Are you sure you want to live like common people? The thing about starting a sentence emphasising how in touch one is with the average person is that one needs to make sure that what follows doesn’t contradict the idea of being in touch with the people. “See, Labor is not out of touch with how people make their money,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said at a press conference yesterday defending penalty rates on public holidays.

“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,” he said, which is where keeping in touch with the average Joe came unstuck. Private schools in cities like Sydney and Melbourne regularly attract fees above the $20,000 mark — Shorten’s alma mater, Xavier College in Melbourne, charges $24,350 a year for seniors and $16,450 a year for kindergarten. That doesn’t leave much change from $40,000, $50,000, or $60,000 a year — and that’s if you’ve got just one child to educate.

Shorten defended himself this morning on Twitter, saying that he supports public schools, and saying that he was referring to “small Catholic and Christian schools that charge low fees”.

This didn’t impress advocates for public schools or penalty rates, with the Greens’ Adam Bandt saying: “If we start linking weekend rates to private schools, then we’ve lost the argument.” Indeed.

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Peter Fray

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