Senator Kimberley Kitching: A Virtuous Voice of Reason

Commentary Kimberley Jane Kitching, a Labor senator for the Australian state of Victoria, died unexpectedly on March 10 at the age of 52. Her untimely passing, caused by a suspected heart attack, follows the recent deaths of cricketers Shane Warne and Rod Marsh, also from heart attacks. Throughout her senatorial career Kitching was an upstanding member of parliament who sought to conform with ethical principles and, therefore, could be appropriately described as “virtuous.” The value of virtuous living was promoted by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle who argued in his Nicomachean Ethics that being virtuous is an essential trait of rational human beings, who know that their behaviour affects others, because people can lead contented lives if they treat each other well. As a senator, Kitching consistently criticised violations of human rights. Thus, she became highly suspicious of the actions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which she blamed for egregious and well-documented violations of human rights. This includes the internment, and often extermination, of the Uyghurs simply on the ground of their Muslim religion, the appalling treatment of Falun Gong practitioners, the organ harvesting industry, the illegal occupation of Tibet, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, among many others. A man jogs past Falun Gong practitioners using a mock organ harvesting display to raise awareness about the Chinese Communist Party’s billion-dollar, state-sanctioned murder-for-organs industry, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 2, 2008. (The Canadian Press/Tom Hanson) The media portrayed her as “hawkish” because of her strident criticism of the Chinese regime that desperately maintains its power and brutally represses any attempt to democratise the country. She also strongly supported the adoption by the Australian parliament of the so-called Magnitsky Act. Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer, was beaten to death in a Moscow prison in 2009 after investigating a $230 million fraud involving Russian tax officials. His friend, Bill Browder, an American businessperson, who worked extensively in Russia after the collapse of the USSR, lobbied for the adoption by U.S. Congress of the Magnitsky Act which would enable the U.S. government to freeze the assets of Russian officials involved in human rights violations and impose various sanctions on offending countries and individuals. Kimberley Kitching was an enthusiastic proponent of the adoption of similar legislation in Australia. In 2011, the federal parliament—well before Kitching became a senator in October 2016—adopted the Autonomous Sanctions Act (ASA). Section 4 of the legislation describes an “autonomous sanction” as a sanction, not involving the use of armed forces, that is “intended to influence, directly or indirectly … : a foreign government entity, a member of a foreign government entity; or another person or entity outside Australia,” and “involves the prohibition of conduct in or connected with Australia that facilitates, directly or indirectly, the engagement by a person or entity … in action outside Australia that is contrary to Australian government policy.” As a senator, Kitching supported amendments to this legislation. After initial opposition by members of her own Labor party, the amendments to the Magnitsky Act were finally adopted with bipartisan support in 2018. The amended law commenced operation on Dec. 8, 2021. The amendments provide that the sanctions can be either country-specific or thematic. The legislation lists themes that can be addressed by sanctions. They include: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; threats to international peace and security; malicious cyber activity; serious violations of human rights; activities undermining good governance or the rule of law, including endemic corruption; and demonstrable violations of international humanitarian law. It has lately been used to punish Russian oligarchs, who are close to President Vladimir Putin and support his disastrous invasion of Ukraine. Journalist Jane Norman recently reported that Kitching held the view that Labor should not support a Greens motion expressing support for school children engaging in “civil disobedience” to protest the government action (or inaction) in the field of climate change. Kitching argued that it would be an exercise in futility and virtue signalling. Her passing came just four days before the full bench of the Federal Court released its decision in Minister for the Environment v Sharma. In its unanimous decision, the court ruled that the government does not owe a duty of care to ensure that children are protected from harm caused by climate change. Undoubtedly, the right of children to be involved in acts of civil disobedience and to skip school for that purpose is an issue of great import, but, for the purposes of this opinion piece, it suffices to mention that Kitching strongly supported the view that school children should

Senator Kimberley Kitching: A Virtuous Voice of Reason

Commentary

Kimberley Jane Kitching, a Labor senator for the Australian state of Victoria, died unexpectedly on March 10 at the age of 52. Her untimely passing, caused by a suspected heart attack, follows the recent deaths of cricketers Shane Warne and Rod Marsh, also from heart attacks.

Throughout her senatorial career Kitching was an upstanding member of parliament who sought to conform with ethical principles and, therefore, could be appropriately described as “virtuous.”

The value of virtuous living was promoted by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle who argued in his Nicomachean Ethics that being virtuous is an essential trait of rational human beings, who know that their behaviour affects others, because people can lead contented lives if they treat each other well.

As a senator, Kitching consistently criticised violations of human rights. Thus, she became highly suspicious of the actions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which she blamed for egregious and well-documented violations of human rights. This includes the internment, and often extermination, of the Uyghurs simply on the ground of their Muslim religion, the appalling treatment of Falun Gong practitioners, the organ harvesting industry, the illegal occupation of Tibet, the Tiananmen Square Massacre, among many others.

Epoch Times Photo
A man jogs past Falun Gong practitioners using a mock organ harvesting display to raise awareness about the Chinese Communist Party’s billion-dollar, state-sanctioned murder-for-organs industry, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 2, 2008. (The Canadian Press/Tom Hanson)

The media portrayed her as “hawkish” because of her strident criticism of the Chinese regime that desperately maintains its power and brutally represses any attempt to democratise the country.

She also strongly supported the adoption by the Australian parliament of the so-called Magnitsky Act. Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer, was beaten to death in a Moscow prison in 2009 after investigating a $230 million fraud involving Russian tax officials. His friend, Bill Browder, an American businessperson, who worked extensively in Russia after the collapse of the USSR, lobbied for the adoption by U.S. Congress of the Magnitsky Act which would enable the U.S. government to freeze the assets of Russian officials involved in human rights violations and impose various sanctions on offending countries and individuals.

Kimberley Kitching was an enthusiastic proponent of the adoption of similar legislation in Australia. In 2011, the federal parliament—well before Kitching became a senator in October 2016—adopted the Autonomous Sanctions Act (ASA).

Section 4 of the legislation describes an “autonomous sanction” as a sanction, not involving the use of armed forces, that is “intended to influence, directly or indirectly … : a foreign government entity, a member of a foreign government entity; or another person or entity outside Australia,” and “involves the prohibition of conduct in or connected with Australia that facilitates, directly or indirectly, the engagement by a person or entity … in action outside Australia that is contrary to Australian government policy.”

As a senator, Kitching supported amendments to this legislation. After initial opposition by members of her own Labor party, the amendments to the Magnitsky Act were finally adopted with bipartisan support in 2018. The amended law commenced operation on Dec. 8, 2021.

The amendments provide that the sanctions can be either country-specific or thematic. The legislation lists themes that can be addressed by sanctions. They include: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; threats to international peace and security; malicious cyber activity; serious violations of human rights; activities undermining good governance or the rule of law, including endemic corruption; and demonstrable violations of international humanitarian law. It has lately been used to punish Russian oligarchs, who are close to President Vladimir Putin and support his disastrous invasion of Ukraine.

Journalist Jane Norman recently reported that Kitching held the view that Labor should not support a Greens motion expressing support for school children engaging in “civil disobedience” to protest the government action (or inaction) in the field of climate change. Kitching argued that it would be an exercise in futility and virtue signalling.

Her passing came just four days before the full bench of the Federal Court released its decision in Minister for the Environment v Sharma. In its unanimous decision, the court ruled that the government does not owe a duty of care to ensure that children are protected from harm caused by climate change.

Undoubtedly, the right of children to be involved in acts of civil disobedience and to skip school for that purpose is an issue of great import, but, for the purposes of this opinion piece, it suffices to mention that Kitching strongly supported the view that school children should concentrate on their education before embracing activism.

However, it does not always pay to be virtuous. Indeed, Kitching was a Labor senator who was disliked by some of her female colleagues—controversially described in an article in The Australian as “the mean girls”—a phrase that the opposition leader strongly objected to as sexist.

Epoch Times Photo
Senator Penny Wong reacts during the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Budget Estimates 2021–22 at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on June 2, 2021. (Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

Her death also revealed an unhealthy and vicious atmosphere in parliament where it is not unusual for a person to be bullied because of their beliefs. Since her passing, many reports, yet unverified and unproven, were published indicating that Kitching had been bullied by her colleagues.

But if the allegations of bullying are accurate, it would have had adverse consequences for her health and could well have caused, or aggravated, tremendous stress. While bullying is common, though unacceptable, among school children, it certainly should not be tolerated in parliament, where ideas should be debated with impunity and without fear or favour.

But the reality is often different. Kitching was also worried about her preselection which was in doubt and, according to reports, caused her endless stress.

She died too young, 52 years of age. Consequently, she was unable to fulfill her immense potential. She had studied law at the T C Beirne School of Law of the University of Queensland. Her studies coincided with my tenure as a law academic at that Law School and, hence, she would have been one of my students.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has ruled out an inquiry into the hostile treatment of Kitching before her death because “the idea that people go into who might have had a disagreement here or there is totally unbecoming.”

This is surely a convenient excuse to ensure that no investigation would take place before the next election, likely to be held in May 2022, because any adverse revelations would be damaging to Labor and its election prospects.

This is a regrettable stance, and it is not a virtuous decision, because bullying should never be tolerated in parliament.

The celebrated German philosopher Immanuel Kant promoted the principle that “people should treat others the way you want to be treated.” It can be assumed that Kimberley Kitching would have wholeheartedly embraced this iconic statement as a guide to leading a virtuous life.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Gabriël A. Moens AM is an emeritus professor of law at the University of Queensland, and served as pro vice-chancellor and dean at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the prime minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published two novels “A Twisted Choice” (Boolarong Press, 2020) and “The Coincidence” (Connor Court Publishing, 2021).