House debates

Monday, 2 March 2020


Cain, Hon. John

12:17 pm

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House expresses its sincere sorrow at the death of the Honourable John Cain, and acknowledges his extraordinary contribution to public life and to the State of Victoria, in particular as Premier from 1982 to 1990.

On 3 February, St Paul's Cathedral was overflowing with people united in grief and in gratitude for the life of John Cain—a big life well lived. As Daniel Andrews, one of his successors as Victorian Premier, has said, 'Grief for the passing of a great man, dear friend and beloved family member, a familiar presence to so many Victorians still—especially to those of us who spent time around String Street where he continued to work, to serve right until the very end—and in gratitude for all that he did and how he went about it.'

John Cain remade both Victorian Labor and Victoria, and his influence of course extends further than this. Without John Cain, I believe there would not, could not, have been a Hawke government. His confidence in and passionate commitment to the Labor cause should not be overlooked in paying tribute to his work. For more than 60 years he fought for a party that was as good in itself as in its great mission to secure a more just society. Michael Duffy, in his eulogy made this clear, and his words resonated with me. In almost every conversation I enjoyed with John, he pressed me on what I was doing to carry on this vital work.

John Cain was elected to the Victorian parliament as the member for Bundoora in 1976 and as Premier in 1982. He won three successive elections before resigning as Premier in 1990. The Cain government broke open a stale society and economy in Victoria, and in particular its work laid the foundations for the vibrant, exciting world city that Melbourne is today. He fought for equality, democracy, equity and progress, and won the argument for each of these. He fought for the rights of workers, of women, to protect our natural environment, for citizens to access government information and to have confidence in the independent administration of justice and of elections. He fought for a more open economy, as well as society, and for everyone to get to share in the benefits of both. He fought for us to look confidently out to the world and to present ourselves to it. That included, of course, every January at the tennis centre, at the centre of Melbourne's sporting precinct. This remains a fitting monument to John Cain's ambition and to his vision. These things—these achievements—can be reduced to a list, but the whole of the achievements has been proven to be so much more than the sum of the individual parts. That's because it is simply impossible to think of Victoria today without paying tribute to John Cain. It's that simple and that stark.

When he stepped down as Premier, John Cain didn't leave the parliament immediately. He continued to represent the people of Bundoora right up to the 1992 election. And from then he continued in his understated way to make his contribution. This was when I first met John. It's said that you shouldn't meet your heroes, and John Cain was one of mine, but I am so deeply grateful for every minute I spent with John—often over coffee at Old Treasury, in his office. To feel that I was worth his time was an honour, and to have the chance to listen to him, whether through pointed but very polite questions or carefully framed advice, was a peerless political education.

Today, when we lament the decline in trust in politics we generally look to the circumstances driving the changes in society, media and so on. But we should think more about standard setting and follow the example that John set—or seek to, at least. I suspect that very few possess his qualities of selflessness, devotion to duty and unbending rectitude, and kindness too. John Cain's example shows that kindness and decency aren't synonyms for weakness; indeed, quite the reverse. Many people disagreed with John Cain's politics, of course, but I've not encountered anyone who wasn't impressed with his integrity, his work ethic and his deep and unending commitment to public service. He's a Labor hero, but a role model for all in public life. He lived his values every day. If we were all a little more like John Cain in how we conducted ourselves, our politics and our nation too would be in much, much better shape. So it is fitting that he should be remembered in this place, our national parliament, as well as in Victoria.

In reflecting on the friendship, the generosity and the encouragement that I was so privileged to enjoy through my brief relationship with John Cain, my thoughts turn to those who always mattered most—to John's family. To his wife, Nancye, and their children, Joanne, John and James, I say thank you for sharing with Victoria and Australia this great and wonderful man. I extend to you all of my sympathies. Vale, John Cain.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

12:22 pm

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the National Disability Insurance Scheme) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. With the passing of John Cain we lost a great Victorian and a great Australian. I was privileged to attend his funeral in Melbourne last month with my wife Chloe. It was at St Paul's Cathedral in the heart of Melbourne. You could hear the trams ringing their bells outside, and there was a full congregation who came to say farewell.

It got me thinking: what did Australians think of when they heard of John's passing? It may be the case, perhaps, that some young people and people outside of Victoria may never have heard much about John Cain. When a person dies, the complexity of their life is often lost to simplicity: big, complicated lives and moments get reduced to a handful of lines. I think that people likely know two facts about John Cain: that his father, also John Cain, had also been Premier; and that when John, in 1982, brought the Labor Party in Victoria back to government after 27 years in the wilderness, his was the first Victorian Labor government since the one led by his father.

I remember that his election in 1982 created a sense of change. I was in year 10, walking to school on the Monday afterwards, and I got a sense that things were going to happen in Victoria. Indeed, the Victoria of my childhood, the one that I grew up in, was very different to the one of today. It's a matter of record that in the year I was born my home state was still hanging criminals and that in my school years the Victoria Racing Club had male-only memberships and lines painted on the ground that women were not allowed to cross.

Today the Victorian capital is a modern cosmopolitan metropolis. It's a cultural and sporting destination—the envy of all other cities in the nation. Demographers tell us Melbourne's population will soon exceed Sydney's, if it hasn't already; by that, I mean the Australian Bureau of Statistics includes the Central Coast in its definition of Greater Sydney but leaves Geelong out of its definition of Greater Melbourne. If you remove the Central Coast, Melbourne already has 75,000 more people than Sydney. But this wasn't inevitable. The Victorian capital and broader state were transformed from a place of shuttered-in conservatism that closed down on the weekend to a vibrant and eclectic world city. Much of the success was due to the work of John Cain and his formidable team, including Rob Jolly, Steve Crabb, Evan Walker, David White and many more—Kay Setches and Joan Kirner. During the first term of his government, Cain introduced educational and environmental law reforms. He extended Saturday shop trading hours, nightclub hours and hotel hours. He even allowed VFL to be played on Sundays.

We tend to get two types of premiers in Victoria: the settlers and the pioneers. John Cain was certainly in the latter category. I had the privilege of seeing his style of government up close as a young adviser to another talented member of his third ministry, Neil Pope. Cain was kindly and mild mannered to all comers. His style, though, hid from public view not only his razor sharp intellect and wicked sense of humour but also a toughness. He forced the Melbourne Cricket Club and the VRC to accept women as full members and told the VRC to remove their notorious lines on the ground if they ever wanted to see another dollar of support from the state government. He was re-elected in 1985, becoming the first Labor government to win that honour—though not the last, because he won again in 1988. We know that third term to be the toughest: the economy turned, and Pyramid and the Victorian Economic Development Corporation collapsed. When Cain couldn't get the caucus to back him on what he saw as the necessary economic measures, he stood down on principle. The summary of his government was characteristically pithy: 'We appointed a few dills but we weren't crook.'

Today Labor enjoys government in Victoria. Premier Daniel Andrews is very much in that John Cain mold of a pioneer, quietly progressing the state's to-do list. The state has been the beneficiary of the Bracks-Brumby years, and, without seeking to tempt fate, it is fair to say that Labor is now the pioneering party of government in the garden state.

This is John Cain's legacy: turning Labor, after 27 years in the wilderness, the sectarian issues of the dispute and the fears of obsolescence, into the pioneering party of government through sheer hard work, sheer determination and a fair dose of cunning. He was a husband to Nancye, a father to John, James and Joanne and of great support to me in my time as Labor leader. Thank you, John, for making Victoria the state it is today. Rest in peace.

12:28 pm

Photo of Kate ThwaitesKate Thwaites (Jagajaga, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The people of Melbourne's north-east have carried heavy hearts since the passing of Victoria's 41st Premier, the Hon. John Cain. Jagajaga was his home, and since his passing locals have been keen to pay their respects, share their memories and show their love and support for John's wife, Nancye, and his family.

The thing locals always loved about John Cain was that his leadership always reflected his thorough decency and his integrity. He was never one for pomp and ceremony or perks of the office. The thing that made John Cain so remarkable to locals in Jagajaga and to local Labor branch members was just how accessible and down to earth he always was. They would often say that, considering the man had a bronze statue in Treasury Place, his keenness to offer his time was remarkably selfless. He would do his letterboxing during election campaigns for the local member and he'd talk to other campaign workers and offer words of advice. His commitment to our local area never waned.

Everyone seems to have a story or a recollection of talking to him. My John Cain story is of being a young girl growing up in the area. One Saturday afternoon our phone rang and I answered it. The voice on the other end announced himself as John Cain and asked to speak to my father, who at that time was a local councillor. I had great trouble trying to convince my father that it really was the Premier on the phone and not me having mucked it up. John Cain was calling to follow up on a discussion they'd been having about some local bike paths—again, a demonstration of his dedication to his work at all levels.

Our local state members will tell you that having John Cain on your booth on election day was a vote magnet, as people lined up to take a how-to-vote card from him, and our opponents were always happy when John left the polling booth. He had such a great regard for those long-term local party members who had worked on past campaigns for him—and Brian and Ellen Smiddy certainly come to mind when I think of this.

He was there to provide frank and fearless advice to me as the new federal member for Jagajaga, as he'd done for Jenny Macklin before me and all of our state members over the years. John Cain was always quick to let us know when he thought we needed to lift our game. He spoke strongly always of loyalty to party, to our members, to the cause and above all to the voters that we're elected to serve, and his advice had to be respected. After all, he revolutionised Victorian Labor. He thrust the party into a new age after decades on the opposition benches. He set us up as a credible party of government in Victoria, and it's fair to say that his successors paved the way for the success that Victorian Labor has had ever since. His legacy to the people of Victoria will stand the test of time, and it's been well canvassed by many on both sides of politics and by my colleagues today.

But his local legacy to people in Jagajaga is something that I'd like to further reflect on. He was a driving force behind the establishment of the West Heidelberg Community Legal Service, which he was patron of for many years. The legal service is now part of the Banyule Community Health service, and it continues to be there for those who need it most: people who would often otherwise face further debts, alienation or trouble in their lives. John was a strong advocate of the need to protect neighbourhood character across our community. His long-term work with our state members of parliament and the Victorian Minister for Planning ultimately led to the securing of mandatory height controls in Banyule, and this had the effect of ensuring integrity, accountability and transparency of planning decisions in our community, attributes that John Cain stood for across his work. In recent times, John also expressed a strong desire to see a renewed purpose for the John Cain Memorial Park, which is named after his father, as a sport and recreational centrepiece in the northern suburbs. John was always around the traps on these matters, talking to me, to other local members and to members of our community.

On behalf of the Ivanhoe ALP branch, of which John was a member for so many years, and the communities across Jagajaga, I once again express my deepest condolences to John's wife, Nancy, and their children, John, James and Joanne, and their families. Vale, John Cain.

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.