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A tribute to the Hon. Joan Elizabeth Kirner

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Ellen Sandell
State MP for Melbourne
19 June 2015

Ms SANDELL (Melbourne) — I am honoured to make a few short remarks on behalf of the Victorian Greens to thank Joan Kirner for her work within the political arena and outside of it and to send our condolences to her family, friends and colleagues.


I only had the pleasure of meeting Joan Kirner once, which was at Evan Walker's funeral earlier this year. I got up the courage to introduce myself to her and she quickly replied, 'I know who you are'. It was perhaps one of the biggest compliments I received in my first six months in Parliament that Joan Kirner — so respected as she was — would know who I was. But hopefully it is not too surprising. I would like to think that her support for women in Parliament extended across party lines and that she would have been pleased to see women — especially pro-choice women — in the Greens and in other parties as well as in her own party elected to Parliament.

Of course, even though I only met her once, I know her work and legacy extremely well. As a woman in politics, it has had a positive influence on me personally. There are a few things in particular I and the Greens would like to thank Joan Kirner for. Thanks, Joan, for standing up for public education. Thank you for being a strong community activist and for making a lasting contribution to our society even after you left politics, which shows that we all have a responsibility to stand up when we see an injustice, no matter whether we are in a position of power or not. I would like to thank you for your stoicism, wit and humour under tough circumstances in politics, especially when you were often treated badly by others. It inspires those of us to continue on when we too face tough circumstances. Thanks for being a feminist and for calling out sexism where you saw it. Thanks for fighting for abortion law reform and for your tireless advocacy for a woman's right to choose what happens to her own body.

And of course we would like to thank Joan for the legacy she left as the Minister for Conservation, Forests and Land. We thank her for the Errinundra and Coopracambra national parks in East Gippsland, for expanding the Snowy River and Little Desert national parks and for fighting for the Alpine National Park, where I spent so much of my childhood, and for introducing the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988, which was groundbreaking for its time. While it has not always been well resourced and enforced, the legislation has been an important tool in the environmentalists' armoury in the battle to save Victoria's natural heritage. And of course we thank her for introducing Landcare; its successes endure today across not just Victoria but the whole country. What an incredible legacy to leave. I hope this new government and future governments take inspiration from Joan's environmental work in their work over the next few years and give thanks for the best ever rendition of Joan Jett's I Love Rock'n'Roll and her ability to laugh at herself.

The Victorian public and I did not agree with everything Joan did during her time in Parliament. Some have criticised her for the introduction of poker machines into Victoria, but I notice that she later regretted that decision and called for tighter controls on pokies. It takes courage to admit failure. Let us hope current and future governments can heed her word and learn from her mistakes.

Since Joan Kirner's death, many people have come out of the woodwork to share their stories about how she touched them personally. My mum told me about an incident when Joan Kirner came to visit for an event in Mildura. She worked the room before her speech, and when she did get up to speak she was able to remember the names and stories of almost every single person in that room. Her community engagement and commitment to participation were remarkable, and that is what so many people remember about Joan: a warm, engaging, fiercely intelligent and bold woman who truly valued and remembered those with whom she came into contact, no matter where they were from or who they were.

I am personally indebted to Joan for paving the way for future female leaders and showing our state a new way of doing politics. I end with my favourite quote from Joan Kirner, which has been doing the rounds on social media. It resonates deeply with me and my reasons for going into politics. Joan said:

There is no such thing as being non-political. Just by making a decision to stay out of politics you are making the decision to allow others to shape politics and exert power over you. And if you are alienated from the current political system, then just by staying out of it you do nothing to change it, you simply entrench it.

Thanks for attempting to change it, Joan, and for supporting and inspiring those of us who have also made the decision to go into politics. My sincere condolences to Joan's family, friends and colleagues.

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Ellen Sandell
State MP for Melbourne
19 June 2015




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