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Joan Kirner
, c. 1990

by Rennie Ellis

type C photograph (sheet: 62.0 cm x 47.0 cm, image: 44.0 cm x 29.0 cm)

Joan Kirner AC (1938-2015) was the first female premier of Victoria. Daughter of a fitter and turner and a homemaker, she attended the selective University High School, graduating from the University of Melbourne to teach in state schools. With her three children at public schools also, she became active in the Victorian Federation of State School Parents’ Clubs, serving as its president from 1971 to 1977 and its executive officer until 1982. In 1980 she was awarded the AM for community service. Four years after joining the Labor Party, aligning herself with its socialist left faction, she entered the Legislative Council in 1982. On the front bench of the Cain government, she promoted environmental initiatives including Landcare. Having been elected to the Legislative Assembly for the seat of Williamstown, she took on the education portfolio, in which she was notably effective, phasing in the Victorian Certificate of Education and increasing retention rates. In August 1990 she replaced John Cain as Premier, but in 1992 she was replaced by Liberal Jeff Kennett. After leaving parliament Kirner was president of the Victorian ALP, remaining active in social justice and the environment and strongly supportive of progressive women in politics. She was co-author of The Women’s Power Handbook (1999). She was made AC in 2012 for her work to establish equality of opportunity for women, alongside her political success. Her concerns and achievements inform the annual Joan Kirner Social Justice Oration.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2006
© Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive
Accession number: 2006.66