John Cain and his contribution to public life
The former Premier of Victoria was widely seen as one of Australia’s most effective leaders and his name is synonymous with integrity. He modernised Victoria with pride and respect. His government raised standards for transparency, fairness and integrity. These values are too easily lost or diminished in the current short-term political cycle. It is the job of thinking commentators and thought leaders to reinstate the integrity of political and social action.
John Cain was born in Melbourne in 1931. His father, also John Cain, had led the Labor Party in Victoria from 1937 to 1957 and had been three times Premier. He studied law at the University of Melbourne and started a practice in suburban Melbourne. He went on to head the Law Institute and serve as a member of the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Law Reform Commission.
During the 1960s and 70s he played a key role in the modernisation of the Australian Labor Party, in particular the development of new policies looking to the future.
In 1976 John Cain was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly as MP for Bundoora. and became shadow Attorney-General. In September 1981 Cain was elected Leader of the Opposition and went on to win Government in April 1982 – forming the first Labor government in Victoria for 27 years, since the one led by his father. He served as Premier from 1982-1990 and remains the longest serving Labor Premier in Victoria.
His Government was responsible for many signature reforms later taken up by other states:
- Tobacco control;
- Freedom of Information legislation;
- Workers compensation;
- Liberalised shop trading and liquor laws and other reforms that brought Victoria back to life;
- Urban planning policies revitalized the centre of Melbourne expanding it to Southbank and revived the Yarra, creating a network of parks and bike paths;
- Major investments were made to modernise schools and revamp year 12 and TAFE to boost participation and jobs skills;
- New hospitals were established in the growth corridors and a new focus given the preventative health and tobacco control with the world first establishment of VicHealth;
- Regional economies were boosted with growth strategies for centres such as Bendigo, Ballarat, Latrobe Valley and Geelong; and
- A Social Justice Strategy was agreed with stakeholders in all sectors of the community and formed the basis for reform of community welfare policies.
In retirement, John Cain continued his contributions to public policy debates as a Professorial Fellow at University of Melbourne where was an outstanding politics lecturer, researcher and commentator on public policy. He published three books while in this position. He also served as the Chair of the State Library. John Cain died on 23 December 2019.