Shorten won the praise of many LGBTI people around the country when, during a media conference in Canberra, he dropped an unplanned but epic burn on conservative Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi that was felt well beyond the walls of Parliament House.
Earlier this year, conservative elements of the Liberal Party were in the midst of a concerted attack on the Safe Schools Coalition program led by Bernardi, which forced Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to call for a review.
Shorten was addressing the Safe Schools review, labelling it a “ridiculous obsession by the right wing of the Liberal Party”, when Bernardi walked past him and called out: “At least I’m honest, Bill, and you’re a fraud”.
Shorten replied: “Yeah, well, nah mate, at least I’m not a homophobe, either mate. So let’s just do the right thing here.”
Social media was quick to fill with GIFS of mic drops, as people around Australia celebrated the unprecedented smackdown.
A year ago, Shorten was being described as the ‘Steven Bradbury of Australian politics’; if he just stayed on his feet as Labor leader long enough, he might actually win the election.
But Shorten has done more than stay on his feet. He’s surprised commentators with how far he has come, and at the time of writing, is neck and neck with Turnbull in the polls.
Journalist David Marr credits Shorten’s long-standing support of marriage equality as one of the keys to his new popularity.
“There is something again, completely new for Labor under Bill Shorten and that’s the backing of equal marriage,” he told Guardian Australia.
“Gillard couldn’t do it. Gillard was beholden to one of the biggest of the trade unions… and Shorten has stared them down, Shorten is having none of that.
“The party’s attitudes on social questions like equal marriage is completely new, that’s modern and that’s Shorten that has been able to do that.”
Speaking with the Star Observer, Shorten said he believes everyone has “the right to live their life free from discrimination” and promises to make some changes should he get the keys to The Lodge.
“I will appoint a full-time LGBTI Discrimina- tion Commissioner to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC),” he declared.
“Labor’s LGBTI Discrimination Commis- sioner will be a new champion for the rights of LGBTI Australians, and help build a more inclusive Australia. And within 100 days of a Labor Government being elected we will make marriage equality a reality.”
Shorten can’t resist bringing up Bernardi one more time, while also managing to have a dig at Turnbull.
“I’m extremely disappointed in Mr Turnbull and how he’s let the LGBTI community down,” he said. “He used to be the champion of marriage equality, now he’s headlining fundraisers for Cory Bernardi.
“He’s sold LGBTI Australians out. He’s no better than the right wing of his Liberal Party.”
Marriage equality advocates have applauded Shorten’s commitment to the cause.
“In my view, he has done an amazing job in bringing people along with him on marriage equality,” Australian Marriage Equality chair, Alex Greenwich said.
“More than any other Labor leader in the past, he has paved the way for his party to fully embrace marriage equality and publicly recognise that it’s a simple issue of a fair go for every Australian.”