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Talking Heads -

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PETER THOMPSON: Joan Kirner was the first woman to be premier of Victoria. Her eldest child's first
day at school, in an overcrowded classroom of 54, was a wake-up call for her entering politics. She
began a long, personal crusade on schools, which ultimately led her to be minister for education.
She became premier in the most difficult imaginable circumstances. These days, she spends much of
her time promoting more women into politics. This week's talking head is Joan Kirner. Joan, it's
great to see you again.

JOAN KIRNER: Great to see you, Peter.

PETER THOMPSON: Thanks for coming on Talking Heads.

JOAN KIRNER: It's a pleasure.

PETER THOMPSON: Now, you weren't quite the first woman premier in Australia, because Carmen
Lawrence beat you to the punch by just a couple of months.

JOAN KIRNER: She did, and that was terrific, 'cause we spent a lot of time talking to each other
about what it was like being a premier - first women premiers in our two states. And, of course,
before that, we were ministers of education together.

PETER THOMPSON: Do you think the expectations on you as a woman were different?

JOAN KIRNER: I think people just couldn't cope with defining us as premiers. They defined us as
FEMALE premiers to start with. So, we had to make our own way, really, in showing that we had the
strength, we had the power, but we could do it differently.

PETER THOMPSON: How sexist were the attitudes towards you being, really, almost an island - not
quite, but almost an island - as a woman, in those days?

JOAN KIRNER: It's hard sometimes for people to get the idea that women should be able to make their
own choices. That's what feminism's about - making your own choices. And I think it's improving,
but, well, we saw the Julia Gillard thing recently being described as 'barren'. Blokes - are they
ever described as 'barren' or 'impotent'? Um, I don't think so.

PETER THOMPSON: So, let's look now at the early life of Joan Hood.

JOAN KIRNER: My family were really important to me in two ways. Dad was a great advocate for social
justice and a very quiet advocate of the essential Labor values. Mum was an absolutely determined
woman. She was determined I would have a good education, and they went without all sorts of things.
She sent me to a private school for four years and I couldn't stay at that school because I
couldn't take the scholarship that I'd won for years 11 and 12. The principal said, "We don't teach
science to girls." My mother then walked out with me in tow and we went to Uni High. So, she just
walked in and she was determined that I'd go to this top school. And it opened up a whole new
world, 'cause we had the refugee kids coming from after the war. So, Uni High changed my life - it
really did. It gave me a broader international, political understanding. I was the youngest child
EVER that went from Uni High to the university. I had to get special permission. University was a
fascinating experience and I got honours right through. I went off to teaching in Ballarat. And I
loved teaching. I'd already got engaged at university to a guy, and he went to teach at Hamilton.
While I was teaching in Ballarat, I met Ron. Anyway, Ron decided he was a much better option - more
attuned to my views of the world - and he said, "Well, you can have an engagement ring or washing
machine." And I said, "No, thank you, I'll have both." So, we came back and built a house in
Croydon North. We had three kids in six years, and the school and the kinder were the centre of our
activities. And that's where I began my political career, as people like to call it. I prefer to
call it my political service.

ON NEWSREEL: If you are not prepared to state publicly and loudly, then we will get the education
system that we deserve.

REPORTER: A quiet, assured woman Joan Kirner works 60, 80 hours a week unpaid, being pleasant and
unpleasant to politicians and bureaucrats sitting on the Schools Commission, along with Australia's
top educationalists.

JOAN KIRNER: A whole new world opened up of understanding how bureaucracies worked, travelling
Australia, and, of course, the first instances of my family actually having to work through what it
was like to have an absent mum, but it was very tough. And Ron has been just absolutely fantastic
'cause he's funded, really, my political participation until I became a member of parliament.
Gradually, people started to express interest in my running for parliament and asked me to run for
Melbourne West. So, I was lucky enough to find a house in Williamstown in this wonderful suburb and
wonderful community. Well, my first ministry was conservation, forests and lands. I nearly DIED
when I got it, 'cause I didn't even have gum boots. I was minister of conservation, forests and
lands from 1985 to '88, and it was probably one of the best jobs I've ever had. And, then, in '88,
there was an election, which John Cain and our team just won. And I, of course, had always wanted
to be minister of education - that's why I went into politics. I knew what I wanted to do. And it
was a great ministry for change.

PETER THOMPSON: Joan, thinking about John and Beryl - your parents - where do you think you got
your strength from, because that's been a marked thing - as an outsider - since you're a person of
real strength?

JOAN KIRNER: I think to be strong, as distinct from tough, you have to have a sense of values. Now,
I think I got my sense of values from my dad. The other thing you need, I think, is a sense of
purpose. Now, Mum had a sense of purpose, as you could see from the film. She was a fairly strong
lady and she was determined I'd have the best education possible, 'cause she didn't and her brother
did, 'cause he was a boy. And she - I was so lucky. I mean, I grew up with the idea from my mum,
that girls can do anything and what's more - should.

PETER THOMPSON: You were a bright young kid...

JOAN KIRNER: Yeah, reasonably bright.

PETER THOMPSON: You had a scholarship to Penleigh, which - private school. But, as you say, they
wouldn't teach you science.

JOAN KIRNER: Domestic science, of course, we learnt - how to make rice pudding and all those things
- but we didn't know. So, off I went to Uni High, which really changed my life, I think. And I met
this marvelous guy - another teacher who changes your life. And that was Mr Chapman, the principal,
with his really bright blue eyes. He said, "Well, Ms Hood, are you as bright as your mother says
you are?" And that was one of the first big decisions I had to make, which was - would I say 'yes'
or 'no'? So, I said 'yes', and that was reflected, I think, in the rest of my life, where I
mightn't of been sure if I could do it, like becoming premier - I certainly wasn't sure I could do
that. But I decided not only that I could do it, but I SHOULD do it.

PETER THOMPSON: At Melbourne Uni High... this seemed to open a whole world for you more than what
was in the school books.

JOAN KIRNER: Oh, yes, I came from a fairly mono-cultural area of Essendon, where I got my footy
passion from, of course, and to this school where kids were refugees. They were the northern
European refugees and southern European. Some of them have been through the Polish ghettos. That's
why I can't STAND the way we treat refugees now because - and we haven't yet woken up to the fact,
really, that they need a different kind of respect, a different kind of support. I mean, my
upbringing was social justice and community activism. That's what mum and dad did, not just talked
about - DID. And, so, now, my advocacy is community. And they're gonna make such a great
contribution, and I saw it - oh, how many years ago is it now? - 40 or so years ago, and it's here
again.

PETER THOMPSON: Talking about your dad, one of your proudest days was obviously being sworn into
parliament.

JOAN KIRNER: Yes. Oh...yes.

PETER THOMPSON: And your dad was ill.

JOAN KIRNER: Yes, now that's an interesting lesson in life this one. Um, Dad had a heart attack
just after he retired, like hard-working men had. Finished up in a wheelchair, Mum was devoted...
And that morning he could hardly breath. And my mother said, "I can't cope." And, so, he didn't go.
So, I spent the day in tears, really - sort of holdin' 'em back. And, when I got home, of course,
to tell him the whole story, he was in tears. And, you know, I learnt from that that you should
never, never take another person's right to make a decision away. So, what I should have said was,
"Dad, it's your choice. Do you want to go? If you want to go, you can go. But you realise you could
not be there at the end of the day." And I think most individuals make those decisions in a way
which benefit both themselves and their communities.

PETER THOMPSON: Well, Joan, you were to find yourself becoming premier quite unexpectedly. Let's
have a look at that.

JOAN KIRNER: Things were getting pretty tough for the government. The Murdoch press were clearly
determined to get the Cain government. And Robert Fordham - our Deputy Premier - was under the
pump, as they say. So, it was an opportunity to serve John and add a bit of the healing community
connection to the team at the top. John had made a pledge not to increase taxes. And we clearly
couldn't get a budget together unless he broke that pledge.

JOHN CAIN:: I told the court, I said, "Last night, I advised the Governor of my intention to
resign."

JOAN KIRNER: Great leader. Great leader. And a...and a really brave decision.

REPORTER: The contest was over within an hour. Not surprisingly, Joan Kirner emerged triumphant,
unscarred, with the sheriff's badge.

JOAN KIRNER: I have the pleasure in announcing that I am the new Premier. It is an awesome
responsibility...

REPORTER: With or without John Cain, the odds are against Labor surviving in this State. The
Premier's Cup may well turn out to be a poisoned chalice.

JOAN KIRNER: I had no idea that it was going to be as tough as it was or that the economy was as
bad as it was, but I decided I would take that job. I had to make some very big decisions, and it's
a big jump from being a minister to being a premier.

NEWSREEL: This will be the toughest Victorian budget, I believe, shaped since the war.

JOAN KIRNER: I went to see Paul Keating and he said, "Look, you've got to get that State Bank debt
burden off your back." You can imagine what it was like deciding to sell the symbol of Victoria's
prosperity, knowing that somewhere in the house I still have my mum and dad's State Bank bankbook.
All of sudden, my image in the media changed. It was extraordinary! The first day, I'm in the
little black dress, gold brooch, looking good. The second day, the first of the polka-dotted
cartoons appeared in the 'Herald Sun'. And I couldn't believe it. To stop it getting on top of me I
eventually had to turn it around. And what we decided to do was have a 'Spot On, Joan' concert.
'Cause I'd never worn a polka-dot dress in my life. Our determination was to make spots a badge of
courage. We'd been in office for 18 months and we were preparing for the election campaign as was
Jeff Kennett and his team. The polls were showing we were 16% down. The actual election was 5.6%,
which was just extraordinary, really, to pull it back that far. I'm here to tell you that being
leader of the Opposition is the worst job in the world. Never take it. And anyway, I stayed there
to cop the slings and arrows of outrageous commentary for nearly 18 months and I was alright at
keeping the team together but I just couldn't fight fire with fire. So, I had to decide then what I
was going to do with my life. When I'd gone into parliament we had about 12 women went in for the
Labor side. But when I left there were only four. The challenge became to get equal numbers of
progressive Labor women into the parliament. First of all we got an affirmative action rule into
the Labor Party's constitution which said that by the year 2000 we had to have 35% of people
contesting winnable seats to be women. In fact, the '96 preselections were worse. And so we
realised we didn't only have to change the rules we had to change the culture. So that's what
Emily's List is about a political and financial network for women to get into parliament... We now
have something like 153, and that's just Labor women. Well, that's not all that happened in the
'90s. Some wonderful things in a family sense. Probably the most joyous stuff is Ron and my kids
building their careers and all doing well in the things they like to do. And four grandchildren.
All of a sudden, the very clever Jane Kennedy decided that I would be a rock'n'roll star. I was so
embarrassed by it I didn't tell anybody. I certainly didn't tell Ron. So anyway, we're sitting in
front of the telly that night and I came on and he just sat transfixed, he didn't say a word.

PETER THOMPSON: Well, Joan, after that long silence what did Ron finally say?

JOAN KIRNER: I don't think he said anything for ages. The silence was broken by a phone call from
my daughter. See, I hadn't told Ron so it was all a bit much. And I wouldn't have done it while I
was premier of course. But - maybe I should've. because that's the thing people, particularly young
people, recognise me for.

PETER THOMPSON: Any really prominent public figure gets caricatured in some way. One of the most
extraordinary things, really, was the polka-dot dress.

JOAN KIRNER: Yes.

PETER THOMPSON: With cartoon after cartoon.

JOAN KIRNER: Great learning process now though. I mean, it happened to Carmen too. Carmen's was
'Lawrence of Suburbia' Isn't it interesting that both of us, who are reasonably able women, had to
be tagged with the suburban mum tag. Nothing wrong with that - the trouble was, the implication
was, a suburban mum couldn't be premier. Now isn't that interesting compared with Julia Gillard,
who, because she's not a mum, can't be the deputy prime minister?

PETER THOMPSON: Certainly there was talk at the time - you had taken on that job and Carmen has
taken on the job in Western Australia - that it would never have gone to a woman yet the times were
impossible.

JOAN KIRNER: What I would say is that one of the essences of politics is good timing. And my timing
was lousy. It was extraordinarily tough. So yes, we were in debt, but it took Jeff about five years
to bring it back. so my view is it's very interesting now seeing the carry on of that rationale
about you musn't have debt but you can have private debt, you see, you can have people with huge
mortgages buy you musn't have public debt and why is our infrastructure collapsing and investment
infrastructure as costs? When in fact, they're inter-generational investment. You just watch the
debate that comes up now over the two views of broadband. And we will hear, constantly, that Labor
is attacking the future fund. Well, you can't have a future without investment in quality public
services and quality public infrastructure.

PETER THOMPSON: Personally, how can you... ..manage to keep going in all those circumstances? What
did you draw on?

JOAN KIRNER: Ah, Ron's support. My friends' support. I had very good friends - don't let anybody
tell you that you can't have friends in politics. There were mornings I had to kind of - I went on
my morning walk with my friends, I really had to say to myself, "I WILL go to work this morning."
It was very tough. On the other hand, I got the opportunity to host people like Nelson Mandela and
learn from him what real suffering was like. And the important thing, I think, is you cannot take
it personally. It's about politics and power.

PETER THOMPSON: You said, tearfully... You had that moment where you were stepping down, and you
talked about the toll this all had on your family.

JOAN KIRNER: Yes.

PETER THOMPSON: What was that toll?

JOAN KIRNER: Well, I said that the community owed my family a lot. My daughter's - well, my
family's description of that - the kids - is that they never had home-made cake in their lunches
and every other kid did. Now, that's not enough to go into tears about, but it's a description
about how I was really there with them in their - as what seemed to be the first priority, it's
just the toll of something else always being first. Of being owned by the public first. Rather than
being first a part of your own family. It's enormous tension.

PETER THOMPSON: Joan, there are many things you are doing today - let's look at some of them.

JOAN KIRNER: I finished with Emily's List as a co-convener in 2005. but they had to find something
for me to do, so they made me an ambassador. So, how many women are in seats that are crucial to
winning government? The other thing we have to do is maintain the numbers, 'cause the price of
equity is eternal vigilance, of course. As I say, I'm still in politics, but it's community
politics. which I think is a better kind of politics. And Peter Batchelor has just appointed me the
first Victorian Communities Ambassador. so I now get to do these things as a job. And two of the
programs we're particularly impressed with. One is Neighbourhood Renewal, which is a program out of
the Department of Housing. And the second is Community Renewal, which is a program centred on the
people in those communities being enabled to made decisions about their own futures. These are
people living in Heathdale in Werribee in Victoria, who never really thought that they had the
right to demand the things that I would have demanded when my children were young. When I came to
be the local member for the west, way back in '82, one of the things that I was told by my
community was we wanted to preserve the history of the west. And we persuaded John Cain to turn
this into a Science Works museum. It's now fantastic to actually be on the museum board, and it's a
fantastic museum. We're just down the road from Science Works - the museum - and the Government has
just bought this land and we in the museum, and in the west, are hoping that this will become a
wonderful treasure house with all the storage of the State library, the State gallery and the
museum. One of the great things about living in Williamstown is the good friends I've made and the
good friends I've had working with me. Part of my life has been Linelle Gibson, who, when I was not
around for Kate, she really became Katie's teacher and mentor, because she's really given Kate the
emotional and professional support to move on, and not only that, she was the one to get me out of
bed every morning at 6 o'clock, so we could go for the morning walk and we weren't allowed to talk
politics. I do spend a little bit of time doing fun things - things that Ron and I enjoy. The last
ten years, we've gone camping - usually in the winter months - and we've had some fantastic trips.
I didn't want to go camping at first, I have to say, I'd rather a couple of star hotels, or more
than a couple of stars, but, ah... ..when I get there and camp, in the van, sit out under the stars
at night with a fire and get a chance to observe the bird life and talk to people out on the track,
it brings you back to, I think, the reality of living with the land instead of just living on it.

PETER THOMPSON: Joan, there's something about the immensity of outback Australia which you found
just a bit hard to deal with.

JOAN KIRNER: Oh, absolutely. But it brought me a new understanding of how, unless you're connected
with the land, you're not really connected with yourself or the nation. And Australians, I think,
are slowly beginning to realise that the land owns us, we don't own the land. It's taken climate
change to achieve that. And you get this sense of forces which are outside your control.

PETER THOMPSON: Stepping down from a position of power - of course, you'd lost the election - but
stepping out of all of that, how easy is it to re-adjust to the real world?

JOAN KIRNER: I suppose what I needed was the opportunity to still go and visit the communities and
work with them to create change. When I didn't have that - when I didn't seem to have a purpose for
existence - I found that hard.

PETER THOMPSON: One of your grandchildren made a remark about, 'when you were boss'.

JOAN KIRNER: (Laughs) Yes. "When you were important, Nan..." or "Nan, were you really boss of
Australia?" And I say to her, "No, you can be that. But I was boss of Victoria." She doesn't know
what it was like, so she thinks that's impressive. But my oldest grandson, who's now doing
philosophy at RMIT, he loves now to have a discussion about the way politics and ideas work. So,
that's one of the best parts of our lives at the moment.

PETER THOMPSON: Joan, it's great talking to you again.

JOAN KIRNER: Terrific, Peter. You're a great interviewer.

PETER THOMPSON: Thank you very much. And that's Joan Kirner.