Victoria’s first female Premier, Joan Kirner, has passed away today after a long battle with illness, at age 76.
She is survived by her husband Ron, three children and four grandchildren.
Tributes have flowed in for the woman remembered as an “unflinching” advocate for fairness, a warrior for social justice, a trailblazer for women in politics and a mum who “refused to be silent” .
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard offered her deepest condolences to the Kirner family and expressed her gratitude at having the opportunity to farewell Joan, the “truest of friends”, in person.
“After her time as Premier, Joan could have chosen a quieter and easier life. But that simply would not have been Joan,” Julia Gillard wrote in a public statement. Instead, her generosity of spirit and capacity for hard work meant her formidable energy went in to ensuring more Labor women entered parliament.”
“For a generation of a Labor women, including me, she was an inspiration and a mentor. We admired her stoicism. We celebrated her policy achievements. We were guided by her wisdom.”
The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten described her a “dauntless warrior for social democracy and a leader of the march of women through the institutions of power”.
“If you want to change the world for yourself and your own kids, you’ve got to change it for and with other people, particularly women,” he recalled her saying.
“Joan looked at politics and refused to accept the status quo. A fairer and better deal for women, for teachers, for schools and for students drove her.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews described her as “an ordinary parent” with an extraordinary vision for the future of our children.
“She fought every day for fairness. Our state is stronger for her service and our lives are greater for her friendship. She was our first female premier and because of her work, she won’t be the last.”
Tim Watts shared this tribute in a tweet: “She was a true trailblazer, a sharp political mind and a real wit. Loved by too many to count. I feel privileged to have known her.”
Joan Kirner was part of a group of female leaders including Carmen Lawrence, Kay Setches and Julia Glllard, who came together in the early 1990s to fight for the inclusion of affirmative action policies in the ALP.
As a result the women established EMILY’s List, a not-for-profit, political support network committed to supporting women to become members of the federal, state and territory parliaments. Since its inception in 1996, EMILY’s List has assisted more than 210 women to enter Australian parliaments.
“Joan Kirner was a truly unique public advocate and politician,” EMILY’s List co-convenor Tanja Kovac said in a statement. “She was inspired to get involved in community campaigning to make life better for her kids attending public school in the outer east of Melbourne. We have been benefiting from her belief in social justice ever since.”
Joan entered State Parliament as the Legislative Council member for Melbourne West in 1982.
“Before she took a seat in parliament, she had been a teacher, a mother and a national education activist,” Kovac said. “At 41 years of age, she was an experienced and worldly woman, bringing a different perspective to the Labor Party.”
She moved to the Legislative Assembly seat of Williamstown in 1988 and became Victoria’s Premier in 1990. She was Leader of the Victorian Opposition from October 1992 before retiring from the Victorian Parliament in March 1993.
After relinquishing her volunteer role of Co-Convenor for the first eight years of EMILY’s List existence, Kirner remained an incredibly active supporter and ambassador for the organisation. She also remained a tireless and vocal advocate for EMILY’s List’s key principles of equity, childcare, equal pay, diversity and choice.
“Joan loved life and loved being involved in the lives of those around her, particularly her family, friends and loved colleagues. She loved meeting people, especially young people, and never failed to remember those she had met over decades of political and community life,” EMILY’s List Australia remembered. “While Australia’s political and community sectors are all the better for Joan’s amazing contribution, her passing will leave a gap unable to be filled.”
Vale Joan Kirner, a woman who changed Australia.