9 June 2015

Mr WYNNE (Minister for Planning) — I rise to make a contribution to celebrate the life of Joan Kirner. I had the honour of working with Joan as a ministerial adviser and as Lord Mayor of Melbourne. At her memorial service last Friday, in a jam-packed Williamstown town hall, we heard moving eulogies and personal reflections from those who were closest to Joan. Each contribution gave us an insight into the rich life of this remarkable Victorian.

One enduring theme shone through for me. Joan simply would not stand by and let injustice and inequality remain unaddressed, whether that be through her lifelong commitment to educational reform, her representation of women in public life through EMILY’s List, her advocacy for Aboriginal communities — particularly Paul Briggs and the community of Rumbalara — her support for government intervention through programs such as neighbourhood renewal or of course her commitment to the fundamental reform of women’s right to choose and control their health. Joan had the ability to engender lifelong loyalty. People were drawn to her, and she took a genuine interest in them and supported so many in their professional development and indeed their personal lives. The moving personal reflection of Hutch Hussein spoke to this.

Joan served as Premier from 1990 to 1992, which overlapped with my time at Melbourne town hall. We worked closely together on a number of projects, including the Melbourne bid to host the 1996 Olympic Games. I will always remember those last frantic weeks and days leading up to the decision in Tokyo. One of the tasks assigned to Joan and myself was to try to find the Romanian delegate. This was a crucial vote that Melbourne needed if it was going to win this bid. We enlisted the support of my wife, who was a linguist. Unfortunately, however, our capacity to communicate with this delegate was somewhat curtailed because my wife’s Romanian was fairly sketchy at best. But we persevered. We went up and down in lifts chasing this fellow, and we finally found him. A long time later we learnt that he was fluent in not only his native tongue but also English. He insisted, however, that he would speak to us only in Romanian. Not surprisingly, we did not get his vote.

Targeted lobbying of delegates reached a crescendo as we sat in the hall awaiting the final decision. I held hands with Joan and we were barely able to breathe, such was the tension. As we now know, in spite of our superior bid, the winner was Atlanta. This crushing blow was quickly dismissed by Joan when she announced the next day that we would have another go for 2000. Of course history will record Sydney’s success in that endeavour, but that success came off the back of Melbourne’s groundbreaking work. We were robbed!

Joan assumed the office of Premier during a period of unprecedented decline in the Victorian economy. She fought hard to encourage investment and provide confidence and continuity of leadership. She stood up to unprecedented hectoring and commentary from sections of the media and remained steadfast in her resolve to lead the state through the economic firestorm. At the town hall we worked cooperatively on a range of projects, including housing in the CBD and the pedestrianisation of Swanston Street. I proposed that pedestrianisation to Joan, and she funded it. I remember going to her office to pitch the idea armed with plans that rolled out 20 metres along the floor. On hands and knees she examined every aspect of the design and then stood up and said, ‘I’ve got to fund this’. It was a project that revitalised the CBD of Melbourne.

The last time I saw Joan I was in the company of former minister Kay Setches and Paul Briggs. Although obviously unwell, she advocated to a range of then shadow ministers for continued support of the work of Rumbalara, one of many projects to which she remained committed.

To achieve as Joan did throughout her life one must be surrounded by like-minded and committed colleagues. At the memorial service for Joan we heard from Jenny Beacham, former state Labor member Candy Broad and former minister Caroline Hogg — all great contributors to public life. As all of us in this chamber know, however, it is those who support you at home and who give you the freedom and social licence to pursue public life to whom we must remain indebted. We owe them all a great debt. In this regard I want to acknowledge Ron Kirner, a most gentle man, and of course Joan’s children and grandchildren.

Fairness was at the cornerstone of Joan Kirner’s work — fairness in educational opportunity, a fairer outcome for Aboriginal Victorians, a fairer distribution of resources to low-income Victorians, fairness in access to legal family planning services and equal representation of women in public life. That is fair. Joan Kirner leaves an extraordinary and lasting legacy. Vale, Joan Kirner.