In 2022, the whole Australian Labor Party felt the tragedy of the sudden passing of Senator Kimberley Kitching at age 52.
Kitching, who entered the Senate in 2016, and who made a significant contribution both to the Parliament and across many years to the Party, had a fierce commitment to the elevation of human rights.
“Kimberley was passionate about the cause of Labor,” federal Party Leader Anthony Albanese told Parliament in a condolence speech. “She was passionate about international affairs, passionate about democracy and defending our way of life. One notable way that she channelled that energy was in her advocacy for a Magnitsky act in Australia to allow sanctions to be imposed on individuals connected to regimes guilty of violating human rights.”
“Her compassion for human suffering,” he noted, “was unwavering”.
Following a recommendation by the Leader to the ALP National Executive, the Kimberley Kitching Human Rights Award was created in her memory, and presented for the first time on 18 August 2023, at the 49th ALP National Conference in Brisbane.
The award’s inaugural recipient is Tony Clark – a member of the Victorian Labor Party who has spent his life challenging organisations, business and the Labor Party itself to be more inclusive and more accessible for people with disability.
“I took the view that I was going to use my blindness as a great strength,” Clark shared, on receipt of the award. “And those strengths are around tenacity, determination, thinking laterally, thinking outside that square. And persistence, in the face of challenge.”
In 2016, believing that leaders should reflect the people they seek to represent, Clark ran for the seat of Deakin – seeking to be a voice for the one in five Australians who are living with a disability.
“When I got to 38, I thought: You know what? I don’t respect people who sit on the side and throw mud – I believe you’ve got to get in there in change. And government is what changes our community. It sets regulation, it sets job policies, it sets legislation – everything comes from government and that’s where change can be made.
“So I made that decision to get involved with the mighty Labor Party and I have never regretted that.”
Although he didn’t win the seat, the campaign trail nevertheless provided an opportunity for Clark to generously engage with the voters, the media and with the campaign about how he could work in the community, the Party and the parliament with his disability.
Clark’s decades of advocacy culminated in the founding of Labor Enabled Victoria, where – alongside Annie Payne – Clark has successfully argued the need for a disability action plan for the Party.
“We need to take a risk because you know what’s associated with risk? Reward. Take a risk, our reward will be doubly returned,” he urged the assembled delegates. “Because we will bring those skills, the values of those voices, we will create better policy, we will create better legislation, better programs, better outcomes. We’re doing it for Indigenous people – we need to do it as well for people with lived experience of disability."
In addition to this significant legacy of platform reform, Clark has worked tirelessly across the broader community for greater access for people with disability to education, employment and economic opportunities, and healthcare.
“We need to break down these barriers, we are the party of change, we are Labor,” says Clark.
Learn more about the Kimberley Kitching Human Rights Award.