Vale Hon Joan Kirner

Vale Joan Kirner, our 42nd premier who recently sadly died from cancer at the age of 76.  She was also Victoria’s first and only female premier.

Joan Kirner became an activist after becoming concerned with large classroom sizes, which motivated her to be politically active.  One of her legacy was overseeing the introduction of the Victorian Certificate of Education as Education minister.  The result was reduced class sizes, along with that an increase in school retention.

During her time in parliament, she was known as a hard working and strong politician, but also a pragmatic and collegial person who would work across political divides.  People describe her leadership style as “no-nonsense authority” and a fierce warrior for education and equality, among other things.

Since retiring from politics, she continued her community activism and committed to affirmative action for preselection within the Australian Labor Party, building and supporting Emily’s List to mentor, fundraise and support women candidates.  She also very generous with her time, and continued to provide advice to anybody who require it, include myself.

I met Joan officially at a women’s function and, in telling her of my unsuccessful attempt in running for parliament the year earlier, she invited me to her home to provide advice and support.  After organising a date and time, I received a call one week before from Ron (Joan’s husband) that she had a fall and was in hospital.  My immediate response was “Gosh, she really should rest and our catchup can be delayed”. I expected she would need time to recover.  But no. As soon as she was out of the hospital and walking again, she was eager to meet.  I was impressed by her attitude, but also a little concerned if she would be OK.  So I was careful that I was all prepared and wasn’t wasting her time.

Joan was lovely, witty and humorous.  She was also very direct and straight to the point.  We talked for many hours about politics.  Despite her having a no-nonsense leadership style, she was an excellent listener and shared her views and wisdom on my individual situation. It was never about her and what she has achieved.

She was an inspiration – both a role model in politics and her approach to life.

Originally posted on the Swinburne Leadership Institute blog.