Standing up for Canberra

Joan Kirner

Thank you, Deputy Speaker Henderson, for those lovely warm remarks about the late and great Joan Kirner. I join with my colleagues today in rising to pay tribute to a great Australian woman, a great Australian leader, a great Labor leader, a great Labor woman, Joan Kirner. Victoria's first female Premier, Joan Kirner will be remembered for her trailblazing work in helping bridge the gender gap, as well as social justice. Like so many of my colleagues, I am only here because of the pioneering efforts of Joan Kirner.

Joan was Victoria's 42nd premier for only 26 months, but in many ways it was her work after this time that had the biggest impact. Joan was a founding member of EMILY's List. Joan and her Labor sisters were passionate about increasing women's representation and rights in Australia. Having seen the great work being done by EMILY's List in the United States, they knew an organisation dedicated to supporting progressive Labor-aligned women in and around politics would be warmly welcomed in Australia. The achievements of our members since have been immense. I am a proud member of EMILY's List.

So far, EMILY's List Australia has supported 155 progressive candidates in their election to state, territory and federal parliaments across Australia, and they also do great work in mentoring and helping out those in local elections as well. These include Australia's first female Prime Minister, the first female premiers in Queensland and Tasmania, the former ACT Chief Minister and now Senator for the ACT, Katy Gallagher, the Northern Territory opposition leader and the New South Wales deputy opposition leader.

I am incredibly proud to be one of those 155. The support provided to me in my first campaign from EMILY's List was just extraordinary. Not only was there financial support but I was given a number of mentors who were very strong, powerful, committed, very socially progressive women in Canberra who used to regularly, during the campaign, take me out for coffee and see how I was travelling physically and emotionally. They were also there to give me advice on who I should be speaking to, who I should be networking with.

They opened up so many doors to me in terms of people I needed to consult with to get their views on a range of issues around the Canberra community, particularly in the disability sector. They introduced me to these extraordinary incredibly strong women, disability activists who were not only doing exceptional work in advocating for women with disability here in Canberra and in Australia but were also playing of very large role on the international stage as well.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my great EMILY's List sisters, who particularly helped me out in that first campaign in opening doors for me, in providing me lots of coffee and lots of emotional support when I needed it, for giving me advice, for looking after me. In a way it was a network of not just sisters but mothers as well. I really do appreciate their efforts and that would not have been possible without EMILY's List, and EMILY's List would not have been possible without the extra extraordinary Joan Kirner.

As we know, the 'EMILY' in 'EMILY's List' is an acronym. It stands for 'early money is like yeast'. But the support provided by EMILY's List is about so much more than money. It is about training and mentoring, providing support networks and giving women candidates the confidence to know that they deserve to be elected. It is always a challenge for women to believe that, Madam Deputy Speaker Henderson. I am sure you experienced that. I know my colleagues on this side and colleagues on the other side of the chamber have also experienced this. Women candidates need to have that self belief that they are entitled to put their hand up to run for parliament and to aspire to the great honour of representing their communities. EMILY's List also pushes our party to do better when it comes to gender equality by advocating for a target of 50 per cent representation of women.

Through EMILY's List I have benefited from the foresight of Joan Kirner and her sisters. Now, like they did, I give back. I mentored EMILY's List candidates in the last ACT and Queensland elections. I participate in training sessions. We had one just recently here in Canberra. One of the members of the audience here today was at that training session. It was a half-day. It was a pretty bitter, cold day, but we had a great turnout of women who are just thinking about throwing their hats in the ring for the ACT election and are still working out whether they can juggle their careers at this point in time with the requirements of being a political leader. They wanted to come along and hear about the process of being preselected, what you need to do when campaigning, how you get a campaign team around you, how you establish your views on particular issues—your platform, what you stand for and believe in—and clarify that in your own mind and then also, through that clarifying exercise, articulate that to potential preselectors and then to the broader Canberra community. 

It was a really wonderful afternoon, and it just highlighted the thirst for these sessions amongst women around Canberra—Labor Party members, of course, but also in the broader Canberra community—who have aspirations for a political career and just want to find out a bit more detail about it. As I said, training sessions such as that one give potential women candidates and campaign managers lots of food for thought, and there is a lot of shared knowledge from those who have been through the process themselves.

The EMILY's List members here in Canberra and I agree with the mantra of Joan Kirner and the other founding sisters that, when women support women, women win. That is a very important message to communicate. As Joan herself said:

No woman in politics can survive and be successful without a network of women … I would not have survived two years as premier of Victoria without the support of women colleagues and women friends.

But Joan Kirner's influence on women goes beyond EMILY's List, because Joan showed all women from all sides of the political spectrum that a political career is accessible to women and it is accessible to women from all backgrounds. Joan's path to the premiership in Victoria has been described as 'previously untrodden'. She was not a political staffer. She was not a lawyer. She was not a union official. She did not go to the right schools. She was not part of the right clubs. She was not a Rhodes scholar. Joan was a teacher, a mother and a passionate community advocate and activist. She was someone who refused to accept a second-class education for her children and so she did something about it.

I was speaking to my mum just before I came in here to make this speech, because I know that my mother was a great admirer of Joan Kirner's. My mother is a very proud Victorian, and Joan Kirner was a very proud Victorian and a very proud Victorian woman. My mother was a great admirer of hers. I asked her, 'Mum, what is it that you loved about Joan, apart from what she did for women?' She said, 'The thing I loved about Joan was the fact that she showed that you could track a path from the P&C and the canteen duties to being leader of the state.' That sends a really powerful message to all Australians but particularly to women that you can be engaged in those activities, that community activism, at the school level, at the canteen-duty level, at the P&C level and then use that experience to track a course to being the leader of the state.

In many ways, Joan broke the political mould and she paved the way for others to follow in her footsteps. As I said, she showed that you did not need to be from a particular political class, a particular background, the right school or the right education to actually aspire to be in politics. She showed that women from all backgrounds and from all experiences can actually aspire to be a political leader, aspire to represent their people and play an active role in public policy and in shaping public policy.

Today, we have a more diverse political system at every level thanks to Joan. I look to some of us here today, like the member for Lalor, like the member for Indi and a number of other people in this place, who—like me— are the children of single mothers and were the first in their families to go to university. I think Joan would be proud of that. I will be eternally grateful for Joan's pioneering spirit, tireless support for women and advocacy for women. I will endeavour to support progressive women candidates throughout my life, as she did.

I offer my condolences to her family; her husband Ron; her children Michael, David and Kate; Michael's partner Madeline; her grandchildren Ned, Sam, Xanthe and Joachim; and everyone who loved her and the many Victorians loved her. I want to thank Joan Kirner for everything that she has done for women and Labor women over many decades. She will be missed. Vale Joan Kirner.

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