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Toner, Pauline Therese (1935–1989)

A former Victorian Government minister, Pauline Toner, died yesterday morning after a long illness.

The Premier, John Cain, immediately paid tribute to Mrs Toner as a woman of courage and commitment. Later the Government announced that there would be a state funeral for Mrs Toner on March 10 at 1.30pm, at St Mary's Catholic Church, Greensborough, and afterwards at Eltham Cemetery.

Mrs Toner, 53, had been suffering from cancer.

On Wednesday she announced her resignation as the Member for Greensborough, which she had held for the ALP since 1977.

Her resignation forces a by-election which, if lost by the Labor Party, could reduce the Cain Government's working majority to one seat.

In 1982, she was appointed Community and Welfare Services Minister in the first Cain Ministry — the first woman to hold a Cabinet post in Victoria.

She was dropped from Cabinet in 1985 in a post-election reshuffle. Since 1985 she has been senior Vice-president of the state ALP and president of the Labor Unity faction.

Mrs Toner won Greensborough, in Melbourne's outer north-eastern suburbs, in a by-election in 1977, and increased Labor's margin in the seat by just over 1 per cent in last October's state election.

A former school teacher and academic, Mrs Toner was born in Horsham in 1934. She had five children.

In a statement on Wednesday announcing her resignation, Mrs Toner said that health problems meant she was unable to represent her constituents with the commitment they deserved.

Her statement concluded, "Without the support of my husband and five children my parliamentary career would not have been possible. Having stepped down from public life I hope to have more time with them."

Mr Cain described Mrs Toner as "a kind-hearted woman who enjoyed and loved her family".

"She was always concerned to do things for people around her.

"The people of Greensborough and the Diamond Valley area have lost a true friend."

Mr Toner and the five children were with Mrs Toner when she died peacefully at home.

The Victorian Deputy Premier, Joan Kirner, said yesterday that Mrs Toner was a friend and colleague who never lost her warmth and humanity in 12 years in the tough world of politics.

"She was a woman who achieved much in state politics and I guess what we as women in politics would want to say is that she actually paved the way for us," she said. "It was she who showed us how to control the bearpit in the Parliament.

"It was she who paved the way for us to understand how to operate as a Cabinet member."

When first elected to the Lower House seat of Greensborough in 1977, Mrs Toner was only the second ALP woman to win a seat in the Victorian Parliament.

In 1979 she became the first woman to sit on the front bench and in 1982 became Victoria's first woman Cabinet minister.

Ms Kirner said she knew Mrs Toner before she entered politics through her work in the education field and the ALP.

She said Mrs Toner had five children in seven years and had studied for a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Education degrees while she brought up a young family with her husband Brian.

"Women everywhere will understand just what an achievement that was."

She believed Mrs Toner's by-election win in 1977 — in what was not seen to be a Labor seat — began the ALP's movement to power in 1982.

She said Mrs Toner had been a tireless MP, helping balance the environmental concerns of people in Greensborough with the need to develop services as suburbia approached the area.

"As a local Member she didn't take no for an answer from government departments or ministers,' Ms Kirner said.

"She was the kind of MP who wore the carpet out in your office, coming back time and time again to lobby for what she wanted."

Ms Kirner also paid tribute to Mrs Toner's achievements as the Minister for Community and Welfare Services from 1982 to 1985. These had included the introduction of annual reviews for wards of the state, corrective services reforms and the beginnings of adoption legislation reform.

The Victorian Liberal leader, Jeff Kennett, said Mrs Toner had served her electorate and the Parliament with distinction.

The National Party Leader, Pat McNamara, said he had especially admired the way in which Mrs Toner had worked with conservative party members in developing legislation in the best interests of Victorians.

"She was a person who was really prepared to get down and discuss the issues in a very real way," he said.

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'Toner, Pauline Therese (1935–1989)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/toner-pauline-therese-15814/text36832, accessed 10 December 2019.

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