ADDRESS IN THE FEDERATION CHAMBER - REMEMBERING JOHN CAIN - MONDAY, 2 MARCH 2020
BILL SHORTEN SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE NDIS SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG
‘REMEMBERING JOHN CAIN’
ADDRESS IN THE FEDERATION CHAMBER
TRANSCRIPT MONDAY, 2 MARCH 2020
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.