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This Politician Wants People To Have Penalty Rates To Afford A Catholic Education

He's not exactly nailing it.

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With a new prime minister blitzing him in the polls, opposition leader Bill Shorten is trying to get people jazzed about ~*penalty rates*~.

Tracey Nearmy / AAPIMAGE

Bill Shorten looks at 3D photography glasses during a visit to the Melbourne Accelerator Program on Tuesday.

On Monday's public holiday, he took the debate to a strange place, saying that people on incomes of $40k+ needed penalty rates so they could afford to send their children to private schools.

Shorten: For people on $40-$60,000, #penaltyrates are the difference whether they can afford to send their kids to a private school. #auspol

In recent days, the new Workplace Relations Minister, Michaelia Cash, and the Minister for Finance, Senator Cormann, key lieutenants of Malcolm Turnbull, have said they want to have a political argument, they want to have an election fought on penalty rates. I want to say today, we accept the challenge. See Labor is not out of touch with how people make their money. For people on $40,000 and $50,000 and $60,000 dollars a year, penalty rates are the difference as to whether or not they can afford to send their kids to a private school, whether or not they can afford to sustain the mortgage – they go towards the quality of life.

People noticed that it was a bit of an odd thing for a Labor leader to say, given that they're all about supporting public schools. They see it as a betrayal of traditional Labor values.

Is Bill Shorten trying to channel Hockey? So out of touch he thinks the penalty rates struggle is about private school? ALP needs better.

Today he defended his private school comments, saying that he was really talking about local Catholic schools.

Bill Shorten says his private school comment yesterday was referring to local Catholic schools.

"I was referring to the local Catholic schools, the primary schools in my electorate where a lot of the parents there, both of them are working, both of them need the penalty rates," he said.


So, why is Shorten talking like this? He might be trying to appeal to a group of voters who might be tempted to vote Liberal now that the Libs have a more moderate leader. There's another word for these people: Aspirationals.


"Aspirational voters" are generally categorised as people who work hard because they want to move from unskilled jobs and working class suburbs to middle class jobs and more affluent suburbs.

Part of that aspiration to move up in the world is being able to send their kids to non-government schools. Back in the 90s, they used to call them "Howard's Battlers".

It looks like Bill Shorten is appealing to these people to try and reframe the debate. He wants you to know that penalty rates aren't just for uni students working in cafes on the weekend.

Facebook: CamposCoffee

“There is a myth that somehow the only people who get penalty rates are people who serve coffee on a Sunday morning," he said.

"The truth is a lot of Australians depend upon penalty rates. They depend upon the penalty rates to be able to afford the things in life which give them a chance to have aspiration and hope.”

He also seems to be appealing to another extremely niche demographic:

Shorten on myth that “the only people who get penalty rates are 5th year dental students working at a JB Hi-Fi on a Sunday” oddly specific

In a radio interview on Tuesday, Malcolm Turnbull suggested it was inevitable that workers would lose their double-time penalty rates on Sundays, agreeing with 3AW host Neil Mitchell when he talked about Australia now being in a seven-day economy.

Those kind of comments are good for Labor, which wants to fight the government on penalty rates at the next election, due in 2016.

Shorten: Labor believes that people who get #penaltyrates are not people who are doing the wrong thing. #auspol

But with today's comments potentially alienating the working class Labor base, and with rhetoric like this, it might not be an easy fight.

Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Alex Lee at

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