Senate debates

Monday, 28 March 2022


Kitching, Senator Kimberley Jane Elizabeth

10:02 am

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate expresses its sadness at the death, on 10 March 2022, of Senator Kimberley Jane Elizabeth Kitching, Senator for Victoria, places on record its gratitude for her service to the Parliament and the nation, and tenders its deep sympathy to her family in their bereavement.

Can I start by thanking the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Birmingham, for his cooperation and assistance in arranging to write to the President advising of our desire to recall the Senate ahead of its scheduled next day of meeting in order that a day could be devoted to condolences for Senator Kitching. I also thank the leaders of minor parties and Independent senators, who were consulted as part of this process, for their agreement to ensure this could occur with the full support of the chamber.

I move this motion on behalf of the Senate to express our condolences and our loss following the passing of our colleague Senator Kimberley Kitching at the age of 52. I start by expressing my personal condolences to Senator Kitching's husband, Andrew; to her parents, Professor and Mrs Kitching; and to her brother, Ben. To lose someone you love not only breaks your heart; it shatters your world. And the shock and trauma after so great a loss often feels too much to bear. I know the courage that is required to face each day and every day, and that the grief never leaves you. Grief and loss are mostly private, but we also deal with loss in more public ways, enabling a space for remembrance, a time to honour and to witness a life. In this condolence today, this Senate honours Kimberley Jane Elizabeth Kitching. I hope in some small way Senator Kitching's loved ones gain some comfort from this remembrance here today.

In November last year, as we eulogised the late Senator Alex Gallacher, I reflected that in my role as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate I've spoken on motions of condolence following the passing of a number of former senators and ministers over the last few years, from all sides of politics. But it is a melancholy duty to again be standing here to express condolences following the death of a colleague who just over a month ago sat here amongst us in the chamber. The Labor family is hurting and grieving, and I want to particularly acknowledge the grief felt by so many of my own colleagues.

The breadth of Senator Kitching's friendship across the parliament, media and the Labor movement means many are acutely feeling this loss. I particularly acknowledge the loss felt by Senator Kitching's loyal staff, including those present with us today. It is difficult to confront the reality that someone who had so much more of her life to live would die in such tragic circumstances on 10 March 2022.

As the many tributes since her death have demonstrated, Senator Kitching was a parliamentarian who worked across the political spectrum, relentlessly pursuing what she believed was right. She believed in democracy and its values, including human rights. She worked to shine a light on abuses and corruption around the world and led the charge in this parliament for an Australian Magnitsky sanctions act.

Senator Kitching made substantial contributions through a range of parliamentary committees, especially as the chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, in which she led on a number of inquiries, including most recently Australia's engagement in Afghanistan. She brought a keen interest in Australia's place in the world to this work, examining some of Australia's key diplomatic and defence relationships as well as issues of vital interest to veterans.

Senator Kitching was a patriot, a woman determined to serve her country, who believed in Australian exceptionalism and who concluded her first speech with what she described as 'that old inspiring quote':

And to the love and favour of my country I com mit myself, my person and the cause.

As the leader of the Australian Labor Party, Mr Anthony Albanese, has reflected, she gave so much and had so very much ahead of her.

Senator Kitching was born and raised in Brisbane, but her horizons stretched well beyond suburban St Lucia. Her father, William, or Bill, had been a Fulbright scholar, a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Queensland and a fellow at St John's College, Oxford. His teaching and researching took the family to all corners of the world. It was through these experiences in which she learned so much about the world that Senator Kitching grounded a global outlook that endured throughout her life. She had a deep interest not only in what happened in the world but in what it meant and a clear perspective on the strategic and ideological implications of events. She would come to speak several languages and complement her local Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws at the University of Queensland with study overseas.

Senator Kitching was widely involved in the Australian Labor Party, having first become engaged with our movement as a student. She contested the position of student union president at the University of Queensland with Murray—now Senator—Watt. After her move to Melbourne in 1995, she became an active party member within her branch, in policy committees and as a delegate to state and national conferences. In recent years, she also regularly attended meetings of the national executive.

In addition to her involvement in the Australian Labor Party and the union movement, Senator Kitching also served in local government as a councillor in the City of Melbourne from 2001 to 2004, the nearest level of government to the people.

Senator Kitching also worked within the broader Labor movement, including in the Health Services Union in a time of some tumult and conflict. Her pride in her work at this time was fierce. She spoke enthusiastically of her longer than expected tenure, helping to build up the union and ensure representation for those at the coalface in our health system. Many of them were marginalised and low paid and did not speak English as a first language.

Following the resignation of former leader of the government and deputy leader of the opposition in this place Stephen Conroy, Senator Kitching was chosen by the parliament of Victoria to fill his casual vacancy on 25 October 2016 and she made her first speech in this place on 9 November of that year. Senator Kitching spoke lovingly of her family. Of her husband, Andrew's, love and loyalty; of her father's life and achievements, her pride in him patent; of her mother, Leigh, one of a 'long line of powerful, confident women … with a twinkle in her eye' and a belief in her daughter; and of her brother, Ben, so close in age and in friendship. She said this: 'But the truth is that they are always with me, wherever I am.' I hope her words stay with those who loved her so.

She argued for Australia's exceptionalism; that we were an exceptional nation not because of sheer luck but because of the hard choices and sacrifices of generations that came before. She advocated for an economy that creates good jobs with fair pay and decent conditions; a society where opportunity is earned, not inherited; and a future that embraces and enhances this exceptionalism. Her friend Bill Shorten has described Senator Kitching as a lioness. In her first speech she emphasised the importance of what she described as 'the unglamorous nuts and bolts of politics: the numbers, the compromises and the tough decisions'. Senator Kitching understood politics and she understood power. She was an extraordinary political operator. And, as I remarked in an interview some years ago, she didn't lack for courage. She served in the opposition shadow executive, first assisting on government accountability and then working with her close friend and mentor, Bill Shorten, in the disability services portfolio.

Although Senator Kitching served on various Senate committees and in different portfolio areas, foreign affairs was her primary area of interest. Senator Kitching's love of foreign affairs took her overseas on parliamentary delegations to Jordan and Lebanon, where she visited Syrian refugee camps; to India, where she met the Dalai Lama; to Papua New Guinea; and to Singapore, Indonesia and Myanmar, amongst other nations. She was seized of the dimensions and implications of this time and its implications for our nation. She understood the reality of strategic competition and the harshness of authoritarianism, and she was deeply committed to human rights.

So perhaps her most significant and lasting legacy of her parliamentary service will be her role on the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, with particular reference to the Human Rights Subcommittee and its inquiry into targeted sanctions to address human rights abuses, commonly known as Magnitsky legislation. With the chair, Mr Kevin Andrews, and the deputy chair, Mr Chris Hayes, and other members, Senator Kitching worked to deliver a substantial report on this matter that laid the groundwork for future legislation. It was a topic in which she held a longstanding active interest. Senator Kitching first gave notice of introduction of a bill to implement Magnitsky laws in December 2019, but then postponed this course of action in order to allow the committee to undertake the inquiry, which had been referred to it by the Minister for Foreign Affairs at the same time. Initially the coalition government, through foreign minister Bishop, had been unsupportive of such a bill. Labor hoped a committee referral would both draw out the arguments for action and ground a bipartisan way forward.

In December 2020, the committee tabled its report, titled Criminality, corruption and impunity: Should Australia join the Global Magnitsky movement?When the government disappointingly dragged its heels on a response, Senator Kitching proceeded to introduce her own bill, and did so with the support of the Labor shadow cabinet and caucus. Her bill, the International Human Rights and Corruption (Magnitsky Sanctions) Bill 2021, was introduced at the beginning of August 2021. Some three months later, the government introduced the Autonomous Sanctions Amendment (Thematic Sanctions) Bill 2021. Owing to the strong consensus built around the need for these laws, this bill, as amended, passed into law by the end of the year. Senator Kitching and her staff contributed towards a set of amendments moved by Labor which were adopted by the Senate, including ensuring the title of the bill included the name 'Magnitsky'.

For her work in advocating for and pursuing this legislation, Senator Kitching received the Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Award, international recognition of her contribution. In recognition of Senator Kitching's accomplishments in furthering human rights, Anthony Albanese has initiated the Kimberley Kitching Human Rights Award to be awarded at each national conference to a member of the party who has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the advancement of human rights in Australia or globally. This is a fitting tribute.

Senator Kitching received additional tributes for her human rights work, including from eminent advocates Bill Browder and Geoffrey Robertson. Mr Browder noted:

She was a person who cared about justice in a profound way. I've worked with many politicians who do things for different reasons, but Kimberley did what she did because of conviction and deep dislike of injustice.

Mr Robertson said, in part:

I have highlighted just one of Kimberley's qualities—her intelligence. That is a quality not necessary for a politician, but at a time beset by complex political problems—how to combat authoritarianism, climate change, corporate greed and so on—it surely helps. I was born under Ben Chifley and have encountered every Prime Minister since—it is my opinion that the present incumbent is the least intelligent of them all. When he is replaced by Albo and his team, it is truly sad that Senator Kitching will not be among them.

Much has been said and written in the days since Senator Kitching's passing. Many are hurting and many are grieving. I understand that grief and loss can be so profound that it can provoke anger and blame. I've made my views very clear outside this place about some of that misplaced anger and blame. I will not return anger with anger or blame with blame. As my friend Senator Malarndirri McCarthy said, 'Sorry business is very sacred.' And Senator Kimberley Kitching deserves her life and legacy to be celebrated and remembered.

Perspective is often so hard to find in the lives we lead, in sorrow and in tragedy. But it is that perspective which ultimately enables healing and insight. When Archbishop Comensoli bid us look to the light streaming through the windows at St Patrick's Cathedral, we lifted our gaze and we were reminded of that which matters most—of love, hope and faith, those truths which uplift and sustain. Senator Kitching was of strong Christian faith. Faith manifests itself for different people in different ways but underpins the conscience and values of so many amongst us. At times it is a compass. At times it is a refuge. May all find strength and refuge where it is needed, seek out help where it is available and be surrounded by love and support in sorrow. To those closest to Senator Kitching: may love, hope and time bring you peace.


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