholic] Church on a number of issues".
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He met Deborah Beale in his MBA class at Melbourne University. ... A few weeks before their wedding in March 2000, she persuaded Shorten to reconcile with ...
- James Kirby; Rod Myer (19 January 2011). Richard Pratt: One Out of the Box: The Secrets of an Australian Billionaire. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 135–. ISBN 978-0-7303-7612-5.
One such friendship was with Labor MP Bill Shorten, former AustralianWorkers Union chief and ... Even when Bill and Debbie divorced in 2008 and Shorten ...
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- Bill Shorten – Labor for Maribyrnong
- AWU: Bill Shorten
- Parliament of Australia – House of Representatives – The Hon Bill Shorten MP
- Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services
- Search or browse Hansard for Bill Shorten at OpenAustralia.org
- Appearances on C-SPAN
|Trade union offices|
| National Secretary of the Australian Workers' Union
|Parliament of Australia|
| Member of Parliament
| Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation
| Minister for Workplace Relations
| Minister for Education
| Leader of the Opposition
|Party political offices|
| Leader of the Labor Party