Jun 3, 2015

Condolence motion – Ms Joan Elizabeth Kirner, AC

Federation Chamber

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12:06): I rise to pay tribute to my friend Joan Kirner, a passionate advocate for social justice. Joan was born Joan Elizabeth Hood in 1938. Her father was a fitter and turner, and her mother was a music teacher. Joan took her principles of social justice from her parents. She went on to have opportunities in life, graduating from the University of Melbourne and working as a teacher in state schools. She married Ron Kirner and had three children: Michael, David and Kate. Dave Kirner was a good mate of mine when we were in student politics together. The first time I met Joan was not a great experience, because we had a debate over whether I was leading David astray or he was leading me astray. I think it was probably a bit of both. She was always good fun and great company. She had no malice towards anyone on either side of politics or in society. She uplifted any meeting, group or gathering where she was present. She was an absolute delight to be around.

She came up through the community. She was the President of the Victorian Federation of State School Parents’ Clubs—P&C, basically. When she went into the Victorian parliament in 1982, she was still a pioneer. It was still very much a male dominated sphere. She first entered the Legislative Council, and she went on to move into the lower house. She became the Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands and was instrumental in forming the first Landcare groups. Landcare is now accepted throughout the nation as an organisation that has done magnificent work to conserve the extraordinary natural environment that we enjoy here in this great land of Australia.

It was as Minister for Education that she then made an even larger mark. Because of her passion as a parent, she brought, I think, a perspective different from some of the technocratic ways in which education had been dealt with. She was passionate about involving the local community in the way schools were run and was very successful in achieving that. That is why she was promoted to Deputy Premier in John Cain’s government and then became, historically, the first woman Premier of Victoria, a position she held from 1990 through to 1992.

She had to cop a fair bit of criticism as the first woman Premier. I went down from New South Wales to work on the 1992 election campaign, assisting the Victorian ALP in what was a difficult campaign after a long-term Labor government. The focus on what Joan wore is something I have never seen, before or since, with any male leader of any political persuasion, but it was very much there. She took it in good humour. In that campaign I remember T-shirts and tea towels being produced—with a bit of irony—that said, ‘Spot on Joan’. I remember going to the show in Melbourne and handing out bags with insignia saying ‘Spot on Joan’ as well. She kept her sense of humour in what were very difficult times and took Labor through to the election knowing that it was highly likely that Labor would not be re-elected.

Even though she left parliament in 1994, she certainly understood that politics was about more than parliament. She continued to engage in the community and the Australian Labor Party. She was absolutely committed to the promotion and mentoring of young women coming through the Australian Labor Party and more broadly. As one of the driving forces behind EMILY’s List, I know she was particularly proud of the rise of her friend Julia Gillard to become the first female Prime Minister of Australia. But Joan, regardless of where people lined up factionally in the Labor Party or where they stood on particular issues, supported women across the spectrum with consistency and with absolute commitment.

During my leadership campaign, when I was running against Bill Shorten after the 2013 election, I attended an EMILY’s List function organised in Melbourne. Joan Kirner was there sitting at the front—despite the fact that she had serious health issues at the time. She wanted to play her role and she was very supportive of democratisation and giving rank and file members more say in the Australian Labor Party. I continued to have contact with Joan. She would send me messages—indeed I received my last messages from her only last week. She was still emailing me, from hospital, as late as last Friday. She was still putting forward ideas and suggestions in a constructive way. We will miss her. We as a party will miss her, but I think she is also a great loss to the community.

In 2012, when she received the Companion of the Order of Australia, her citation said:

…for eminent service to the Parliament of Victoria and to the community through conservation initiatives, contributions to gender equality, the development of education and training programs and the pursuit of civil rights and social inclusion.

That is an appropriate tribute to the public contribution of Joan Kirner. But today I particularly want to pay tribute to her private contribution as a thoroughly decent, committed human being as well. She will be missed. May she rest in peace.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Griggs ): A lovely contribution.