January 14

The magnificent Jim Killen 1925 – 2007

Among those assembled at the 1998 Constitutional Convention, there was no more distinguished, witty and persuasive a delegate than Sir James Killen, who was elected to lead the ACM Queensland delegation.  At all times he honoured, and fulfilled to the letter, the Oath of Allegiance which he had sworn when he served the nation both at war and in peace. More recently, and notwithstanding his declining health, Sir James and Lady Killen appeared as the guests of honour at the ACM national celebration of the 80th Birthday of Her Majesty, The Queen.  Even on that occasion, he offered those well carefully crafted gems of wisdom and humour which had so endeared him to all Australians, whatever their political alignment.

Jim Killen was born on 23 November 23, 1925 at Dalby in Queensland. Educated at Brisbane Grammar School and working for a time as a jackeroo, he studied law at the University of Queensland before enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II.  In 1955, he was elected as a Liberal to the House of Representatives for the Brisbane seat of Moreton.  He was soon recognized as a talented and at times controversial speaker.  In 1961, when the Liberal-Country Party coaltition government was returned with a majority of only two, he just held Moreton.  Ironically for someone identified with the right, this was only achieved through communist preferences.  This was rather a manifestation of the “donkey vote” than some   Machiavellian design by the Bolsheviks.  A story, probably apocryphal, soon emerged that the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies had sent Killen a telegram saying "Killen, you are magnificent!"  Never publicly denied either by Sir Robert, it was reported and repeated endlessly, and only served to enhance Sir James’ reputation.

He was to hold office as Minister for the Navy from 1969 to 1971 but on the appointment of Sir William McMahon as Prime Minister, he was dropped from the cabinet.  But he did not lose his sense of humour.  Chairing a party meeting, the Prime Minister lamented:  "I sometimes think that I am my own worst enemy."  Sir James interjected: "Not while I’m alive."  With the defeat of the Coalition in 1972 by Gough Whitlam, he was appointed to the shadow cabinet and on the return of the Coaltion in 1975 he was to serve  as Minister for Defence  from 1975 to 1982.  In 1982, he was knighted and became Vice-President of the Executive Council, which he held until the defeat of the Fraser government in 1983, when he resigned from Parliament. He was elected to the Constitutional Convention in 1998 where, still elegant and debonair, and still with a gift for humour and powerful oratory, he made a major impact. 

 He developed, over the years, close friendships with many people on both sides of politics, including Gough Whitlam, Fred Daly and Barry Cohen  Speaking in the 1999 referendum campaign, he concluded a speech by citing this warning from Edmund Burke: “Men have been sometimes led into things by degrees, sometimes hurried, which, if they could have seen the whole thing together, they never would have had a bar of it”.  He followed this with the observation: “…And that is the thought that I leave with you and now I expose myself, as I say, to the charity of your questions.”  Only Sir James would refer to the “charity” of a hostile audience.

Sir James married Joy Buley in 1949. She passed away in 2000 and he married Benise Atherton, the second Lady Killen, in 2001 who survives him along with his daughters, Diana and Heather, and grandchildren Dana and Amanda.  Sir James Killen AC KCMG passed away on 12 January,2007.  Honourable, absolutely loyal to his Sovereign, witty and always courteous and kind, he was an ornament to public life in Australia.  That message attributed to Sir Robert Menzies could not be more true: “Killen, you are magnificent”



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