Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

ADJOURNMENT: Ms Joan Elizabeth Kirner, AC

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (22:00): Earlier this month, we gathered at the Williamstown Hall in Melbourne to farewell and to show our love for an extraordinary woman. At that service, where we farewelled Joan Kirner, it was a combination of love, so many shared memories and also an almost sense of disbelief that this force of nature whose passion, energy and resilience have influenced so many was no longer going to be with us. She was no longer going to be the voice on the end of the phone to say, 'How are you?' when you were feeling just a little bit down. She was no longer going to be there to send a message of support at exactly the right time or to put something in a newspaper which would stir up your passion so that you would continue the fight that was so important to all of us.

Joan was a true woman of passion in the way that she led her life from the time she worked so hard to get a strong education. She was strongly supported by her parents, of whom she spoke so lovingly in her first speech as a member of the Victorian parliament. She then went on to work in various fields, particularly education, in the development of policy. So many have spoken about the way that she became political-though it seems hard to believe that the woman was ever not political-when, as a young mum, she took on the forces of the education department in Victoria to ensure that her family would have a strong education and that there would be the right-sized class for her young child.

People forget that before Joan was first elected to serve in the Victorian parliament, she had already been honoured with an Australia Day honour because of the work that she had done in her community, particularly in education and in the very important area of Landcare. The woman worked. She had strong values. Indeed, in the publication that she and her good friend Moira Rayner wrote in 1999, which was a guide book, a tool box, for women to have power, she talked about her values. She said: 'I expect to have my values respected. They are so fundamental that I don't need to spell them out to myself anymore. I know what I believe in. All people are of equal worth. Everyone has an equal right to shape their own lives. Everyone has an equal right to be able to meet their basic needs and to achieve this it is necessary to spread opportunities and life chances as widely as possible to eliminate inequalities, to accept personal and political responsibility and to promote community participation and ownership of decisions.' She also said: 'My values: I try to measure my actions against them all the time and they are that women matter as much as men do. Women have the right to determine their own lives. Women's experience matters and should be valued. Women should be able to describe freely and share those experiences. Women's knowledge and experience should be part of decision making at all levels. Women are entitled to a fair share of the infrastructure that creates equality and equity, education and training, employment, safety, health, family, resources and representation.'

Joan's strength was that she genuinely loved people. People interested her and she wanted to learn about those with whom she mixed. She had a special smile, and so whenever people were in her company she wanted to know how they were. I do not think I remember a time when she did not say, 'How are you?' That was personal and direct, but the next bit was the challenge: 'And what are you doing?'

Everybody has a Joan Kirner story. It is one of the things that we share, now that she is not with us physically. But she is with us, as you well know, Madam Acting Deputy President Peris. I first met Joan in 1995 at the Women Power and Politics conference in South Australia-an amazing event which I have talked about before, which was a celebration of 100 years of suffrage in that state, which led us all, Senator McEwen. Bless the South Australians! She was a keynote speaker-of course she was a keynote speaker. I met her there, and from that moment on I lived not to disappoint her, because when she shared her love she also shared her challenge and her challenge was that we would be the best possible people that we could be.

We all know the work she did as premier, and so many of us know the ongoing commitment she had to ensure those values of which I spoke: to ensure that women had absolute equity. She did that in a number of ways, and certainly from my experience it was through the political network that she helped to start. I have always introduced Joan when I have been in her company as Saint Joan the Patron Saint of EMILY's List . EMILY's List has worked to support women within the Labor Party-I also think it has been and is an inspiration to women who are interested in politics, no matter which party they belong to-to look at what they can do to make choices that are informed and to make themselves and their community stronger and better. With EMILY's List, Joan was not only the leader; she was also the mother and the heart of the organisation-and that will always be.

I have known women across this country who have been through the midst political preselections and campaigns, which are always stressful, as we well know. Joan would ring you up. Often without warning, she would be on the phone and it would just be, 'Joan here.' I have known the impact that this has had on women as they have been working through their own personal journeys in the political sphere. Also, once you achieved process in this area, she never forgot and she would follow up. She would also have very definite suggestions for actions you could take That challenge was always something inspirational. It was that personal link that I think made her influence so strong.

Many people do not know that Joan Kirner had been unwell for many years. She and her family and close friends worked extraordinarily hard to ensure that nobody outside knew her pain and her suffering, because she felt she had a role to play to support numerous organisations, numerous people, and also to bring that special charm and energy into the work that she did. She had an expectation that while you lived you worked-you had a responsibility to ensure that your world was a better place. Joan left all of us a legacy to continue the work she had set out for us to do. Of course she had an expectation that those values of equity would be entrenched, not just in parliament but in the wider community. Her commitment to Aboriginal equity in this country meant that there were very many messages of support and loss expressed by Aboriginal people across the country, as you know, Madam Acting Deputy President Peris, and recognition in the Constitution was one idea that she was hoping she would see come to fruition.

To my good friend Ron, Joan's partner of over 50 years: Ron, you and your family shared Joan with us and gave her complete support and love. We now share her loss with you and the family, but I think we all know that her spirit and her challenge will continue. The biographical details of Joan Kirner are legendary; they have all been spelt out and we know the achievements and lows of her career. Those of us who were fortunate enough to know the woman, to share her love and to know that she genuinely cared, must remember her legacy of equity and support and passion, making sure that all people are of equal worth, as we remember the legacy of her wonderful memory and that extraordinary laugh when you touched her funny bone. That will always be a strong memory of Joan Kirner.