EULOGY FOR KIMBERLEY KITCHING
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I acknowledge the traditional Custodians of the land, the Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation and pay my respect to their Elders past, present and emerging.
Before I commence my own remarks I would like to share excerpts from just two of the many generous tributes that have been made since our friend’s death.
One is from Geoffrey Robertson QC -
“We met in London when she received her (Magnitsky) award. Her speech at this prestigious event made every Australian in the large audience very proud. It was humble and gracious, but with a conspicuous insight into the dismal realities of the world and how to help its people make better lives.”
The other is from founder of the Magnitsky movement Bill Browder who writes -
“At the end of life we all wonder what difference we made in the world. I can say with certainty that Kimberley made a big difference. Kimberley will be known as the person who brought the Australian Magnitsky Act to fruition. This piece of legislation will help millions of victims of injustice around the world and many people in dictatorships and totalitarian regimes will now have a way to seek redress.”
We are here to farewell our sister, our comrade.
What is left to be said?
The passing of this remarkable woman leaves a great hole.
A black hole, almost, with its own gravity, the kind caused by the collapse of a massive star.
What is left to be said?
Many Australians have now learnt a little about Kimberley Kitching from the generous commentary since her sudden death.
She has been remembered as “a friend”, “a confidante”, “a lioness”, “a blessing.”
As a Senator with spine.
As a passionate defender of freedom and the rights of the underdog here and abroad.
A democrat and a trade unionist.
But I want to echo today the sentiments of Bill Clinton at Coretta Scott King’s funeral.
“I don’t want to forget that there’s a woman in there. Not a symbol. A real woman who lived and breathed and got angry and got hurt and had dreams and disappointments.”
I would add to that “And loved.”
Our hearts go out to Kimberley’s family, her parents Leigh and Bill and her brother Ben.
And they go out to Kimberley’s soul mate and our friend Andrew.
We are all in the blast zone of this immense and devastating loss, but Andrew is at ground zero.
There is a hole now in Australian public life.
A hole in the lives of myself and my wife Chloe, who has known Kimberley since primary school in Brisbane.
A hole in the lives of my children who loved her.
When we lose those we love, as their warm humanity recedes from our reach, we are left to cling to the embers of moments, of images.
We look at the photos as a way of briefly trying to reconnect that warm touch, that shared experience, those happy times.
I have been doing this. And I have concluded I have a couple of favourites.
One from her wedding to Andrew on Derby Day 2000 - the year Hit The Roof won - and Kimberley is just beaming, absolutely beaming.
As a couple Kimberley and Andrew were an equal partnership, they were the real deal, a genuine love story, devoted to each other’s best interests and shared values of ferocious loyalty and generous friendship and hospitality.
The other image, and perhaps my favourite, is Kimberley in her element at Senate Estimates. Aaah Estimates. For Kimberley, Estimates was like running out onto the MCG. Back to the photo: Out of shot is the poor victim of her inquiries. Kimberley is loving the moment, holding a clipping about a West Australian Liberal MP’s latest travel escapades, eyebrows raised, emanating competence and looking like the cat that got the cream.
Now there is a third photo I can’t forget but perhaps for more embarrassing reasons.
It was taken when our daughter Clementine was six and was going through a Celine Dion / My Heart Will Go On phase - and she had determined that the whole family plus Kimberley and Andrew were all going to go to the Titanic-themed theatre restaurant in Williamstown. Kimberley and Clem egged us on and we all got into the act and got dressed in Edwardian dinner couture.
And the photo is of the lot of us out the front vamping it up in Titanic-era chic. Of course the novelty suddenly vanished when we went into the restaurant and realised everyone else was in 2016 weekend casual. Kimberley relished the fun of the moment.
To know Kimberley Kitching was to be dazzled and comforted by her warmth and serene intelligence.
Her smile and eyes would glow and she would let out her enormous democratic laugh.
She had a natural gift of putting people at ease, warming them in the high power beam of her attention. It was a lovely place to be.
Kimberley read voraciously, read the classics, speaking Latin and five other languages.
(For the record: Parliament has lost its best French speaker - and you never know when you’re going to need one of them in this job.)
But despite her precocious intelligence there was not a pretentious or snobbish bone in her body.
She grew up in a house with no domestic disharmony, in an atmosphere of love and respect, and learned that not everyone agrees but that you need to listen to the other point of view.
We are here in the Gothic splendor of St Patrick’s Cathedral. And Kimberley was very proud of her Irish Catholic heritage.
Some might say her Fenian side would come on full display when she felt passionately about an issue.
Her “irish” would bubble to the surface to effect social change.
Kimberley knew how to live and when I think of how she lived her life it is the advice of Irish balladeer - Liam Clancy - to have no fear, malice or jealousy.
That, friends, is the recipe for a good life.
A serious life. A life that reaches out to others. That enlarges not straightens.
That was Kimberley Kitching to a tee.
KImberley’s ability to work above partisan politics has been much remarked upon and the attendance today is testament to that.
But while, in these polarised times, tact and diplomacy, style and good manners may be rarer than a Latin speaker in Parliament, Kimberley’s skills and sophistication should not be mistaken for anything but a great Labor heart beating in overdrive.
She understood - in the marrow of her bones - that the people who count on Labor count, above all, on Labor Government.
So I know if she were here with us still all her energy and activism and enthusiasm and the powerful force of her personality would have been dedicated to a Labor victory in May.
This is not a political speech and with the greatest respect to her true friends across the political aisle (and the most eclectic gathering this cathedral has seen in many a year) I believe Kimberley would want everyone in her Labor family to channel their grief, gather their strength and move onwards from here together in the pursuit of that goal.
Because as someone who lived her life - as Kipling would say - filling “every unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run” she would tell us there is not a day to spare.
The Kimberley that I knew and honour understood the eternal wisdom of Ecclesiastes
There is a time for everything
… and a season for every activity under the heavens
The Kimberley that I knew and honour would say now there is a time for coming together and a time to heal
Kimberley’s great Labor heart was why when leader, I wanted her contributing to Labor’s cause in the Senate.
That great Labor heart that saw her work herself into a sweat for regular Australians.
That progressive spirit that says we must live our values.
She believed in what Seamus Heaney called “the republic of conscience.” Some of us might visit that republic from time to time as is personally convenient but Kimberley was a permanent resident.
If there is a person without power give them the power of your advocacy, the sweat of your labour.
In her maiden speech Kimberley put it this way:
I come here to represent everyday Australian people: the working Australians, the families, the students, the hospital cleaners, the retail workers, the mortgage holders, the renters, the mums and dads, the 4 am shift workers, the nurses, the police, the firefighters and the factory workers.
… I come here to represent the people who work hard, pay their way, do the tough things, build our community and only ever ask in return that we remember them in this place and make their opportunity the focus of every decision we make in their name. It is not so much to ask, I think.
I knew she would be good, but I could never have guessed how good - how successful and prescient Kimberley would be as a Labor senator.
Her small office put nearly 12,000 questions on notice into the Morrison Government this Parliament.
She ferociously scrutinised Government waste in the NBN.
She was concerned about Putin and for years the chief advocate of Australia developing Magnitsky laws.
She used her position to stand up for China’s Muslim Uyghurs.
For the Tibetans.
For the brave pro-democracy activists of Hong Kong.
For the people of Ukraine
And for what she saw as our debt still owing to the people of Afghanistan.
I’d like to elaborate on that last point.
On August 15 last year the Taliban captured Kabul.
On August 22 a young 17-year-old VCE student from Cranbourne, Sam Daryabi, contacted me about his brother’s fiancee. Sam’s brother was in Melbourne but his brother’s fiancee was stranded in Afghanistan.
Her name was Roya and she was an ethnic Hazara - one of the groups targeted and massacred by the Taliban.
Roya was outside the eastern gate of Kabul Airport wanting to flee but crouched in ditches of septic water along with thousands of other refugees.
Knowing of Kimberley’s extensive network of security and international contacts I made her aware of Roya’s story.
She instantly leapt into action and obtained a temporary visa for Roya and got it to Sam who emailed it to his sister in law outside the gate.
But there was another challenge. How to get Roya, even with valid visa, through the Taliban and NATO forces and the ADF armed forces surrounding the airport.
Kimberley had a brainwave. She got Roya to photograph herself in a yellow scarf and then sent it to us and then Kimberley managed to get that photo to an Australian soldier at the gate.
(Only Kimberley could combine good works, international intrigue and fashion sense in such a way.)
When Roya presented with her visa and in her yellow scarf the soldier ushered her through the lines and onto one of the last Hercules out of Kabul and into Dubai.
Roya is safe and she has started her new life in Melbourne.
Roya is here today and she is wearing that yellow scarf as a tribute to Kimberley Kitching who saved her life.
She is not the only one. Kimberley helped rescue 30 different people as Kabul fell.
Women, academics, democratic politicians, student activists.
Thirty separate lives changed - saved - because of Kimberley.
What a legacy.
Kimberley was snatched from us, at 52, too young, at the halfway mark of her remarkable potential.
But we can see, particularly, in painful hindsight how much she knew how to live.
The absence of fear, malice or jealousy.
But beyond all that - Love.
She knew life was about love.
Her love for Andrew, her love for her friends, her open, unguarded warmth for strangers who were usually destined to become friends and then beloved friends.
The love that freedom fighters around the world are driven by.
The love that when we are at our best is behind our Labor values.
The love that is sometimes dangerous.
The love that grounds altruism, conviction and principle.
That is our Kimberley Kitching.
Rest in peace, dear friend.