Three Labor senators have denied bullying allegations levelled against them after last week’s sudden death of Senator Kimberley Kitching.
Reports have emerged this about the stress the late senator was under within her own party following her death, aged just 52, last Friday from a suspected heart attack.
Fellow ALP senators Kristina Keneally, Penny Wong and Katy Gallagher have all been named in media reports as having ostracised her, with Senator Kitching reportedly describing them as “mean girls”.
Labor frontbenchers and the three senators have refused to comment on the allegations this week, saying commentary would detract from the focus on Senator Kitching’s life and achievements.
But in a joint statement released on Friday, the three said it was necessary to respond given the “hurtful statements” continued.
“Out of respect for [her family] and for Senator Kitching, we have not responded to allegations that have been made, despite them not being true,” the statement said.
“This has been hard, but we believed it to be the right thing to do to maintain some dignity for all concerned.
“[But] given the hurtful statements that continue to be made, we feel it necessary to respond.
“The allegations of bullying are untrue. Other assertions which have been made are similarly inaccurate.”
Senator Wong also revealed she had apologised to Senator Kitching for a hurtful gibe during a meeting in 2019. The allegation was reported by the ABC at the time, and not denied by Senator Wong.
‘If you had children, you might understand why there is a climate emergency,” she reportedly told Senator Kitching.
On Friday, Senator Wong said she “deeply regrets” the comment and that she had apologised to Senator Kitching when the remarks were first reported.
“Senator Wong understood that apology was accepted,” the statement read.
“The comments that have been reported do not reflect Senator Wong’s views, as those who know her would understand, and she deeply regrets pain these reports have caused.”
Senators Keneally, Wong and Gallagher said they would all attend Senator Kitching’s funeral in Melbourne on Monday, after having spoken to her family.
“We will do so to recognise and respect her contribution to public life,” they said.
“People are grieving and hurting. Our priority at this time has been Senator Kitching’s husband, Andrew, her family and her loved ones. Their grief is profound, their loss immeasurable.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison seized on the statement and asked why the Labor leader wouldn’t answer questions on the allegations.
“Where is Anthony Albanese … on this issue?” Mr Morrison said on Friday.
“There are many questions that have been put here. He’s got some uncomfortable questions that he needs to answer in relation to the conduct of his own party, but that’s for him to address.”
On Adelaide radio station 5AA earlier in the day, Mr Albanese said it was unfortunate that Senator Kitching’s death had been politicised.
“The people who’ve been targeted here – Penny Wong, Kristina Keneally and Katy Gallagher – are people I’m very proud to have as part of my team,” he said.
“That’s not to say that we can’t always look to do better. Politics is a really tough business.”
The government will be represented at Senator Kitching’s funeral by Senate leader Simon Birmingham. Mr Morrison will not attend, as he will be in Brisbane for government announcements.
Friday’s statement also came after a former Labor MP criticised leader Anthony Albanese for failing to address bullying accusations in the party while he “traverses the countryside electioneering”.
Emma Husar, who has been a vocal critic of ALP culture, levelled her own accusation of bullying against Senator Keneally and claimed a lack of support from MP Anne Aly.
“I have certainly been on the receiving end of Kristina Keneally’s treatment and I’ve been on the receiving end of quite a number of other senior women within the Labor Party who behave in such a way,” she told Nine on Friday.
Ms Husar said Dr Aly treated her like she was in high school after delivering a speech in parliament in December 2018.
Ms Husar, who left federal parliament following allegations of bullying, denied she had an axe to grind against Labor.
“There was nothing substantiated. Not a single witness turned up to the BuzzFeed defamation case to support any of those allegations,” she said.
“What I want to see is that politics becomes a really safe place for women and currently party politics is not safe for women.”
An internal party review released in 2018 found merit in complaints that Ms Husar subjected staff to “unreasonable management” through communication, demands, practices and disciplinary methods.
But the investigation found allegations of sexual harassment and misleading parliament were not supported and there was no basis for Ms Husar to resign in 2019.
“There is definitely a culture of bullying within the Labor Party,” she said.