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Labor Senator Penny Wong says she “regrets” any pain that reports surrounding her interactions with late colleague Kimberly Kitching have caused but has rejected claims of bullying.

Senator Wong, along with fellow Labor Senators Kristina Keneally and Katy Gallagher, released a statement today following ongoing reports of a culture of bullying within the Labor Party.

Senator Kitching, who died from a suspected heart attack aged 52 last week, had reportedly told senior Labor figures she had been bullied, while ex-MP Emma Husar has said she suffered similar treatment.

Senator Penny Wong has criticised the government's handling of China.
Senator Penny Wong has denied claims of bullying. (Alex Ellinghausen/Sydney Morning Herald)

The trio of Senators said they had not responded so far to the accusations out of respect for Senator Kitching’s family.

“Given the hurtful statements that continue to be made we feel it necessary to respond,” the statement read.

“The allegations of bullying are untrue. Other assertions which have been made are similarly inaccurate.”

The three said politics could involve “robust” contests and “difficult” interactions.

“All of its participants at times act or speak in ways that can impact on others negatively,” the statement read.

“We have and do reflect on this, as individuals and as leaders.”

The statement said Senator Wong had apologised to Senator Kitching for her behaviour in an “exchange” more than two years ago and that Senator Wong “understood that 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,” the statement read.

“All three of us will be attending Senator Kitching’s funeral.

“This follows engagement with Senator Kitching’s family about our attendance.

“We will do so to recognise and respect her contribution to public life.”

Senior figures push back on reports

Labor deputy leader Richard Marles remained tight-lipped after being quizzed on live TV about whether Senator Kitching had come to him with a complaint about bullying within the party.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese had previously denied claims Senator Kitching was targeted by a “mean girls” culture within the party.

But former MP Ms Husar has accused Mr Albanese of “gaslighting”, News Corp has reported, and claimed she was a victim of the same culture in the party.

Senator Kimberley Kitching during a Senate estimates hearing at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday 23 October 2017. fedpol Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Former Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching claimed she had been bullied in the party. (Fairfax Media)

Ms Husar doubled down on her allegations on Today, accusing Labor of being focused on campaigning rather than “taking action” on claims of bullying within the party.

“I would suggest that the Labor Party are doing what they’ve always done, which is pretend nothing’s gone wrong and then next week it will be business as usual,” she said.

Ms Husar, who left Parliament in 2019 after a Labor investigation found she had behaved offensively toward her staff, said she had been unaware of Senator Kitching’s bullying claims, but that she had faced similar treatment from “quite a number” of senior women in the party.

“I am absolutely not at all shocked that in the wake of her death that these revelations are being levelled at the Labor Party and the women within it,” she said.

“There is definitely a culture of bullying within the Labor Party.”

Ms Husar claimed she had made multiple complaints to party officials and leaders, but no action had been taken.

Mr Marles this morning refused to comment on whether Senator Kitching had come to him with a bullying complaint.

“It is impossible to walk down this path now without finding yourself in a situation where we are doing something other than celebrating and dignifying Kimberley Kitching’s life,” he told Today.

He said he rejected allegations of bullying levelled against Labor figures such as Senators Wong and Keneally.

Former Labor MP Emma Husar says the Labor Party has a culture of bullying. (Today)

Mr Marles also said he was unable to discuss the “specifics” of Ms Husar’s allegations.

“Not for a moment do I think that we are perfect, I don’t, and I don’t think for a moment that issues around culture are limited to one side of politics, and I’ve made that really clear in a range of comments that have been made about this broad topic over the last year or more,” he said.

Wayne Swan, National President of the Labor Party, said Senator Kitching took her concerns to Mr Marles, but he was unaware if there had been an “official” complaint.

“I don’t believe we’ve got a systemic problem with bullying at all,” Mr Swan told Today.

“It is not surprising when you have principled, articulate and passionate people in your party, that from time to time they have differences of opinion. 

“We take the issue very seriously and if there are issues they should go through the party processes which are world-leading and comprehensive.”

Mr Swan said an investigation into the allegations had been launched.

Source: 9News

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