June 9, 2015  |  Condolences

Hon. Joan Elizabeth Kirner, AC

Mr HOWARD (Buninyong) — I am pleased to briefly share some of my personal memories of Joan Kirner. Joan Kirner first came to my attention, as she did for many people across Victoria, when she became the Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands. She immediately stood out as she demonstrated a refreshing, inclusive approach to the role, bringing environmental issues to the broader community’s attention and encouraging community members to become involved in addressing the issues of environmental degradation.

As a secondary teacher I was pleased when Joan became the Minister for Education. She took us forward into a new era, ensuring that education was for everybody and that all secondary school students were able to consider completing year 12. To do that she had to challenge the education system at the time to ensure that courses offered at higher levels of secondary education were flexible and responsive to the needs of young people. She aimed to ensure that students who might have otherwise fallen out of the education system could continue to be engaged. The culmination of her efforts was the introduction of the Victorian certificate of education, which saw the final year of secondary schooling become a course spanning years 11 and 12. The result of that has been so many more students in our schools going on to complete year 12 with raised aspirations and going further into higher education in one form or another. That is a really exciting contribution.

I remember so many of the exciting changes that took place in education under Joan Kirner’s leadership as education minister. Many of us were interested in exciting directions in progressive education, but I guess that such changes are not quite so exciting to those who do not take such an approach.

I did not meet Joan Kirner until after 1999 when I was elected to this house as the member for Ballarat East. At our first meeting, at a community event in Daylesford, I introduced myself to her. She responded by saying, ‘I know who you are. You’re the local member of the area we are in at the moment and you’re a former teacher. Haven’t you got a role as parliamentary secretary for environment?’. She already knew so much about me, which surprised me. I was taken aback that somebody like Joan Kirner had taken an interest.

We have heard many members, especially Labor women, say that they were encouraged by Joan Kirner. She did a fantastic job of ensuring that women were given the aspiration to strive for the highest office and to achieve, whether it was in parliamentary spheres or in a whole range of other areas. Joan did a fantastic job of that, but her encouragement was not exclusively for women; she also was a terrific support to the male members of this house.

Whenever I met her over a period of years I felt that Joan was taking an interest in and supporting me. As I said earlier, soon after I was elected Joan had observed that I had become parliamentary secretary for environment and that my role included a review of Landcare. I had several discussions with Joan during that time because, as we know and as we have heard from so many other speakers, she founded Landcare with Heather Mitchell with a view to seeing how people from rural communities could be involved. These days we all know that Landcare is not just about rural communities and that there are urban Landcare groups. Landcare is about empowering people in the community to take an interest in their environment, to come together to support their environment and by doing so empower their own communities.

While speaking about the review I was undertaking of Landcare, Joan emphasised to me the importance of supporting Landcare into the future and empowering it so it could be invigorated and go on to grow into the future. We know that Landcare continues to operate as a very important movement across this state and in other Australian states and that other places around the world have adopted the Landcare model.

Although Joan was a leader in supporting women, on many occasions after I became a member of Parliament and through the years, every time I met her at the community functions she so readily attended she expressed an interest in what I was doing. She showed great warmth, encouraged me and sometimes wanted to offer advice. We always had an intellectual type of discussion where she was clearly interested in what I was doing and wanted to feed into that interest.

Joan was a sensational support, so warm and so supportive, and I will miss those opportunities I had to speak with her. On those occasions I could not help but admire her and share an affection for her. I always enjoyed that twinkle in her eye, and I will miss her sense of humour.

As so many people have already said in this house today, Joan gave Victorians so much through her involvement in this place, particularly when she became Premier. However, we know that since then she had continued to be involved in community life.

Every time I walk through Queen’s Hall I love looking at the painting of Joan that has already been referred to. It really epitomises a woman who was warm, caring, friendly, approachable and supportive, and who not only pushed the case for women to strive higher, as they have done since her time in so many ways — and I look forward to that continuing — but also supported the fellows around her in many ways. Clearly she leaves a fantastic legacy. I pass on my condolences, as have so many others in this house, to her husband, Ron, and her family.