Joan Kirner recalls her time as Victorian premier, 2008

Transcript of the recording

I had two choices really. I could run for premier and fill John Cain's position or I could disappoint the many people who'd supported me and let it go to another bloke. A lot of people who'd said, 'Oh, you should go into politics' expected that I would keep accepting the challenges and would have been fairly disappointed if I hadn't accepted this one, particularly as I was a woman, I would be the first woman. So I decided that even though I knew the world economy was bad and was impacting on Victoria as a manufacturing industry base much harder than most other states in Australia, other than South Australia probably, that I did have some of the things that were necessary to heal the community, and some of the strengths that were necessary to take the community with me on some issues. The trouble was, I didn't have the money to invest that would have taken those things further.

So I had a choice, and I made the choice to run as one of the candidates, and then of course a considerable number of the caucus, or a majority of the caucus, wanted me to do it, because they felt it was time for a change in the way that the government was led. So, to them I had the capacity to heal and to bring communities together, and also to be strong enough to withstand the considerable challenges, like having to sell the State Bank, which were facing me.

The community and the newspapers particularly, or the Herald Sun newspaper particularly, drew attention to the gender issue. No-one had done it in Victoria before. There were certainly no benchmarks. At the same time as I was doing it, my good friend Carmen [Lawrence] was doing it in WA. She'd only been premier for a few months before me. So it was all new. The only other woman leader we'd had in Australia was Rosemary Follett as chief secretary in the ACT, which is hardly a state to run. So, there were no role models. So we both, Carmen and I, both had a responsibility to carve out a role which would be accepted by the whole community, not just by women, and it was challenging, because there was no role model. And I had a strong reputation as a feminist, as someone who was always proud to be called a feminist, and I didn't back away from that when I was premier, and nor did Carmen for that matter.

So I think it was a bit of a shock to have on the radio every morning, somebody who didn't thrust into their face that I was a feminist, but didn't back away from being one either. So, yes it was challenging for the community. And for the first six months, I was pretty nervous about whether I ... I was questioning whether I could fulfil the role or not, and I think that showed up in the way I handled interviews and the job. But I learned that the best way of convincing the community about your abilities and your care for them and your passion was to be yourself, not to try to be somebody else.

And in terms of the Herald Sun cartoons which daily depicted me as a suburban housewife with an apron and moccasins because I come from the western suburbs, don't ... and a polka-dot dress which I never wore, I had to turn that into a joke on the Herald Sun rather than a joke on myself. So, yeah, it was challenging. People still expect me to turn up in a polka-dot dress.