Condolences, Hon. Joan Elizabeth Kirner, AC
Ms GARRETT (Minister for Emergency Services) — It is an extraordinary pleasure to rise today to pay tribute to a woman who had an extraordinary career, made a huge contribution and has left a lasting legacy across this state and more broadly. Joan Kirner was an exceptional and genuine advocate for women and children. She was extraordinary in her commitment to social justice, education and the environment. Victorians are greatly enriched by her extensive contribution to public life, and the Labor Party is in her debt in a very deep way for her ongoing mentoring and the roles she played in changing the shape of this great party.
Joan and I shared a couple of important aspects of our histories. She was a Penleigh girl, as I was for some time. Penleigh Presbyterian Ladies College bred us determined and tough in Moonee Ponds. We were up against Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar School and St Columba’s College, and of course we had St Bernard’s College and Essendon Grammar School nipping at our heels.
Where you were raised, when you ended up at Penleigh, determined which football team you went for. I grew up opposite Princes Park and was a passionate Carlton person, and clearly Joan was in Moonee Ponds and a passionate Essendon person. We heard earlier about the Yorta Yorta woman at Joan’s funeral, and I am sure Joan may have been involved in putting a curse on the Carlton Football Club. As we say goodbye to our great hero Chris Judd today, after doing his anterior cruciate ligament in a narrow loss to Adelaide in which Eddie Betts played against us, I would like to say to Joan, ‘Enough is enough now. The curse has come to its end’. It is hurting us all. I know the Premier does not agree with me, being a passionate Essendon man, but — —
Mr Andrews — Apparently not.
Ms GARRETT — Apparently not. Apparently it did not end, so I think we will keep praying to the gods that people see fit to return Carlton to the glory that it deserves. But more important than a shared school history — —
Mr Foley — It is not a Carlton footy club condolence.
Ms GARRETT — I am sure Joan would have appreciated the long reference I am making to football, and she would also have appreciated Chris Judd’s great talent, despite the fact that he wore the navy blue.
Moving on, of greater significance than our shared school history is that Joan Kirner was a mentor to me and many others. In 2009 I was running for the very marginal seat of Brunswick. I was also on Yarra City Council which, as we know, is a hotbed of excitement and work. I had two small children, and I was working at Slater and Gordon. I recommend this as a weight loss tool, but not much else. I rang the people at EMILY’s List, and they said, ‘Joan Kirner is going to be your mentor’. I said, ‘Right, because I am not stressed enough’. But she set up a coffee with me, and she set it up at a coffee shop opposite Parliament House on Spring Street. I was absolutely terrified of sitting down with this giant of the Labor movement, and she was simply exceptional. From the moment you sat down, she drew you in with her warmth and her intellect. She pointed over at Parliament House and said to me, ‘That’s where you’re going. Don’t let the boys bamboozle you. Arm yourself with information, be strong and true to your values, stand up for yourself and look after other women’, like she looked after us.
She has given us so much, on all sides of this house. She played a huge role in establishing EMILY’s List. Her role in ensuring that we have affirmative action targets was second to none, and all of us owe it to her to make sure that those targets are genuinely realised. I know the national conference is coming up where those things will be discussed. Her presence meant something; her words meant more. She was sharp of wit, searingly articulate, passionately political and deeply empathetic. She walked in other people’s shoes. Whoever she met she was present with them — she looked deep into their eyes and she shared their journey.
In 2013 she personally rang a huge range of people, including me, to say she had been diagnosed with cancer. I spoke to her at length. She was brave and honest in that discussion. We shared the journey I had been on with my mother’s cancer, and we spoke about the importance of living each day as normally as possible — living between the tests with a sense of purpose and not being defined by those arbitrary moments. She spoke like that, with such courage and honesty. She was a genuine inspiration on many fronts of her life.
I will finish with a quote from an article that Rachel Power wrote about Joan Kirner’s contribution to feminism:
In 2000, when former ACT chief minister Katy Gallagher was being encouraged to run for Assembly, she was filled with self-doubt and worry about the impact on her family. ‘I agonised over these things’, Gallagher recalled this week. ‘I went to an EMILY’s List training session. To my horror I found myself in a room alone with Joan Kirner, like an interview! I explained my situation: at the time I was a single mother, my daughter, Abby, was only three years old and I was finding life a struggle.
‘Joan said: “That, my dear, is why you will be a brilliant politician”. This was my defining moment. I knew then that Joan Kirner believed in me’.
Joan Kirner gave many of us those defining moments. It is up to us to ensure that her legacy continues. Rest in peace, Joan.