Scott Morrison has branded Anthony Albanese ‘gutless’ for not ‘facing up’ to allegations of bullying within his own party.
The Labor leader has batted away calls for an inquiry into the alleged bullying of Senator Kimberley Kitching before her fatal heart attack at the age of 52.
The Prime Minister accused Mr Albanese, who hasn’t held a press conference since Saturday, of ‘hiding’ from media scrutiny.
‘At the first sign of hard questions – and we’re not even into the campaign yet – he has gone into complete hiding,’ he said in Cairns on Tuesday.
‘Frankly, I think that it is pretty gutless’.
Mr Morrison said he has ‘dealt with’ several issues in his own party including the alleged rape of former staffer Brittany Higgins, allegations of rape levelled at Christian Porter which the MP denied, and unproven accusations that Alan Tudge mistreated former staffer Rachelle Miller.
‘He can’t just dismiss away hard issues. That’s not what prime ministers can do,’ the PM said of Mr Albanese.
‘And this someone who wants to be prime minister. You face up to these things.’
Senator Kitching’s friends claim she was being bullied by senior Labor senators Kristina Keneally, Penny Wong and Katy Gallagher, which they deny.
The trio were dubbed ‘mean girls’ in reports on the bullying claims.
Anthony Albanese pictured at Senator Kitching’s funeral on Monday
Liberals are hopeful the scandal may derail Mr Albanese’s election bid, but Labor sources say it won’t make a big impact. The party has a huge 10-point lead in the polls.
The landslide South Australian election victory for Labor on Saturday also gives the party hope of a federal victory in May.
The Prime Minister claims SA Labor won by campaigning on local issues such as increasing ambulance wait times.
But federal Labor frontbencher Mark Butler said Mr Morrison was a big drag on the Liberal vote.
He said research showed that ‘one in two voters indicated they were less likely to vote Liberal once they learned that Steven Marshall was from the same party as Scott Morrison.’
Meanwhile, Mr Albanese has revealed he will write to the ALP National Executive to ask for the establishment of a Kimberley Kitching Human Rights Award in recognition of her parliamentary work.
‘This is a practical way to honour Kimberley Kitching’s legacy and commitment to international human rights,’ Mr Albanese told The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday.
Senator Kitching was a proud human rights activist who spoke five languages and was well-respected across the political divide.
She was an instrumental part of passing Australia’s Magnitsky Act which allows sanctions on individuals who violate human rights.
The award would be handed out at ALP National Conferences, which take place every three years, and will reportedly be the only award bestowed by the National Executive.
Pictured: The order of service for Senator Kimberley Kitching at her funeral on Monday
Mr Albanese stopped short of setting up an inquiry into the allegations but did reiterate Labor would review its complaints processes.
‘We will continue to examine all our internal processes and we will continue to listen to any constructive suggestions on how we can improve our processes,’ he told the Telegraph.
‘We have a constant review of our internal processes and are always looking to improve them.’
Senator Kitching’s coffin lay at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne on Monday draped in the Australian flag. It was the same location Ms Kitching had married her husband Andrew Landeryou two decades earlier.
A who’s who of politics – including Anthony Albanese, Peter Dutton, Barnaby Joyce, Daniel Andrews, and Tony Abbott – were in attendance at the funeral.
Mourners formed a guard of honour for the late Senator Kimberley Kitching on Monday
Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not attend as he was in Brisbane.
Senator Kitching had friends on all sides of politics when she died on March 10 of a suspected heart attack.
During his eulogy, Senator Kitchings’ shattered husband revealed: ‘Her friends and ferociously loyal staff are angry about how she was treated’.
He did not name Kristina Keneally, Penny Wong and Katy Gallagher – who have denied ostracising Senator Kitching – but referred to a ‘cantankerous cabal’ of her detractors.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews stood in the guard of honour for Kimberley Kitching following her funeral service
Kimberley Kitching’s pallbearers carried her Australian flag-covered casket down the steps of St Patrick Cathedral in Melbourne
‘Kimberley’s political and moral judgement was vastly superior to the small number who opposed her internally,’ he said.
‘And of course there is 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.
‘She deserved so very much much better.’
The 52-year-old had pulled her car over in suburban Melbourne when she began experiencing symptoms and called her husband.
During the call she fell silent and died before Mr Landeryou could reach her side.
Mr Landeryou couldn’t praise his late wife enough at her funeral and described her as ‘very clever, very, very pretty and well spoken’.
‘Kimberley’s beauty and grace and elegance mesmerised me,’ he said, recalling their first meeting.
Mr Landeryou said when he found Senator Kitching she was alongside two ‘poignant’ reminders of his wife’s kindness on the passenger seat of her car – a bottle of champagne for a later dinner party and a pie.
‘Despite a frantically busy and stressful day she had taken time of all things to buy me a pie from a bakery I like.
‘Other than call me I think it was the last thing she did,’ he said.
While holding back tears Mr Landeryou said his wife’s death was ‘absurd and unjust’ and that he would ‘I would gladly swap places with her’.
‘I’m not going to blame any one person or any one meeting,’ he said.
Senator Kitching’s husband, Andrew Landeryou (centre), was a pallbearer for his wife’s flag-covered coffin on Monday
Former Opposition leader Bill Shorten attended Senator Kitching’s funeral alongside wife Chloe and daughter Clementine
Accused bully Senate Penny Wong attended the funeral for Senator Kimberley Kitching on Monday
‘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.
‘I’m angry I failed to persuade her to slow down,’ he said.
Senator Kitching’s friends have accused Labor’s senate leadership team of ‘mean girls’ Wong, Keneally and Gallagher of mistreating Ms Kitching.
Mr Landeryou said at Senator Kitching’s funeral on Monday that ‘her friends and ferociously loyal staff are angry about how she was treated’
The claim the trio forced Senator Kitching to do late nights shifts and dumped her from the tactics committee.
Last week Senator Wong said she had apologised to Senator Kitching in 2019 for making a remark about Ms Kitching’s having no children saying: ‘If you had children you would understand’.
Prior to her death Senator Kitching was being treated for an improving thyroid condition that caused her to lose weight in recent years.
Senator Kitching was under additional stress as the preselection spot for a senate spot was up in the air and threatened to collapse her six-year career.
Kristina Keneally (centre left) attended Senator Kitching’s funeral on Monday after denying accusation she mistreated Ms Kitching
Mourners were greeted by sunshine on the day of her funeral as photographers and cameramen lined the church’s entrance.
Flowers continued to arrive even after the service had begun.
Just a day earlier Melbourne had hosted the funeral of late cricket star Shane Warne.
The 52-year-old died of a heart attack on March 4, just six days before Senator Kitching’s death.
The church was so full of those wishing to pay respect to Ms Kitching that several were forced to stand, a testament to the high regard in which the Senator was held.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said he had received ‘no complaints’ from Senator Kitching regarding bullies within the party.
‘I received no complaints (from Kimberley) at any time,’ he said.
A floral arrangement at Kimberley Kitching’s funeral on Monday displayed her nickname, Kimba
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott attended Kimberley Kitching’s funeral service on Monday
‘That is just a fact. That is not to say that, of course, from time to time in politics, it’s a competitive business [and] one where I think we could all be kinder to each other… within the Parliament, within our own parties, and across the aisle, and I would always urge people to do so.’
Mr Albanese has also rejected reports that Senator Kitching was ‘scared’ of the ALP leader.
‘That is just not true. Kimberley and I travelled together, have a look at the photos from the trip,’ he said.
In October 2019 Senator Wong had the comment ‘if you had children, you might understand’ while discussing climate change.
The ‘mean girl’ trio of Labor (left to right) Katy Gallagher, Kristina Keneally, and Penny Wong have been accused of mistreating Senator Kitching
Former Opposition leader Bill Shorten spoke at the funeral service for Senator Kimberley Kitching
Ms Kitching – who had been unable to conceive with Mr Landeryou – had argued the Labor party should not support children who ditch school to attend climate protests.
Senator Kitching said Senator Wong’s comment had hurt her because she wanted to have children but was not able to.
In a statement, Senators Keneally, Wong and Gallagher said ‘allegations of bullying are untrue’ but did admit ‘robust contests and interactions’ are frequent in politics.
‘After these matters were publicly reported more than two years ago, Senator Wong discussed the matter with Senator Kitching and apologised,’ the statement said.
‘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.’
Mr Albanese has refused to set up an inquiry into the bullying accusations and claimed the questions on the matter were disrespectful to Ms Kitching.
Scott Morrison has accused Mr Albanese of hiding as the scandal threatens to ruin his chances of becoming Prime Minister in May.
‘Where is Anthony Albanese? I mean, where is he on this issue,’ Mr Morrison said.
Senator Kitching – who was from the Labor Right faction – made a complaint to Deputy Leader Richard Marles in June and then to workplace safety consultants in November about being ‘frozen out’.
She said the left-dominated Senate leadership team had unfairly dumped her from tactics committee meetings.
Mr Marles reportedly said he would ‘sort it out’ but made no action.
When asked on Friday by the Today show whether he had let Senator Kitching down he said he was ‘not going to walk down that path’.
‘Right now we want to honour Kimberley Kitching, who she was, what she achieved, the warm and wonderful person that she was and that’s what I’m focused on,’ he said.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton said Ms Senator Kitching’s friends and family deserved answers on how their loved-one was treated in parliament during her final years.
‘There are many people, close friends of Kimberley’s within the Labor Party, making these allegations and if I was leader or deputy leader of the Labor Party I would want to know the answers,’ he said.
Bombshell text messages between Ms Kitching and a friend show the late Senator discussing Ms Wong the night before she lodged a bullying complaint.
‘Wong has been bad,’ the message obtained by The Australian reads.
‘She would love to never see me again.’
Ms Kitching had sent the late night message on November 4 last year.
Former Labor MP Emma Husar has also reported bullying within the party and claims it has put her under so much stress she developed a heart condition.
Ms Husar – who previously held the Western Sydney seat of Lindsay – said Labor had an ‘incredibly toxic’ work culture which she became a victim of.
Senator Kitching was a proud human rights activist and was an instrumental part of passing Australia’s Magnitsky Act