Joan Kirner

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The Honourable
Joan Kirner
Joan Kirner, 1992 Swinburne.png
42nd Premier of Victoria
Elections: 1992
In office
10 August 1990 – 6 October 1992
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor Davis McCaughey
Richard McGarvie
Deputy Jim Kennan
Preceded by John Cain (junior)
Succeeded by Jeff Kennett
21st Deputy Premier of Victoria
In office
7 February 1989 – 10 August 1990
Premier John Cain (junior)
Preceded by Robert Fordham
Succeeded by Jim Kennan
Leader of the Opposition of Victoria
In office
6 October 1992 – March 1993
Deputy Jim Kennan
Preceded by Jeff Kennett
Succeeded by Jim Kennan
Member of the Victorian Parliament
for Williamstown
In office
1 October 1988 – 27 May 1994
Preceded by Gordon Stirling
Succeeded by Steve Bracks
Member of the Victorian Legislative Council for Melbourne West
In office
3 April 1982 – 30 September 1988
Preceded by Herbert "Bon" Thomas
Succeeded by Licia Kokocinski
Personal details
Born Joan Elizabeth Hood
(1938-06-20)20 June 1938
Essendon, Victoria, Australia
Died 1 June 2015(2015-06-01) (aged 76)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Political party Australian Labor Party
Spouse(s) Ronald George Kirner
Children Michael, Kate, and David
Alma mater University of Melbourne
Profession Teacher

Joan Elizabeth Kirner AC (née Hood; 20 June 1938 – 1 June 2015) was an Australian politician who was the 42nd Premier of Victoria, serving from 1990 to 1992. A Labor Party member of the Parliament of Victoria from 1982 to 1994, she was a member of the Legislative Council before later winning a seat in the Legislative Assembly. Kirner was a minister and briefly deputy premier in the government of John Cain Jr., and succeeded him as premier following his resignation. She was Australia's third female head of government and second female premier, Victoria's first, and held the position until her party was defeated in a landslide at the 1992 state election.

Early life and career[edit]

Born Joan Elizabeth Hood in Essendon, Melbourne, the only child of John Keith and Beryl Edith (née Cole) Hood, a fitter and turner and music teacher respectively, Kirner was educated at state and private schools. She graduated in arts from the University of Melbourne, 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 1978-82. She was appointed to several government advisory bodies on education.[5]

Entry into state politics[edit]

Kirner joined the Australian Labor Party in 1978 and became a member of its Socialist Left faction.[6] 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. She proposed the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, the first Australian legislation which gave legal protection of rare species.[7] While Minister, and in association with Heather Mitchell from the Victorian Farmers' Federation, Kirner was instrumental in the formation of the first Landcare groups.

At the 1988 election, Kirner shifted to the Legislative Assembly, becoming MP for Williamstown, and was promoted to the Education portfolio.[8] 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.[9]


Later in 1988 Kirner was elected deputy leader of the party and became Deputy Premier of Victoria. When Cain resigned after a collapse in his political support in August 1990, Kirner was elected Labor leader and thus became Victoria's first female Premier. By this time the Labor government was in deep crisis, with some of the state's financial institutions on the brink of insolvency, the budget deficit unsustainably high and growing and the Labor Party 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. The conservative-leaning Melbourne newspaper, the Herald Sun, reacted unfavourably to a Premier from the Socialist Left, dubbing her "Mother Russia". She was lampooned alternatively as a sinister commissar and as a frumpy housewife in a polka dot dress. She seemed unfazed by the Herald Sun and gradually won some respect, though she was unable to improve the government's standing significantly.

During 1991 and 1992 Kirner took several decisions to cut government spending and raise revenue to some extent, however her government failed to cut spending in many areas including education. Most of the Kirner Government attempts to cut spending were actively opposed by trade unions and some members of the government. The interest bill alone was $3.5 billion per year,[10] the government sold off trains and trams and leased them back. Another decision was the sale of the state-owned State Bank of Victoria to the Commonwealth Bank in 1991.[11]

Kirner went into 1992 knowing she faced a statutory general election, one which opinion polls gave her virtually no chance of winning. She waited as long as she could, finally calling an election for October. It was obvious as soon as the writs were dropped that Labor would not win a fourth term. Although she remained personally more popular than the Liberal Opposition Leader, Jeff Kennett, it was not nearly enough to overcome the electorate's anger at her party. The Coalition's "Guilty Party" campaign did much to stoke this anger, targeting many Ministers in the Kirner Government and providing examples of concerns in their portfolios.

The Coalition won the election in a landslide, scoring a 19-seat swing—the second-worst defeat that a sitting government has ever suffered in Victoria. The Liberals actually won enough seats that they could have governed in their own right. Kirner remained Opposition Leader for a short period before resigning. She retired from Parliament in 1994 and was succeeded by one of her former aides for the electorate of Williamstown, future premier Steve Bracks.[12]

A portrait of Kirner by artist Annette Bezor hangs in Queens Hall at Parliament House Victoria.

Life after Parliament[edit]

After leaving Parliament, Kirner remained active in community affairs and politics. Initially this led her to a leading role in the Landcare movement. Subsequently she devoted her energies to the Australian affiliate of EMILY's List Australia, an organisation which promotes pro-choice 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. She repeatedly publicly supported candidates identified with her Socialist Left faction. From January 2006, Kirner was the Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee for Victorian Communities.

Kirner was also a board member of Museum Victoria, operators of Melbourne Museum, Royal Exhibition Building, Scienceworks Museum and Immigration Museum, Melbourne. Kirner was a long-time advocate of abortion law reform to legalise abortion. She was an avid supporter of the Essendon Football Club.[13]

In 1993, she famously appeared on The Late Show with colleague David White, MLC for Doutta Galla, in a musical skit performing Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll". This brief performance was covered nationally by the media.[citation needed]

In an August 2009 interview with GTV-9, Kirner revealed that she had suffered a heavy near-fatal fall at a meeting 18 months earlier. She also revealed that she had osteoporosis and was blind in one eye.[14]


In August 2013 it was announced that Kirner had been diagnosed with oesophageal cancer and was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment.[15] Kirner died on 1 June 2015, aged 76.[1]


On 1 January 2001, Kirner was awarded the Centenary Medal.[16]

On 26 January 1980, she was named a Member of the Order of Australia for her community service.[17]

On 11 June 2012, she was named a Companion of the Order of Australia for "eminent service to the Parliament of Victoria and to the community through conservation initiatives, contributions to gender equality, the development of education and training programs and the pursuit of civil rights and social inclusion."[18]

In May 2017 the Victorian Government recognised her legacy by offering 25 scholarships to young women, who will participate in the Joan Kirner Young and Emerging Women Leaders program.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Former Victorian premier Joan Kirner dies aged 76". ABC News. 1 June 2015. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  2. ^ Wallace, Rick (1 June 2015). "Joan Kirner, first female premier of Victoria, dies aged 76". The Australian. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  3. ^ Curtin, Jennifer (1 June 2015). "Joan Kirner obituary: the woman premier who represented many firsts". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 June 2015. 
  4. ^ O'Connor, Heather (2014). "Kirner, Joan Elizabeth". The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia. Australian Women's Archives Project. ISBN 978-0-7340-4873-8. Retrieved 1 June 2015. 
  5. ^ "Vale Joan Kirner". Radio National. Retrieved 2016-03-03. 
  6. ^ Dow, Aisha (2015-06-02). "Victoria's first female premier Joan Kirner dies aged 76". The Age. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  7. ^ "Victorian National Parks Association / Publications / Nature news hub / Vale Joan Kirner - 1938-2015". Retrieved 2017-03-02. 
  8. ^ "Kirner, Joan Elizabeth". Re-member. Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 8 August 2013. 
  9. ^ Power, Rachel (2015-06-06). "The feminist legacy of Joan Kirner". The Age. Retrieved 2016-03-03. 
  10. ^ "Labor And Coalition At Odds Over Reduction In State Debt". 
  11. ^ Hugo Armstrong (1992), "The Tricontinental Affair", in Mark Considine and Brian Costar (eds.), Trials in Power. Cain, Kirner and Victoria 1982–1992, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Chapter 3
  12. ^ "Williamstown - Victorian Election 2014 - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". ABC News. Retrieved 2016-03-03. 
  13. ^ Jim Main, Aussie Rules: For Dummies (2nd edition, 2008), p. 13.
  14. ^ Higginbottom, Nick (4 August 2009). "Former Premier Joan Kirner tells of nearly dieing after fall". Herald Sun. Retrieved 8 August 2013. 
  15. ^ Cook, Henrietta (6 August 2013). "Cancer battle for Joan Kirner, former Victoria Labor premier". The Age. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  16. ^ "Joan Elizabeth Kirner". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 11 June 2012. 
  17. ^ "Joan Elizabeth Kirner AM". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 11 June 2012. 
  18. ^ "Companion (AC) in the General Division of the Order of Australia – The Queen's Birthday 2012 Honours Lists" (PDF). Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia. 11 June 2012. p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 June 2012. 
  19. ^ "Joan Kirner Young and Emerging Women Leaders program". Victorian Government. Retrieved 20 June 2017. 

External links[edit]

Victorian Legislative Council
Preceded by
Herbert "Bon" Thomas
Member for Melbourne West
Succeeded by
Licia Kokocinski
Victorian Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Gordon Stirling
Member for Williamstown
Succeeded by
Steve Bracks
Political offices
Preceded by
Rob Mackenzie
Minister for Conservation, Forests and Lands
Succeeded by
Kay Setches
Preceded by
Caroline Hogg
Minister for Education
Succeeded by
Barry Pullen
Preceded by
Robert Fordham
Deputy Premier of Victoria
Succeeded by
Jim Kennan
Preceded by
John Cain
Premier of Victoria
Succeeded by
Jeff Kennett
Party political offices
Preceded by
John Cain
Leader of the Australian Labor Party in Victoria
Succeeded by
Jim Kennan