Senate debates

Monday, 28 March 2022


Kitching, Senator Kimberley Jane Elizabeth

2:08 pm

Photo of Tony SheldonTony Sheldon (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I want to begin by expressing my condolences to Kimberley's husband, Andrew. What a lucky man, to be married to a person such as Kimberley. And, after hearing that loving eulogy just so recently: what a lucky woman she was to have you, Andrew. I'd also like to send my condolences to her parents, Bill and Leigh; her brother, Ben; and all of her very loyal staff and friends.

I want to echo the kind and true words that have been spoken by others about Kimberley. Kimberley will be greatly missed by everyone who had the good fortune to work with her. As everyone speaking to this motion will attest, her sudden passing at the young age of 52 was a shock to us all. There are very few people in the Senate, or in the House, who possess her energy and drive to make a difference on the issues she held so dear.

When I first came to the Senate, in 2019, I discovered that there was a steep learning curve around Senate procedures and committee processes. It can be a little bit of a lonely place. My first committee assignment was to join the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee. Kimberley was, of course, the chair of the references committee. Kimberley and her very able team—Jordan and Maree—went above and beyond in helping me and my staff get up to speed on how things work. That's not a common thing in this place; people sometimes hold a lot of knowledge to themselves. But Kimberley was always very open, which I always very much appreciated. The thought that she will not be joining us at Senate estimates later this week is hard to get my head around. It may not be until I'm sitting in Foreign Affairs and Trade estimates on Friday afternoon and she isn't sitting there next to me, Senator Wong and Senator Ayres that it truly sinks in. And I'm sure a few ministers and senior bureaucrats are quietly relieved that they'll be spared her forensic questioning.

When I was in hearings with Kimberley, I was glad to be on the same side as her. Kimberley held strong beliefs, like many of us in this place, and she went in to bat for those strong beliefs at every opportunity. Most notably, Kimberley was a fierce advocate for human rights and for freedom from authoritarianism and oppression. Her methods were not always conventional, but it's hard to argue with her effectiveness. A powerful symbol of that is the Magnitsky law which was passed through parliament late last year—in large part, due to her relentless campaigning. Thanks to Kimberley's tireless efforts, the Australian government can now target individuals with sanctions where they are responsible for, or complicit in, human rights violations or corruption. Speaking on the Magnitsky bill in this place in December, Kimberley said:

A strong and clear message will be sent to lower-ranking officials and criminal thugs that their crimes, whether on behalf of or protected by their superiors, will not be immune from international consequences. This legislation says to them: 'Your stolen money is no good here. No matter how you steal from your people, there will be no shopping trips to Paris, no harbourfront mansions in Sydney, no skiing in Aspen and no nest egg in a Western bank.' Like King Midas, they will have lots of gold but no way to enjoy it.

At the time that law was passed, we could not have known how urgently it would be required—to sanction Russian oligarchs who continue to prop up a corrupt and murderous regime that is now committing war crimes in Ukraine. Thanks to Kimberley's campaigning for the passage of the Magnitsky bill, Australia is able to pull its weight in international efforts to sanction those profiteering from human misery. For her efforts, she deservingly received the Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Award in London last year. And Anthony Albanese has proposed that a Kimberley Kitching human rights award be awarded at a future ALP conference. I can't think of a more fitting way to immortalise her lifelong contribution to human rights and the Labor Party than a human rights award in her name.

Of course, there was another human right that Kimberley dedicated much of her life to defending: the right of association, the right of collective struggle, the right of trade unions to go about their work without fear, intimidation or harassment. There's been much written and said about Kimberley's legacy in the weeks since her tragic passing; but, in my view, Kimberley was truly a fierce advocate for the rights of workers and trade unions. She was a fierce opponent of those who sought to attack and undermine the ability of unions to do their essential work. I will remember Kimberley first and foremost as a trade unionist, as an official of the Health Services Union Victoria No. 1 Branch.

One of the many things Kimberley and I had in common was that we were both among the hundreds of unionists hauled before the now completely discredited trade union royal commission. I think the experience of feeling the full force of a politicised royal commission reinforced Kimberley's commitment to fighting for working Australians. The fact that both she and I were Senate colleagues a few years later, while Commissioner Heydon has been consigned to a legacy of shame and scorn, sums up that sorry saga well. To quote from Kimberley's first speech:

While … Turnbull now finds himself pretending that the Heydon royal commission was a credible process just to score some cheap political points, on this side of the chamber we know the truth about the Australian union movement. We know the truth, because we have lived it. We have been there and seen it for ourselves.

Those truths are spoken by someone who persevered through the shame and toll of a politicised and weaponised royal commission. Those who established that discredited inquiry have never apologised.

Senator Kitching took that experience with her to this place when, in 2016, she strongly opposed the creation of another politicised and discredited entity, the Australian Building and Construction Commission. I could read from her fantastic speech on that piece of legislation all day. Reading the Hansard, you can tell she was striking some nerves that afternoon from the constant objections by members of the government, but she was unflappable. It's truly a shame that Kimberley will not be here to speak, vote and rejoice on the future dissolution of the politicised ABCC, but I'll be thinking of Kimberley when that day comes.

Kimberley truly had a way with words, as many of us have said through this day. I'd like to quote from one other speech she delivered in this place. It is her speech on the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment (Ensuring Integrity) Bill 2019, a bill that Kimberley, the rest of Labor and the crossbench were successful in defeating. Kimberley made a few choice remarks about yet another discredited entity, the Registered Organisations Commission, and the ROC's director, Chris Enright. She said:

… some people do not realise the lived experience of those in registered organisations in dealing with the Registered Organisations Commission. They lose documents. They are incompetent as well as malevolent … Mr Enright, in particular, favours some unions over others and plays politics with them in some sort of bizarre power exercise … Mr Enright is as corrupt—and I use that word again deliberately—a public official as I have ever encountered in all of my dealings with government. I'm not suggesting he takes bribes but I certainly suggest that he is drunk on power. He is an abuser of power. He is a thug in a suit.

Just in case there was anyone who had any remaining doubts about Kimberley's way with words, her ability to skewer her opponents or her inner fire and passion to fight for what she believed in, that should settle those doubts.

I'll say this about Kimberley. She dedicated much of her life, in this place, in the Health Services Union and elsewhere, to fighting for people's rights, whether it was the rights of people in Hong Kong and Xinjiang or the rights of people and trade unions in Australia. That was her lasting legacy, to me. To have made such a strong and lasting impression in a relatively short time in this place is a testament to her hard work and dedication. It is something for all who are fortunate enough to come to the Senate to aspire to. Thank you very much, Kimberley. You'll be missed.


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