Two weeks ago, Victorian Labor senator Kimberley Kitching passed away suddenly, much to the shock of her family, her friends and Australian politics.
Since the news dropped, the country has been in a perpetual state of confusion, dismay and debate as we—with the input of countless media reports—attempt to process the shocking tragedy and commemorate the politician’s life.
However, the news about her death began to transform into something else entirely as allegations spread about the alleged unhealthy working environment that she was subjected to throughout her career.
Since then, accusations have been made against certain senators in power, turning the tragedy into a political circus, especially since a federal election is on the horizon. With an abundance of allegations doing the rounds on the internet, TV and the radio, many are looking to clear up the confusion.
Below, everything we know about Kimberley Kitching and the bullying allegations that the Labor party are currently facing.
What happened to Kimberley Kitching?
On March 10, 2022, Kitching suffered a sudden, suspected heart attack on the side of a suburban Melbourne road. She passed away at the age of 52, she left behind husband of 22 years, Andrew Landeryou.
A first-time Labor senator for Victoria, she was farewelled in an emotional ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne the following Monday.
During her funeral service, Landeryou shared touching words about his wife and their life together, reminiscing over their wedding day two decades prior in the same church.
“It feels like yesterday looking down on a grey Derby Day that I saw her walking in,” he told guests. “Her customary 45 minutes late, looking absolutely radiant, and as she did the sun streamed down directly on her as she stepped toward our married life.”
But with supporters of Kitching drawing links between her sudden death and the bullying and isolation she faced in politics, many were focused on Landeryou’s words on her work environment.
Using the term “cantankerous cabal” when talking about how his wife was treated at work, he also called out the “unpleasantness” she endured in the job, as per The Guardian.
“The simple truth of it is that Kimberley’s political and moral judgement was vastly superior to the small number who opposed her internally,” he said.
“And of course, there’s a lot I could say about the unpleasantness of a cantankerous cabal—not all of them in parliament—that was aimed at Kimba, and the intensity of it did baffle and hurt her.”
“But I hope it’s sufficient to say she deserved so very much better. The truth is the vast majority of the Labor family were welcoming and supportive and encouraging and admiring of Kimberley and they told her so often.”
And while he didn’t put any blame on “any one person, or any one meeting, or any campaign of unpleasantness” for her death, he did share that her closest staff were “angry about how she treated”.
“Her friends and ferociously loyal staff are angry about how she was treated, of course they are, and I have no quarrel with them about that. They know what they saw with their own eyes,” he said.
“If I am angry with anyone, I am angry with myself, I am angry I wasn’t driving her around that busy day as I often did, I am angry I didn’t meddle enough in her health, I’m angry I failed and failed again to persuade her to slow down, I’m angry I couldn’t and didn’t protect her from menace and I fear I attracted some.”
He also shared with the funeral’s guests that when Kitching passed away in her car, there was a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne that she had bought for a dinner party that night, and a pie from a bakery that Landeryou preferred.
“It’s a poignant reminder to me of her thoughtfulness, that even when she had a lot on her mind, other than call me, I think it was the last thing she did,” he said.
Bill Shorten, a close friend to Kitching, was apparently also at the scene and mourned the loss from the side of the road with Landeryou.
By the next morning, Shorten memorialised his friend by releasing a teary and emotional statement about the stress she endured.
“Preselection is never easy,” Shorten said, as per The Guardian.
“I’m not a coroner, I can’t tell you why this woman of 52 was taken from us. But I have no doubt that the stress of politics and the machinations in the back rooms had its toll.”
What Have Senators Kristina Keneally, Penny Wong and Katy Gallagher Been Accused Of?
As per the ABC, Kitching opened up about the alleged bullying while she was undergoing workplace education on November 5, 2021. An hour-long session on “safe and respectful workplace training” took place via Zoom, and was in response to Brittany Higgins‘ sexual assault allegations.
According to several of her colleagues, the former Victorian senator apparently asked the seminar’s trainer at the end of the session,“What are you going to do about the fact that I am being bullied?”
Those same sources also told ABC that the Victorian senator was being bullied, isolated and ostracised by the ALP’s circle of senators, which includes Kristina Keneally, Penny Wong and Katy Gallagher.
According to the news site, Kitching had previously called the trio “the mean girls”, a term which a colleague of the late senator said was accurate.
“There is a culture of exclusion and bullying in the party and this is from people who are holier than thou,” said the anonymous senator, as per the ABC.
“In my mind, ‘mean girls’ is a great description, because it’s like a year 9 clique.”
The Australian also reported that the 52-year-old senator endured a “pattern of hostility” that saw her “under strain for a long time”.
Additionally, a report by the ABC claimed that Senator Wong shared a “hurtful comment” towards the late Senator in an ALP tactics meeting back in 2019.
When members of the meeting debated over whether to support the Greens’ Senate motion in support of school children taking part in “civil disobedience” at climate protests, the news source claims that Kitching was unwavering on her stance to not support the motion because she believed it would be pointless “virtue signalling”.
In the report, it claims that Senator Wong told Kitching, “Well, if you had children, you might understand why there is a climate emergency.”
After Kitching’s death, the incident resurfaced on a public level with many calling out Senator Wong for being a contributor to the late senator’s bullying allegations.
Releasing a statement, Wong admitted that she “deeply regrets” what she said, and claimed that she had apologised to Kitching when the first reports of her remark surfaced.
“After these matters were publicly reported, more than two years ago, Senator Wong discussed the matter with Senator Kitching and apologised,” the statement read, adding, “Senator Wong understood the apology was accepted.”
“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.”
With the allegations against Keneally, Wong and Gallagher surfacing directly before Kitching’s funeral, there was public outcry to keep them from attending the ceremony.
In response, the three women shared a public statement calling the allegations that they fostered an uninhabitable working environment “untrue”.
“This has been a difficult time for the Labor family. Senator Kitching’s tragic death has been a shock to us all. People are grieving and hurting,” the lengthy statement read, as per Sky News.
“Out of respect for them [Kitching’s family], and for Senator Kitching, we have not responded to allegations that have been made, despite them not being true.”
“The allegations of bullying are untrue. Other assertions which have been made are simply inaccurate,” it said, adding that the “hurtful statements” that surfaced forced them to respond.
“All of us have spent many years in the service of the public. We do so because we want to make a contribution to the nation.”
However, their joint statement also claimed that the party saw “robust and difficult” interactions that needed to take place in parliament with other colleagues present.
“All of its participants at times act or speak in ways that can impact on others negatively. We have and do reflect on this, as individuals and as leaders.”
Kristina Keneally, Penny Wong and Katy Gallagher were all in attendance at Kitching’s funeral.
What Has Anthony Albanese Said About The Bullying Allegations?
Since the senator’s funeral and following Keneally, Wong and Gallagher’s joint statement, all eyes have been on what Labour party leader Anthony Albanese had to say on the matter. Specifically, many—significantly from the Liberal opposition—have held Albanese to the fire about how he plans to handle the situation with a federal election on the way.
Almost 10 days after her passing, the Opposition Leader claimed that the late senator never raised complaints of bullying to him.
“My office is open to every member of the Caucus [and] I had a number of one-on-one meetings with Kimberley since I’ve been leader,” he said, as per The Guardian.
And after acknowledging that politics is a competitive career path, he criticised Prime Minister Scott Morrison for attempting to turn the tragedy into political fodder.
“That is just a fact,” he said, adding, “The idea that we politicise the tragedy of someone’s death is, in my view, not constructive.”
“Were there some tensions within the Labor Party? Clearly, clearly, there were between individuals,” Albanese said.
“Are there ongoing tensions between individuals in the Labor Party from time to time? Yes, there are. What we need to do is to make sure we’re conscious of it.”
Despite facing pressure to request an inquiry into the late senator’s treatment in the workplace, Albanese stated that he has no plans to commit to an independent inquiry on the situation.
“Kimberley Kitching would want us to move on, to dedicate ourselves to a Labor victory at the election,” he told Nine’s The Today Show on March 23.
“In terms of going forward, we have an ongoing review of all of our internal processes.”