This speech was first delivered to the House of Representatives on 30 March 2022
I rise today to honour the memory of the late Kimberley Kitching—Labor Senator for Victoria.
She was my friend and I shall miss her, as will many people in this place.
The first time that I met Kimberley was on a plane from Canberra to Melbourne in late 2016.
My wife, Ruth, and baby son, Jonathan, were with me—spread out across a row of seats. We were tired—still new to politics—and bracing for the long journey back to Perth.
In front of us, a smile came up over the seat. It was paired with a soft giggle. A hello and introduction followed.
It was Kimberley Kitching. Kimberley Kitching?
I was confused: she was meant to be a tough, ruthless Labor factional warrior—if you read the press and believed it—and here she was making friends with me and my family.
But that was Kimba, as we called her.
Curious, warm, engaging, reaching out to people—across the aisle or to the passenger in the seat behind.
There are many things that I could say about Kimberley today.
Much has already been said and written about the way she was treated by people in this place and the pressure she was feeling prior to her sudden passing. I don’t intend to spend much time discussing that today.
I want to focus on two of her qualities—her patriotism and her strength.
Kimberley was a patriot. She loved Australia and our people.
But she was also a well-travelled lady. She had seen and known much of the world through her own eyes. Foreign cities, cultures, climates, parliaments and governments.
That experience expressed itself in different ways from her love of French culture to her European greeting down at Aussies cafe—the kiss on the cheek—which is still the most counterintuitive way to greet an opposition member.
She was cosmopolitan yet she believed that Australia was exceptional, a great nation that has risen to the many challenges over our history.
Kimberley argued Australia is exceptional—not because of a divine mandate or inherent qualities—but because generations of Australians before us have made hard choices and hard sacrifices.
Individual agency was a real thing to her—people are faced with decisions every day. Dialectical historical materialism advocated by Karl Marx was not her cup of tea. People have choices in life.
She believed that people built this country—our Westminster system, our institutions, our prosperity—by taking the tough decisions in life.
She came to this place to continue that work as a patriot. That was the basis of our political collaboration, alongside fellow Wolverines such as my good friend Senator James Paterson.
We believed that we have a country worth defending, a democracy worth preserving and institutions worth protecting.
We had differences of opinion of how might that happen, as you’d expect given our political differences and choices.
But together we started with the premise that the Commonwealth of Australia must be sovereign. It must be territorially sovereign. It must be politically sovereign. It must be economically sovereign. It must be digitally sovereign. And, most importantly, the Parliament must be sovereign—free from foreign interference.
That was our starting point. And that gave the Wolverines a big enough tent to work together on the toughest challenges over the past few years—whether it was tackling foreign interference, economic coercion or pushing for the adoption of the Magnitsky Act.
This partnership yielded results and it’s a reminder to me that the best politics will always involve principle, compromise and consensus.
As a Wolverine, Kimberley took more personal political risk than us and she did so because she loved Australia and knew that working together would benefit our Commonwealth.
She took the hard choice and made the hard sacrifice because she believed it was the right thing for Australia. And we honour her in this chamber for it.
The hard choices Kimberley made in this place remind us that she was a strong woman. She was warm, friendly, thoughtful and kind. Yes. All those things.
But make no mistake: she was tough. She had a toughness fit for senior ministerial office.
Politics is a contest and she enjoyed the delight of political battle in this place. It takes strength to follow your convictions, to fight for them and to not take a backward step.
I often said to her: ‘Kimberley, one day you might have to kill me politically. Make sure you do it cleanly.’ We were realistic about the limits to our political partnership.
Yes, she was under pressure with her preselection. She told me that several times this year.
But as I told her at the time: ‘if anyone can fight your way out of a corner, it’s you. You’ll prevail.’
That’s the sort of confidence her inner strength—buttressed by her Catholic faith—inspired in those who worked closely with her. Kimberley would find a way to get the job done.
And that’s why her sudden death was such a blow to us. She had so much life, energy and drive. So much more to give this country.
The strategic challenges we face as a country are not going away and we are poorer without Senator Kimberley Kitching holding the line in Parliament House.
But we will take inspiration from her example, strong in will—to strive—to seek—to find—and not to yield.