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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Kitching, Kimberley Jane (1970–2022)

by Paul Monk

from Australian

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

The sudden death on Thursday of Senator Kimberley Kitching caught all of us by surprise. I was more stunned than most, because I had had lunch with her that very afternoon. We talked about the war in Ukraine, the broader strategic picture regarding the US, the EU and NATO, Australia’s foreign policy, federal politics and the challenges we face with China, Chinese influence operations and Kimberley’s recent questions to ASIO Director-General Mike Burgess in parliament. One thing we did not discuss was Kimberley’s preselection battle.

We were participants in a small group who met regularly to discuss both geopolitics and Australian politics. In some ways, the rest of us constituted a kind of brains trust for her. More often than not, we met at a seafood restaurant at the South Melbourne Market, called Claypots. On Thursday, several of us met with a young Hong Kong activist about to head overseas to work for Caritas, behind the lines of the war in Ukraine.

Kimberley was the last to arrive, looking her usual radiant self, her beautiful, sea-blue eyes full of their invariable warmth and intelligence. The immediate topic of conversation was the situation in Ukraine, the possible impact of the sanctions on the Putin regime and the advisability of a NATO no-fly zone over at least the western part of the country.

She knew I had a feature set to appear in the Inquirer section of this newspaper on the weekend and was looking forward to reading it. I had introduced her, in late January, to the new Lithuanian ambassador, Darius Degutis, and we were planning to meet him again on March 22 to discuss the war. Kimberley suggested we convene at Lavender Cafe, in Albert Park, where the cheesecake is particularly good. A trivial detail, in itself, but the kind of thing that becomes poignant in retrospect.

None of us had any inkling of what was about to happen. Darius, like the rest of us, was devastated when he heard the news, late that night, of Kimberley’s death.

With her sudden passing, at just 52, it is widely acknowledged that Australian politics has suffered a serious loss. Yet, as Bill Shorten and others have pointed out, the factional “faceless men” in the ALP appear to have been preparing to drop her from the Senate ticket for the forthcoming election. It’s quite incredible that this was being contemplated.

We badly need fresh talent and principled people in politics. Kimberley had shown herself to be both over the past half-dozen years. Her work ethic, her integrity, her personal warmth, her commitment to human rights, her realism in world affairs and her capacity to reach across party lines were all but legendary.

Her work on the Magnitsky Act was important – and very timely. I consider myself fortunate to have been able, over the past couple of years, to get to know her. It made her sudden death on Thursday a deep shock. But it meant I was able to see and engage with her qualities of character and her abilities from close up. I was impressed by what I saw. That last lunch on Thursday was no exception.

We discussed the war in Ukraine, the latest reports regarding casualties, strategy, refugees and Vladimir Putin’s disinformation campaign. We discussed the complexities of dealing with Chinese political donations to Left and Right within the ALP. We agreed that the “olive branch” being extended by the new Chinese ambassador, Xiao Qian, is part of an ongoing influence offensive. We discussed with grave concern the realities of unresolved issues arising from Chinese political donations and how these are to be dealt with.

We also discussed the very nature of democratic politics. Kimberley knew I had been preparing study papers on both classical Greek and Roman politics, and had indicated weeks ago that she looked forward to reading both. She had some classical learning and talked animatedly over that fateful lunch about Athenian democracy, Herodotus, Thucydides, the Melian Dialogue and the grim realities of power politics in world affairs.

Kimberley would have made a first-class foreign or defence minister. She spoke fluent French, Spanish and Italian, was widely read, tactful and quick-witted. She will not easily be replaced. Yet the factional bosses were, seemingly, set to drop her before the next election. What hidden hands sought her downfall?

All evening last Thursday, as news of her death spread, here and around the world, I received text and email messages expressing shock and disbelief, from as far afield as Washington DC. Among the bodies that have formally expressed grief at her death is the Tibetan government-in-exile. Others include Bill Browder, in the US, who had pioneered the Magnitsky Act there and worked closely with Kimberley to get our own version of it passed – in the very nick of time, as it happened.

As we were all leaving Claypots on Thursday, we were joking to the restaurateur, who had asked whether we were cricket fans and Shane Warne fans in particular, that she should put up a sign saying Warne had dined there, even that the table at which we’d lunched be nominated the Shane Warne table. That now seems darkly uncanny, given what was to occur only hours later. It should, perhaps, now be named the Kimberley Kitching table.

Original Publication

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Citation details

Paul Monk, 'Kitching, Kimberley Jane (1970–2022)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/kitching-kimberley-jane-32329/text40059, accessed 3 February 2023.

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