Although many Victorians will remember her as the state’s first woman Premier in the early 1990s, Ms Kirner’s significant contribution and dedication to public life spanned over five decades, touching the lives of many.
Joan Kirner was both an activist and an advocate. As a former teacher and executive officer of the Victorian Federation of State School Parents’ Clubs she was a strong advocate of public education. She was a strong advocate of abortion law reform. And, after leaving Parliament, Ms Kirner remained active in community affairs and politics advocating again, through Emily’s List, to increase the number of women in parliament.
She was often ahead of her time with programs such as Landcare, launched 30 years ago when she was Conservation Minister, continuing to thrive.
Commissioner Kate Jenkins says Ms Kirner was a trailblazer in Victoria “not only because she was Victoria’s first female premier but because her priorities over the years were always clearly focussed on issues of equity, access to childcare, equal pay, diversity and choice”.
“Joan Kirner showed enormous courage in both her personal and political life and has played a pivotal role in supporting women. Her contribution over the years has made Victoria a better place,” Ms Jenkins said.
Ms Kirner was a board member of Museum Victoria and received a number of honours, including the Companion of the Order of Australia in 2012 for her contribution to education and training, gender equality and social justice.
In an interview with Fairfax several years ago Ms Kirner said she never wanted to be Victorian Premier, adding that for her the greatest moments were “when women came up to me –three generations of them now- and say they know it was tough but at least I showed their daughters they, too, could be premier.”
Former Premier John Cain said it was Ms Kirner’s “ ‘doggedness’ that showed that females could and should break through.” Speaking on ABC Radio Mr Cain said that Ms Kirner “became a champion for women in politics. She was a constant and a symbol…battering on a door firmly held by others.”
Jeff Kennett, who succeeded Ms Kirner as Premier of Victoria, said “Joan Kirner’s legacy is greater opportunity and recognition for women.”
Ms Kirner had been battling ill health for some time. She died on June 1, aged 76.
Our thoughts are with the Kirner family during this sad time.