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Heat on as Kitching sets sights on Senate

Back in 2004, Kimberley Kitching was on the up: a Melbourne City councillor talked of as a future lord mayor or member of Parliament, a glorious three-story mansion in Parkville, a $92,000 Series 5 BMW.

Back in 2004, Kimberley Kitching was on the up: a Melbourne City councillor talked of as a future lord mayor or member of Parliament, a glorious three-story mansion in Parkville, a $92,000 Series 5 BMW.

Then the fall of her partner, fellow Labor Party apparatchik Andrew Landeryou, dragged her down with him.

Today, the car is long gone. The mansion was sold to settle a $3 million debt to billionaire Solomon Lew after their joint venture went sour (Lew had invested in Kitching and her husband's online gaming venture).

But the seat in Parliament? That remains well and truly in her sights.

This week Kitching, 43, was one of six candidates vying for former prime minister Julia Gillard's safe seat of Lalor. On Friday night, after officially nominating for Lalor, Kitching effectively withdrew by tweeting support for the Gillard candidate, local Joanne Ryan. Kitching is now believed to be aiming for the Senate spot vacated by right-wing powerbroker David Feeney.

This week, some of Kitching's backers came out publicly in her support. They included Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby, who on Wednesday released a statement describing her as "the most intellectually impressive woman active on the moderate side of Labor politics".

Danby said Kitching was "of equal stature" to Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, QC, MP Richard Marles, Senator David Feeney and Workplace Relations and Education Minister Bill Shorten.

Shorten, too, is close to Kitching and, while publicly he has sat on the fence about her candidature, he has been working the phones to gather support for her this week for a seat in Parliament.

Landeryou, who disappeared overseas for five months just before he was to give evidence into the failed Melbourne University Student Union and was arrested on his return in April 2005, was also making calls this week to garner support for his wife.

Kitching and Landeryou are considered by most in Labor as a formidable "power couple".

"They operate as a team," said one Labor figure, who is aligned against Kitching and who, like others, would only speak on background.

And their partnership has been resilient enough to survive the financial turmoil and legal fights resulting from the probe into Landeryou's business deals that preceded the multimillion-dollar collapse of Melbourne University's student union in 2003, and later with Lew.

The couple's battle with Lew in 2005 caused Kitching to file for bankruptcy, which she later had annulled.

The pair are feared in political circles, largely because of a toxic blog Landeryou ran until recently, which often served as a well-read "dirt sheet" in the best of Labor traditions, designed to smear enemies. The blog has been unrelentingly critical of The Age.

Kitching is now the general manager of Victoria's Health Services Union Number One branch, a position she took following a campaign for control of the union last year run, in part, by Landeryou.

Already this year, she has run for the plum seat of Gellibrand, being vacated by Nicola Roxon, but lost.

Arrayed against her in the next bid for a Senate seat is a coalition of Labor Party factional organisers and MPs, including Marles and Feeney, who do not share the enthusiasm of Kitching supporters.

Some of them have recently begun bandying around a new acronym, A.B.K.: Anyone But Kimberley for the seat of Lalor.

Much of the loathing around Kitching results from Landeryou's political blog - something both they and Shorten say is unfair; why should a wife be responsible for her partner's actions? they ask.

One Labor figure, though, asked what Kitching had done to distance herself from her husband's blog - which has over the years included highly personal attacks on youth worker Les Twentyman, Lew, and journalists critical of the couple's factional allies.

More powerfully, Vexnews has mined the underbelly of the Labor Party, targeting those whose interests do not coalesce with Landeryou and Kitching's circle of supporters. Most recently, it targeted Feeney during the campaign for control of the Health Services Union last year.

ABC radio morning presenter Jon Faine this week, while interviewing Shorten, observed that Landeryou's blog was "full of disreputable, defamatory and disgraceful material about politics in Victoria and nationally".

Landeryou - the son of heavyweight Cain government minister Bill Landeryou - last week made what he said was the final update on his blog. In part he said it was because, during Kitching's failed bid for the seat of Gellibrand in April, some in the party said they would not vote for her because of him.

"It horrified me that there were people - including some who loudly profess feminism and gender equality in public forums - who wouldn't vote for my wife, Kimberley, in a recent preselection because they assumed my views were hers," he wrote.

Former Cain and Kirner government minister Kay Setches is one of Kitching's vocal supporters, telling Fairfax Media last week that she was a feminist who would make an extremely good candidate for Lalor, and had been decisive in getting some strong women's programs approved for funding.

Among those in Labor trying to stop Kitching from finding a seat, none would talk publicly about her suitability for public office.

One of the public figures repeatedly targeted by Vexnews who were prepared to comment on Kitching's quest for a seat in Parliament was Melbourne City councillor Stephen Mayne.

He said Kitching had co-ordinated a "disgracefully negative campaign" on behalf of lord mayoral candidate Peter McMullin in 2008. And he said that quality Labor women were reluctant to nominate in Lalor "because they fear the smear that always tends to follow the Landeryou-Kitching duo around".

Kitching initially demanded a right of reply to any and all issues raised in this story, but when contacted repeatedly on Friday to discuss her candidacy for Lalor would not be interviewed.

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