Three Labor senators have denied bullying allegations levelled against them after last week’s sudden death of Senator Kimberley Kitching.
Reports emerged 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.”
The statement 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.
“When I did face media scrutiny and a barrage of unfettered and untested allegations, I was completely ostracised by my party, by people who should have supported me.
“I can imagine those last few months for Kimberley would have been quite lonely.”
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.
“I don’t have an axe to grind. 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.