Senate debates

Monday, 28 March 2022


Kitching, Senator Kimberley Jane Elizabeth

10:17 am

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | Hansard source

Mr President:

It is time to decide what kind of parliament we will be. Will we live down to the cynicism of the community about politicians, or will we show leadership in challenging days?

…   …   …

It is time to decide what kind of country we are. Will we shirk the decisions that face us, or will we once again rise to the moment and choose what is hard, what is complex, what is right?

It is our responsibility to lead that discussion and win that fight, to carry on the work of building an exceptional Australia—a nation and a future worthy of the people who call this great country home.

Those words carry weight. Those words ring true more than five years since they were delivered to this chamber in the first of many powerful contributions by Senator Kimberley Kitching, on Wednesday 9 November 2016.

Today we stop to honour the life of Senator Kitching, a life cut short far too soon. She was a warrior for her beliefs, her party and Australia. In a relatively short time Kimberley made a firm impression on this place and on Australian politics. She lived up to the ideals she spoke of in her first speech. She rose above the cynicism. She did not shirk the decisions. She showed responsibility and she contributed to the exceptionalism of Australia.

Since her appointment to the Senate in 2016, Kimberley immersed herself in her policy passions, building a reputation as a tough operator willing to stand by her convictions. Senator Kitching believed in our democracy. She believed in democracy. She loved our nation and she embraced the opportunity afforded to all who call Australia home.

The daughter of an organic chemist father, Bill, and a physiotherapist mother, Leigh, Kimberley grew up in Brisbane with her younger brother, Ben. Growing up, Kimberley was a keen swimmer and a proud holder of the Bronze Medallion. She continued to swim throughout her life. She lived just a short walk from the University of Queensland, her alma mater, where she obtained her law and arts degrees later in life.

In her childhood Kimberley gained an invaluable international perspective through travel associated with her father's work. It provided Kimberley with rich insights that she carried throughout her life. Her father's work took the family around the globe from Oxford to North Carolina, Barcelona to Bavaria and Bordeaux and back again, finishing up her schooling at Brisbane Girls Grammar. As Kimberley put it, 'My parents had no compunction about sending me to school in places I didn't know the language.' Kimberley believed this constant movement made her more observant. She was observant. Her international experiences also saw Kimberley gain a broad understanding of various languages. She was fluent in French and Spanish and could converse in Italian, German and Russian. But, perhaps even more than her linguistic abilities to connect with others, Kimberley connected in ways that could break down any barriers: her broad smile, an effervescent personality, her sparkling wit, her caring concern and an ability to light up a room.

Kimberley joined Young Labor at an early age and became active in student politics, where her interest in politics and sparkling personality would combine to establish a partnership that would last throughout her life. At a Young Labor quiz night she met a fellow law student from Bond University. That student was Andrew Landeryou. They hit it off immediately and managed a long-distance relationship that only grew and sustained their love, with the two of them marrying in Melbourne six years later in 2000. I acknowledge Andrew, who is here today, and Kimberley's other family, loved ones and friends, both here and watching from afar.

Andrew spoke at Kimberley's funeral, with incredible strength, about their relationship—Andrew's relationship with 'Kimba', as she was affectionately known. He traversed, in an open and courageous way, the highs and lows of that relationship. I say, Andrew, to you that mine is also a marriage born of politics, with the shared interests, passionate debates and occasional very divided opinions that that entails. It is never easy to see those you love judged—even less so when they are sometimes judged not on their worth or deeds but on your own. Your angst at this reality in parts of Kimberley's life is evident, but you should take heart, as should all her family, from all that she achieved and, more importantly, that the light of love between the two of you never appeared to waver one iota. When you spoke of Kimberley's view of friendship and love as being 'all in' and 'absolutist', it resonated with those who knew her.

Funerals are times to grieve, they are times to mourn, they are times to give thanks for a life, but they are also opportunities to reflect. All who spoke at Kimberley's funeral service took us deeper into Kimberley's life, but also gave us a chance to reflect on her life; what it meant to us; the opportunities for us all to be bigger, better individuals; and the importance of love, of courage, of fun and of resolve, especially for those of us in this line of work.

Andrew and Kimberley made Melbourne their home, where she practised as a lawyer and worked in several private companies in information technology and human resources. Her experience in the private sector gave Kimberley firsthand knowledge of pressures faced by businesses in meeting a payroll and implementing a business plan. Without question her legal background and work in the law explained her talent in the art of forensic questioning at estimates, which I and a few others were on the receiving end of, as well as her ability to argue, most effectively, for what she stood for.

Her battles for control and reform of the Health Services Union hardened Kimberley's political instincts and her strength for political battle. One of her early victories in the public sphere of politics came when she served on the Melbourne City Council in the early 2000s, championing the removal of a publicly funded anti-Israel mural from the CBD. Standing against anti-Semitism and in support of freedoms provided by democracies, alongside basic human rights for all, was to be a lifelong focus of Kimberley's public life.

As Kimberley reflected some four years ago on her journey to the Australian parliament, she had never been attracted to the far Left. She believed it was at the centre of politics where the gravitas and responsibility lay. Kimberley fought against those who peddled prejudice to deceive Australians against our own interests. In her time here in Canberra, Kimberley was appointed shadow assistant minister for government accountability in 2019, before becoming the shadow assistant minister for government services and the NDIS in 2021. As Labor's government accountability spokesperson, Kimberley carried out the role with focused and purposeful intent. In reflecting upon matters that she was pursuing in her role, Kimberley reflected positively how great it was that, in Australia, we consider the pub test as the defining way of resolving complex issues.

But Kimberley could delve far deeper than just the pub test into those complex issues. She's rightly remembered for her parliamentary committee work, most particularly in defence and foreign affairs. Just under six months ago, as Senator Wong has referenced, Senator Kitching deservedly received the prestigious Magnitsky Human Rights Award in London for her work in helping to achieve Magnitsky legislation sanctions here in Australia. This legislation allows for the direct targeting of individuals and entities committing human rights abuses and serious corruption. Senator Kitching helped to carry this legislation through by championing it within her own party, across this parliament and throughout the broader community. Thanks to her efforts and those of others, the Australian parliament voted unanimously last December for this groundbreaking legislation.

Senator Kitching made the effort through her interests in national security, defence and foreign affairs to spend time with the women and men of the Australian Defence Force, ensuring that she understood their views, as it helped to inform her work in areas of national security. As she made public, she believed that, in many ways, those who serve our nation in uniform are the best of us. Kimberley observed that those in our uniforms were bright and friendly, highly competent and resilient and a positive, self-reliant, modern embodiment of the Anzac spirit. Reflecting on Remembrance Day in 2017, Kimberley said that it was 'very easy to talk of mateship and patriotism' and that 'politicians are sometimes the worst at throwing these words around'. I do not say it lightly today when I echo the remarks of Senator Wong in declaring that Kimberley Kitching was a great Australian patriot. Kimberley Kitching embodied those qualities that she believed shone through in the best of Australians—a bright and friendly addition to this chamber and, to borrow a description from her dear friend Bill Shorten, a woman of 'serene intellect'.

As a Labor moderate, Senator Kitching believed in 'a strong activist government that works hard to solve the intractable problems in the community'. But as she highlighted in her maiden speech to this chamber:

… I also believe that our duty as elected representatives is to check and limit the inexorable growth of the state and of the taxes that sustain the state. Those taxes come from real people, real pay packets, real families, and they must never be wasted or raised unnecessarily. This vision lies at the core of Australian exceptionalism.

In this, we were certainly in agreement. Kimberley was a proud Australian. She truly loved our nation. Again, in her maiden speech, she made that case for Australian exceptionalism:

Australia is not exceptional because we have been divinely mandated, or because of some inherent quality unasked and unearned; Australia is exceptional precisely because generations of Australians have made hard choices and hard sacrifices. In a time of global change and uncertainty at home, we are called once again to choose: to choose an economy that creates good jobs with fair pay and decent conditions, to choose a society where opportunity is earned not inherited, and to choose a future that embraces and enhances Australia's exceptionalism.

As we reflect upon today, Senator Kitching believed Australia's exceptionalism was a result of those generations of Australians that made hard choices and hard sacrifices.

She knew that those of us today across our nation stand on the shoulders of generations who went before us. In future it will be on Kimberley Kitching's shoulders that other generations will also in part stand. Kimberley had an ability to take a step back from the issues of the day and to think deeply, analyse and provide a meaningful voice into our political discourse. She did this most notably in areas of foreign policy and challenge. She spoke not to fill the silence, only to add fruitfully to it.

As we meet here today, there is war in Europe, the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic remain and we see the devastation of increasingly prevalent natural disasters. Senator Kimberley Kitching fought the good fight to the very end. Just a few weeks ago she provided valuable insight in her opinion piece to Herald Sun on the need for Australia to continue building an alliance capable of effectively deterring authoritarianism. True to this day Australia stands strong amidst a time of global change.

Kimberley's untimely and sudden death on 10 March, at just 52 years of age, was a deep shock to all who were privileged to know her. Kimberley was someone with so much more to contribute. Like an unfinished poem, Kimberley Kitching's contribution to public life will always be somewhat open-ended. What would the poet have chosen for this next stanza? How would the poet have completed the majesty of their concept? In the case of Kimberley, what more would she have contributed inside this place or elsewhere? What else would the power of her intellect and the force of her personality have made a difference to? Tragically, those questions will now go forever unanswered. But that we hold such confidence she had so much more to contribute and would have made such a great difference, no matter where life next took her, is itself a testament to the way Kimberley lived life and contributed.

Today we remember someone who thought deeply about the issues at hand, someone who cared deeply for our nation, its values and the way those values are embodied and promoted throughout the world. We lament the loss of a good friend to many in this place and a fierce advocate for human rights and all that she believed in. On behalf of the Australian government and the Australian Senate, I extend our condolences to Kimberley's husband, Andrew; to her parents, Professor and Mrs Kitching; to her brother, Ben; to all of her loved ones, her friends, her staff and her Labor colleagues. We thank you for sharing Kimberley with us, for the support that you gave her and, most importantly, for what she gave to the nation.


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