Joan Elizabeth Kirner AM (born 20 June 1938), Australian politician, was the 42nd Premier of Victoria, the first woman to hold the position, which she held for two years prior to a landslide election defeat.
Kirner was born Joan Hood in Essendon, Melbourne and was educated at state and private schools and at the University of Melbourne, where she graduated in arts 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 to 1982. She was appointed to several government advisory bodies on education.
She is an avid supporter of the Essendon Football Club.
Kirner joined the Australian Labor Party in 1978 and became a member of its Socialist Left faction. 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.
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. 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 (VCE).
Later in 1988 Kirner was elected Deputy Premier. 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 the 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. Conservative Melbourne newspaper the Herald Sun reacted with hostility to a Premier from the socialist left, dubbing her "Mother Russia" and other pejorative names. She was lampooned alternatively as a sinister commissar and as a frumpy housewife in a polka dot dress. She allowed the Victorian Trades Hall Council to influence government policy. She seemed unfazed and gradually won some respect, although she was unable to restore the government's standing.
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