Gerardine ‘Ged’ Kearney

Ged Kearney’s ambition as ACTU President is to build respect from political leaders and the broader community for the values of fairness and the role played by unions in delivering social change. She wants people to feel the need to join their union and she wants to help unions to continue to be at the forefront of public debate in Australia.

Ged Kearney talks with IE Journalist Bronwyn Ridgway.

I loved my school days, absolutely loved them. I had a fantastic school life, loved primary school at St John’s East Melbourne with the Sisters of Charity, then with other girls at The Academy of Mary Immaculate in Fitzroy, run by the Sisters of Mercy.

I’m the second youngest of nine children, six girls and three boys. Five of us went to the same girls’ school, while the other sister had special needs so went to another school in Melbourne. My parents ran a pub, the Lord Raglan Hotel in Melbourne, a small working-class pub with counter dinners and counter teas. We all worked for dad as we were growing up, it was really hard work.

There were two teachers who had quite a profound effect on my life and me; one was a music teacher Julie Piggin who taught me piano. She took everything on in a big way, nothing was too challenging nothing was too hard. Huge productions were broken down into workable pieces and her motto was ‘it will be all right on the night, just work hard and it will be fine.’ And it was! She was personable, took an interest and that made all the difference, she was just amazing.

Then there was the head nun Sister Mary McAllen, who was a powerhouse as well. Sr Mary would encourage independence but also that we work successfully as a group. She would encourage you to ‘go with an idea’, discuss the logistics then encourage you to ‘just do it’. I remember I wanted to run for school captain and came to talk with her about it. She said “have you got the numbers dear? Better sure up the numbers if you want to be school captain!” It was a great lesson, good advice and yes I did had the numbers and I did become school captain.

I went to University and was doing a BA in Economics but wasn’t really enjoying it. A fellow I was in love with said he was going to change over and do nursing – he did and I did – he lasted three minutes in nursing but I loved it and stayed and completed. I think I had a strong sense of social justice from my Catholic family and my Catholic schools. It certainly was a strong sense – perhaps a bit over the top when I was young but once in the union it all fell into place. There have been other people who have influenced my thinking, mentors you might say. Belinda Morieson from the ANF who believed I would be a good union representative when we were negotiating Enterprise Bargaining Agreements at The Austin, the hospital I was working at the time. Belinda thought I was unorthodox but a good rep none-the-less. That was 1995, then in 1997 I became Branch President. Other significant people have been my sister Margaret, who has been a wonderful supporter throughout all these years, as well as Dave Oliver of the AMWU, now with the ACTU and fellow trade unionist Lee Thomas of the ANMF and Leigh Hubbard who was Secretary of the Victorian Trades and Labor Council. Leigh Hubbard is now my partner and we have a lot of healthy discussion and debate on a range of things while we walk the three dogs, eat good food and enjoy a glass of wine or play scrabble, would you believe.

Two of my children are teachers and IEU members; they love teaching and their union. So I feel quite close to the IEU, especially as I’ve just come from speaking at the IEU National Officers Forum in Torquay today. I’m very impressed with the growth of the IEU, it’s growing in numbers every year – it’s great to see and gives your union so much more strength in negotiations. But that’s what comes when people love their union and feel part of it - they want to join and that’s how it should be.

Teachers are so valuable and they have so much influence over so many, second only to family I believe. That position of influence should never be underestimated; teachers have the responsibility to create safe, creative and positive environments within schools and wherever they work for a whole range of students from different backgrounds, cultures and persuasions. I’m very proud that two of my children are teachers.

Ged Kearney

Gerardine (Ged) Kearney is President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), representing 2.5 million union members across Australia. She is the third woman to hold this position, elected in 2010 and reelected in 2012. Kearney is also a director of Cbus, an industry superannuation fund, which manages approximately $30 billion of membership funds.

2008 elected Federal Secretary of the Australian Nursing Federation (ANF). The union represents more than 250,000 nurses and midwives, and is one of Australia’s fastest growing unions.

1997 elected official with the ANF, also serving as Assistant Federal Secretary, Federal President and Victorian Branch President.

1985 became a registered nurse and worked in public and private health sectors. She has a Bachelor in Education and was a nurse educator then manager of Clinical Nursing Education Department at Austin Health Melbourne.

The mother of four adult children and soon to be a grandmother, Kearney is a passionate supporter of Richmond in the AFL.
The second youngest of nine children, Kearney grew up in Melbourne, where her father was a publican. She was brought up in a household where the importance of the collective, both in politics and society, was emphasised from an early age.