Joan Kirner

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Joan Kirner

Joan Elizabeth Kirner (born 20 June 1938), Australian politician, was the first woman Premier of Victoria.

Kirner was born Joan Hood in Melbourne and was educated at state and private schools and at the University of Melbourne, where she graduated in arts and completed a teaching qualification. She taught in state schools and became active in school and parents' organisations. In 1960 she married Ron Kirner, with whom she had three children. She was President of the Victorian Federation of States School Parents' Clubs, an influential education lobby from 1971 to 1977 and its executive officer from 1978 to 1982. She was appointed to several government advisory bodies on education.

Kirner joined the Australian Labor Party in 1978 and became a member of its Socialist Left faction. In 1982 she was elected as a Labor member of the Victorian Legislative Council, the upper house of the Victorian Parliament. In 1985 she was elected to the Cabinet of John Cain's Labor government and became Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands.

At the 1988 election Kirner shifted to the Legislative Assembly, becoming MP for Williamstown, and was promoted to the Education portfolio. In this portfolio Kirner carried out a series of controversial reforms aimed at reducing what Kirner saw as the class-based inequity of the education system, culminating in a new system of assessment, the Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE). Later in 1988 Kirner was elected Deputy Premier. When Cain resigned suddenly in August 1990, Kirner was elected Labor leader and thus became Victoria's first woman Premier.

By this time the Labor government elected in 1982 was in deep crisis, with the state's financial institutions on the brink of insolvency, the budget deficit out of control and the Labor Party and its trade union supporters deeply divided on how to respond to the situation. The party hoped that the elevation of a popular woman as its new leader would improve its position, but Kirner never succeeded in gaining control of the crisis into which the state had plunged.

Melbourne's conservative press reacted with hostility to a Premier from the Socialist Left, dubbing her "Mother Russia" and other uncomplimentary names. She was cartooned alternatively as a sinister commissar and as a frumpy housewife in a polkadot dress. She took all this in good humour and gradually won a high degree of respect, although she was unable to restore the government's standing.

During 1991 and 1992 Kirner became frustrated at the unwillingness of the unions and the Labor Party factions to allow the Cabinet to respond to the budgetary crisis by cutting government spending. Among her advisors at this time was Steve Bracks, who later succeeded her as MP for Williamstown and who became Premier in 1999. The lessons Bracks learned during the Kirner years contributed to the fiscal conservatism and caution of the Bracks government.

In October 1992 Kirner faced an election which the opinion polls gave her no chance of winning. She remained personally more popular than the Liberal Opposition Leader, Jeff Kennett, but the electorate accepted Kennett's campaign theme that Labor was the "guilty party" for Victoria's financial woes, and the Liberals won a huge majority. Kirner stayed on as Opposition Leader for a short period, then resigned. She retired from Parliament in 1994.

Since leaving Parliament Kirner has remained active, seeking opportunities to contribute in areas meaningful for herself and the community. Initially this led her to a leading role in the Landcare movement. Subsequently she has devoted her energies to the Australian affiliate of Emily's List, an organisation which promotes women's careers in politics. Kirner was one of the leaders of the movement in the Labor Party to adopt a policy of setting targets for the number of women candidates in winnable electorates.

In 1993 she famously appeared on The Late Show with colleague David White, MLA, in a musical skit performing Joan Jett's I Love Rock And Roll. This brief performance was covered nationally by the media, and is still remembered today.


Preceded by:
John Cain
Premier of Victoria
1990-1992
Succeeded by:
Jeff Kennett

Template:End box Template:VictoriaPremiers

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