Vale Joan Elizabeth Kirner

Ms  GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — A portrait of the Honourable Joan Kirner, AC, Victoria’s first ever and only female Premier, Still Opening Doors, was on display at her funeral at Williamstown town hall last Friday. Like many, I have been with Joan Kirner in many rooms, in many places. It was always a pleasure and a privilege to welcome her and to be welcomed by her.

Joan ventured wider and higher in the places and people she met than did most of us. She led a busy and powerful life. She was always a well-prepared teacher, a leader looked up to, especially in difficult times — the boss. She was always pleased to see you and everyone else in any room anywhere. She was a keen listener, a leader who led by example — first among equals.

There is much to say about Joan’s life, public and private: bright child, star student, community activist, mother, politician, Labor Premier, feminist, friend, grandmother and, as the Premier said today, the Labor Party’s great companion. My parliamentary colleagues have eloquently spoken. It has been a tad heartening to see the media coverage of her — the best ever at last.

Deputy Speaker, it is as though Joan were in the chair, making sure each of us is making our own special contributions to her story. My brief contribution will feature the three-plus years we spent working together on the Hampton Park community renewal project in my first term as the member for Narre Warren South. I loved every minute of it, and I know Joan loved it too, and everyone loved Joan. I noticed on that long rollcall of organisations and groups Joan was involved with — and I know for sure there are many more in many other places that she regularly supported, visited and plotted and planned with — the absence of the boardrooms of the big end of town. It is my strong contention that they too would have greatly benefited from her sharp instincts, her contemporary insights and her indefatigable work ethic. As the strongest advocate for social justice I have ever met, her involvement would have resulted in a more inclusive, much improved corporate environment for workers, employers, the community and the environment. ‘Dividends all around’ would have been the call if Joan had been involved.

She was really thrilled with the Premier’s commitment to 50 per cent female representation on government boards and appointments. It would be a fitting tribute and acknowledgement of Joan Kirner’s enormous contributions to the lives of all Victorians — yes, she touched all Victorians — if the business world joined that project too. It is time. It is time to catch up.

Instead, groups like the Hampton Park Community Renewal Committee got the benefit of Joan’s presence and purpose. Recently, at Joan’s Williamstown home over a cuppa with me and — another first — former Speaker Judy Maddigan, she declared how much she had enjoyed her role as Victorian Communities Ambassador and how valuable community renewal projects are for governments and communities alike. She had a profound belief that the people who are affected by decisions should be part of making them. In fact she said she was going to write a letter to the Premier. I know she did, because that same afternoon she rang me to tell me it was in the post. There is still more to do on Joan’s everlasting to-do list.

I recall Joan arriving at Hampton Park, alighting from a big white car. I do not think everyone really believed she was going to come, but she did, in her own inimitable style. She just kept coming, day and night, to make sure we kept going, and of course we did because we did not dare not to; she checked up on us. I asked members of the Hampton Park Community Renewal Committee how they remember Joan. I know Joan would value their comments, as she did everyone’s and would have wanted their views to be heard together with ours, because we were all privileged to have her as our constant mentor, dear friend and belligerent and beguiling advocate. At this stage I put on the record my heartfelt and enlightened gratitude to Ron Kirner, their children Kate, David and Michael, and their grandchildren for sharing their wife, mother and grandmother with us.

To the good people of Hampton Park, Erica Maliki, who transformed her anger and grief into community action. We will never forget the Walk for Hallam Road. She said:

Joan was an absolute inspiration to me. She is quite honestly the best woman I ever met and made me believe that anything I put my mind to, I could achieve. As an ambassador to the Hampton Park community renewal she made us strive to make it work. Her presence at our meetings and constant encouragement helped make the project such a success.

Vanassa Gerdes, who led a business organisation and partnered it with a community development project — win-win! — said:

Joan Kirner was an inspirational woman — passionate, a great leader, and her generosity was outstanding — we’ll miss her. She had a huge impact on us and I know was much loved by everyone involved in community renewal.

Tony O’Hara, a long-serving community leader who got even more done with Joan by his side — roads were his specialty — said:

Joan played an integral role in helping the local community secure the much-needed upgrade of Hallam Road — her advice and involvement was exceptionally valuable.

Lynette Keleher, a councillor at the time and just learning a new role, said:

I found Joan to be such a warm and generous woman, who was always so willing to provide advice and comfort. She was a true inspiration and mentor to all women.

Warren Calder, president of just about everything in Hampton Park, including renewal, said:

When you met her she was not like a politician. She made you feel you could do it, made you feel good about yourself — more, she made you feel better than you ever believed you could feel about yourself. We had one hell of a good time together and after 15 years of disappointment, we got that damn road.

Then there is Eddy Vrieze, a retired teacher whose wife, Kaye, had worked with Joan. Kaye told him, ‘Eddy, get involved. You’ll learn something’. Eddy said:

Joan was remarkably sharp on providing advice. She would listen to everything and was always able to come up with a solution to any problem we had.

Kaye, who is also on the Victorian Women’s Roll of Honour, said Joan would move mountains to support any program that would assist those in need.

Pamela Thornton, who became a newsletter coordinator in her retirement, said:

Joan had a wonderful ability to see the heart of the problem. Clear thinking was one of her strengths. When our committee was at an impasse, tossing thoughts around, Joan was able to bring it all together and say, ‘How about this?’, and suggest a motion we could all approve of. It was magic. Her empathy, modesty and ability to just have fun are the attributes I think of first. Such a pity she could not stay longer.

For me, the people have said it all. Joan opened doors for all of us. So many people — so many of us — are so grateful for the generous, resilient and honourable life of Joan Kirner.

I will end with a lesson from Matthew 7:7, which says:

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

Or to paraphrase Joan, sitting outside the then Minister for Education’s office:

We’re not going anywhere until you let us in and listen to what we have to say.

Vale Joan Elizabeth Kirner.