Senate debates

Monday, 28 March 2022


Kitching, Senator Kimberley Jane Elizabeth

10:41 am

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Minister for Emergency Management and National Recovery and Resilience) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today as Leader of the National Party in the Senate to contribute to this condolence debate and associate us particularly with the commentary from Senator Birmingham but also Senators Wong and Rice. I think we were all completely shocked and saddened when we learnt of the passing of Senator Kitching a couple of weeks ago. So young—I don't think I would have said 52 was young a few years ago, but it seems very, very young right now—so vibrant and so much more to do in this place. She'd only just got started. So I think there was a great sense of tragedy around that news.

As a fellow Victorian senator, Kimberley and I didn't often find ourselves on the same side of the chamber, but when we did, thanks to a common set of values and a few common mutual friends, we would take the opportunity to catch up for a bit of a gossip and a chat, and that was quite an enjoyable part of the day. I think I've always been, like so many others have commentated on, struck by her powerful intellect, her fierce patriotism, her breadth of understanding of international affairs and her sense of irreverence. Her wit was phenomenal. She was part of that old-school conservative Labor mould. It's very hard to find these days, but it was the bedrock that built that party, and she took that tradition forward with great faith and commitment and bravery.

She was brave in terms of always speaking her mind—I think that's sometimes easier to do than at other times—and she never took a backward step, which I think was incredible. Kimberley would never say she was deeply embedded in the issues of rural and regional Australia, but I do know that, when she worked in Victorian state politics, she travelled to regional Victoria with then Premier Brumby in the aftermath of our 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. And witnessing the people rally around each other firsthand brought home to her a great sense of community and pride, a sense of regional Victoria, which she then brought to the Senate.

She was born and spent part of her youth in Brisbane in the early 1970s, and from a young age Kimberley viewed the world as an internationalist. With an academically minded father who became a Fulbright scholar, a professor of organic chemistry and a fellow at St John's College, Oxford, Kimberley lived and attended school in the United States, various European countries and the United Kingdom before returning home to Queensland to complete degrees in law and arts at the University of Queensland.

These quiet beginnings in the unassuming suburbs of Brisbane's inner west wouldn't be the last stop for someone who wanted to change not only her own backyard but the world. Working variously as a lawyer, a policy adviser to the Victorian Treasurer, a Melbourne city councillor and a union official, Kimberley was appointed to the Senate in 2016, replacing former Senator Conroy.

She was in every sense of the word a senator's senator. I notice we've got some House of Representatives colleagues from the other place here with us today, listening to these contributions. But to be a senator's senator means you know how to use the committee work to the advantage of your cause, your political interests, and Kimberley did that like no other. She was determined and detailed in her prosecution of the issues she was near and dear to.

She served with passion as the shadow assistant minister for government services and the NDIS, and as chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee she was able to throw herself into international affairs, advocating for victims of human rights abuses and for national and international security issues. She made contributions on the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit.

She was also a strong supporter of the ADF, and their capabilities were heavily assessed through her involvement in these committees. In a recent trip to Lismore, following the floods, I was able to call into the barracks at Lismore, as the ADF flowed in from around the country, and Major Baden Taylor was actually sharing stories with me about a recent ADF deployment that Kimberley had had, with photos. It was just this informal, inconsequential conversation I was having with brave ADF personnel about former Senator Kitching's passion for our Defence Force. They all knew it on the ground, not just those rocking up to our Senate estimates.

What I think Kimberley really brought to parliament was a fierce patriotism. She was an advocate for the liberal rules based international order, which is currently being tested in Europe. She was always one to look beyond our shores, to broader international security issues. Her last post on Twitter before her passing was a retweet of the US Army, where soldiers were arriving in Europe as part of the 7,000 service members deployed to reassure NATO allies of the US's commitment to deterring Russian aggression and strengthening allied forces. I'm sure that's a sentiment we would all share.

Throughout Kimberley's time in the Senate, she relentlessly campaigned to incriminate those who abused human rights. She fought for democratic freedoms and the freedom of expression, particularly when it came to freedom of the press. She had a strong desire to achieve long-term bipartisan public policy outcomes—because guess what, people? That's where most Australians are: in the centre. I think, as a member of one of the parties of government, she really exemplified what's possible when you play to the centre.

She was determined not to waste her time in this place and fought hard for purposeful reforms. She was very keen to ensure that our country was safe within the international challenges that we're facing and she didn't back away from causes she believed in. In her first speech in this place, she said:

Being a part of those reforms, sharing in their creation, is the dream of all those attracted to public life. It is very much my dream too.

She believed in making a difference to Australians at home and abroad. It was a dream of Kimberley's to shape key reforms, and, despite her only serving just over five years in this chamber, I believe she did achieve that dream. She brought important legislation to the chamber in the form of the Magnitsky act. Any new senator that comes into this place with high aspirations need only look to Kimberley Kitching as a model for what one can achieve as a determined, hardworking senator.

Much has been said about the Magnitsky movement here in this chamber in recent months, and just days from being released from a Russian jail, where he was being held for up to one year without trial under Russian law, Sergei Magnitsky passed away at the age of 37, after being denied medical treatment and family visits. In fact, he died on the eve of his 365-day term. Like him, Kimberley was at the height of her career in this place, fighting for victims of human rights when she passed.

Kimberley was instrumental in bringing forward the initial legislation and was subsequently awarded the Outstanding Contribution Award from the Global Magnitsky Justice Movement last year for her work and efforts in bringing about its adoption in Australia. But her efforts didn't stop there. Such was her determination not to shy away from what she believed in that, after a successful campaign to introduce that legislation into our parliament, she was working to extend the law to other jurisdictions in our region, such as Japan and New Zealand. On hearing of her passing, Bill Browder, the architect of the Global Magnitsky Justice Movement, said,

Kimberley was a brave justice warrior who never stood down or was intimidated by the evil regimes she advocated against.

She fought hard, and the more experience she gained in this place, I believe, the more steadfast her resolve to bring about change in the national and international stage became. Much of what she achieved in this place can be summarised in the final lines of her first speech:

It is our responsibility to lead that discussion and win that fight, to carry on the work of building an exceptional Australia … And from this day forward I pledge myself and my service to that high and noble task. It is a task I take up from this moment forward. I do not shy away from this high goal to secure an exceptional future for Australia.

Our sincere sympathies go to Andrew, to her parents, Bill and Leigh, and to her broader family and friends.

Importantly, finally, she was a woman of strong faith, and it was a great privilege to be able to attend her mass recently. She took very seriously that it's by deeds, not by words, that we stand or we fall. Kimberley was a patriot for our country. I considered her a friend. She was intelligent and irreverent and a strong female senator, and our parliament is poorer for her absence. She'll be incredibly missed.

I just wanted to share a couple of personal anecdotes. One of our last discussions in the joint vote was her sharing how she saved Nancy-Jane from the brown snake. She was bravely throwing rocks and sticks and had got rid of the snake. Then, outraged, she pulled up the local ranger, 'What the hell? You've got brown snakes in the park!' Classic! The ranger was like, 'But, ma'am, they're a protected species,' to which Kimberley replied, 'Well, so is my dog, by me,' and then she went to hospital because she'd actually been bitten by the snake, in that protection. The other one—she was such an engaging and charming dinner guest. When she'd come around for dinner, she'd be holding up the Pol Roger and saying, 'Well, I am having dinner with Tories!' She was a fabulous woman and a fabulous example to us all. We thank her for her inspirational service in this place and to our country. Vale Kimberley.


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