Hon. Joan Elizabeth Kirner, AC

Mr SCOTT (Minister for Finance) — I rise to offer my sincere condolences to the family and friends of Joan Kirner, especially her husband, Ron, their three children, Michael, Kate and Dave, and her four grandchildren. Much of what I would have said has been already touched upon in great detail by previous speakers, but there are a couple of points I would like to make.

The career of Joan Kirner touches on one of the most important debates, but if I were honest, I would say it is often inferred rather than said directly. Hers was a career that directly touched upon the equality of who has access to and wields power in our society. We are elected representatives, and we have a very privileged place in the community by being able to make laws and form executive government through the parliamentary system. But it would be a lie to say that access to power has been or even today is equally distributed in the community.

Joan Kirner did much more than most politicians, and perhaps more than any politician, to address one aspect of democratising access to power. She saw a great wrong in that women had not been given fair access to power, particularly in elected office but also in broader aspects of society, and with an unflinching will she confronted that and sought through her actions, both in the Parliament and in great part outside of the Parliament, to address this great injustice. Through her work with EMILY’s List and within the party but also in terms of advocating in the community she sought to democratise and more fairly share within the community the opportunities of those with access to power by ensuring there was greater representation of women in forums such as this, including federal Parliament, and in other forums.

If our democracy is to live true to the creeds upon which we seek to hold it, then who is elected, what background they come from and, in the case of the issues highlighted by Joan Kirner’s life and work, what gender they are is an important issue and one that is often touched upon, as I said, by inference rather than directly confronted — because power is not equally shared in our society and any pretence that it is does not reflect the facts. Joan did many things in her life, but she believed deeply in equality, both in equality of opportunity and in more equal outcomes, and her life was about ensuring that positions of power and authority were more fairly shared in society, and that once power was obtained, it was used both to create further equality of opportunity and more equal outcomes for society.

In making this contribution it is worth my touching upon not just the issues of greater representation in parliaments and in other positions of leadership but also in confronting issues of equality in terms of education, because in 2015 it is hard to think about the sort of society that existed when Joan Kirner became active in politics. There was an expectation in the electorates I represent that children would not go to university, that they would go to a tech school, obtain a trade and that the opportunities that existed in the leafy suburbs to pursue academic pursuits would not in large part be for them. Her reforms to and work on the Victorian certificate of education (VCE) went a long way to redressing that, but those battles are still not finished; we do not live in Utopia.

There was a significant change in the expectations in our society about fair access to opportunity in all forms of social advancement and employment through education, that great tool of meritocracy, and of broadening opportunities in the community. Her work in ensuring the reforms around the VCE went a long way towards ensuring greater equality of opportunity and, indeed, equality of outcomes. It is important to note Joan’s focus on ensuring that children who faced disability had access to fair opportunity as well as her deep commitment to equality of opportunity, which is a task that is certainly unfinished, in terms of our Aboriginal community.

Much else has been touched on by previous speakers, and I do not intend to go over the same ground in detail. But in her life Joan was drawn to combating injustice and ensuring that power and authority in our society was more evenly and equally shared, and that the talents that were for so many generations shut out of decision-making and unfairly shut out of positions of authority were afforded an opportunity to make their rightful contributions to our community. Vale, Joan Kirner.