Condolences – HON. JOHN CAIN

It is with enormous pride but great sadness that I rise to join in the tributes to Victoria’s 41st Premier and its longest serving Labor Premier, the late John Cain. John Cain led Labor to victory three times, and I am grateful to him for the enormous legacy he has left to our state but also to the Labor Party.

I was very privileged to join with many others here and attend the state memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral yesterday. It was a service that was packed to the rafters. There was standing room only, and it was really fantastic to see such a huge attendance to pay tribute to this remarkable man. I want to acknowledge the really outstanding tributes that were made by all the speakers yesterday, from Premier Dan Andrews to Michael Duffy to Mary Crooks and to his sons, His Honour Judge John Cain and James Cain. They all spoke so warmly and so fondly of John Cain’s legacy to this state, and I think we all left—I certainly left—so impressed by his remarkable achievements. He was such a warm person. We learned so much about him as a family man. It was wonderful to have all those stories shared with us—funny stories—by his sons about his love for his family and his love in particular for Nancye, his lifelong partner, but also to hear about his remarkable contribution to our state.

I have to start by making I guess the local connection. As a member for Northern Metropolitan Region, I am very proud that John Cain was educated locally at one of our amazing high schools, Northcote High School, that he set up his legal practice—and worked as a lawyer for 24 years in fact—in High Street, Preston, and really served our working-class community, from conveyancing to family law and so many other legal issues that he would have been supporting his local community on during those years. Then he went on to represent the northern suburbs as the member for Bundoora.

I want to acknowledge his important work also as president of the Law Institute of Victoria and also as a member of the Victorian Law Reform Commission. I have no doubt that the analytical skills that he gained as a lawyer, his advocacy skills, held him in good stead as he went on with John Button and many others to go about reforming the Labor Party, which was so significant that it led to two great reforming governments being elected, both in Canberra in the Whitlam government and also the Cain government here in Victoria.

As we heard yesterday at the memorial service, John Cain devoted his life to social justice. This was his lifelong cause. We heard about his decency, his work ethic, his humility, his compassion, his dry humour. I have to say, as a self-confessed nerd, I was amazed by his organisational skills. We heard from family members about the fastidious way that he organised his breakfast, his meals and in fact the family travel plans. As someone who thinks a good Saturday night is getting through a big pile of briefs, I have to say that I feel very inadequate now, having heard about how John Cain took his life to just a whole other level in terms of organisational skills. I think many of us probably left really quite inspired and awed by how he conducted himself as an individual as well as how he lived his life.

I want to just briefly remark on some of his contributions to public life, because so many other members have already remarked upon the breadth of his contribution. I want to remark firstly on his commitment to equality for women. Mr Atkinson has already acknowledged, as have other speakers, that he was absolutely committed to gender equality, and for that as a woman in the Labor Party I am very grateful. I was so impressed to hear Mary Crooks pay tribute to John Cain’s legacy as a champion for gender equality. He worked to ensure more women served in his cabinet, but also he was prepared to take on some absolutely longstanding bastions of male privilege, and that was to tackle the MCC—the Melbourne Cricket Club—and also the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) and change those men-only rules. We had John Cain stare down these bastions of Melbourne’s establishment to open their doors to women. I was so pleased to hear Mary Crooks refer yesterday at the memorial service to how John Cain had said, ‘If Nancye can’t come with me, I’m not going’. So he stared down essentially 100 years of privilege, entitlement and segregation in enabling women to enter those organisations.

The other areas that I wanted to remark upon are two areas that are very dear to my heart. As we have heard already, John Cain was an absolute pioneer in so many areas and he has left enduring reforms for our state. There were two world firsts during John Cain’s time. There were many, many world firsts, I have no doubt, but the first of two that I want to briefly remark upon is that the Cain government introduced the first legislation in the world to regulate IVF and associated human embryo research.

Members might be aware of course that in the early 1980s we had the first IVF birth in Australia. That was Candice Reed, born at the Melbourne Royal Women’s Hospital in fact. Then the Cain government established a review, firstly, of IVF research and practice that led to the Infertility (Medical Procedures) Act 1984 being passed. This enabled counselling, a central register, artificial insemination, donor expenses—all of these areas of IVF—to be regulated for the very first time as well as human embryo research. We know of course that Victoria has gone on to really be a pioneer in terms of IVF in this country and has been a world leader in terms of IVF and assisted reproductive technology. I am very grateful for the important work, the groundwork, that John Cain and his government led at that time.

The other area that I want to remark upon also relates to his important work in introducing legislation relating to smoking, to tobacco regulation. It was the legislation back in 1987, the Tobacco Bill, that saw the establishment of what we now call VicHealth, the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, which was another world first. It was in fact the first health promotion agency in the world to be funded by a tobacco levy.

I want to make the point—because VicHealth is so well regarded by the community and enjoys I believe support across the political divide—that this was a hard-fought battle. While we take these things for granted now, we should not forget that at the time it did face enormous resistance from the tobacco industry. In going through and looking at some of the media clips of the time around the introduction of the legislation and around the establishment of VicHealth, but also the fact that it removed tobacco sponsorship from sport, it was something that the tobacco industry tried to portray as akin to communism. In fact I found an article from 18 October 1987 published in the Australian that described the television ads that the tobacco industry ran at the time. They were very, very hard hitting ads with scenes of a barely lit courtroom, with uniform judges sitting at a table and fining people for smoking, and it was also about people putting up a cigarette poster and a judge referring to that as subversive literature and declaring a person guilty. So it was pretty full on at the time from the tobacco industry, and I think everyone here knows my thoughts about the tobacco industry. This is an industry that has never had the health of Australians or humanity in fact anywhere as a consideration in how they have conducted themselves over the decades, but John Cain was very passionate about this issue. In fact in an Age article published on 8 October 1987, at the time this legislation was in the Parliament, John Cain described why he had introduced this world-first legislation to the Parliament. He said that, quote:

There is a social obligation, a moral obligation on a government … to do something about it.

He went on to refer to 80 per cent of adult smokers taking up the habit before they were 16 and to say that on present trends—that is, at that time—64 000 Victorian children would die prematurely of smoking-related diseases.

This is why John Cain believed it was important to undo the damage of smoking to counter what was described as the seductive effect on the young of cigarette advertising. He was prepared—again, like he did to the Melbourne Cricket Club, the VRC and so many other vested interests—to stare down the power of the tobacco industry, the advertising, the campaign that they had against these important reforms, to see them through. Of course we know now that this has had a profound effect, and I do want to quote from some of the acknowledgements that were given by VicHealth at the time that John Cain passed away and put these on the record.

VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio in a media release issued by VicHealth on 23 December 2019 described John Cain as a visionary leader dedicated to improving the health of all Victorians. He said, quote:

John Cain’s leadership contributed to the transformation of health promotion in Victoria and around the world. Thanks to his vision, millions of Victorians live healthier and happier lives.

Victoria was a very different place when John Cain became Premier—smoking was commonplace and tobacco advertising was rampant.

John Cain put politics aside to enact groundbreaking tobacco control reforms and established VicHealth—the world’s first health promotion foundation.

In the face of backlash and opposition he was resolute, putting the health and wellbeing of Victorians above the profits of the tobacco industry who lobbied hard against his reforms.

John Cain’s actions over thirty years ago are a key reason why Victoria has one of the lowest smoking rates in the world.

I think that is an important reform that it is important for us to acknowledge, because John Cain and his government were trailblazers when it came to taking on the tobacco industry and taking on so many vested interests.

I want to conclude my contribution by restating the advice that the late John Cain shared with Premier Daniel Andrews. Our Premier recounted that advice yesterday in his tribute to John Cain, where he said that John Cain’s advice to him before he became Premier was ‘Work hard because people rely on you, and don’t waste your opportunity’. I think that is very good advice that John Cain gave to Daniel Andrews and very good advice for all of us in public office to live by.

In his sermon Anglican Archbishop Dr Freier referred to ‘agape’, and I have to say I was not thrilled with the pronunciation during that service: agape is how you say it. Essentially it refers, in Greek, to selfless love. I think that is important in terms of reflecting on public service and how that also is a form of selfless love. It was, I guess, demonstrated by John Cain how you can live a life well lived and make an enduring contribution to your state.

I want to thank the Cain family, particularly Nancye, for sharing John with our party, with our community, for the entirety of his life. I am grateful for John Cain’s legacy. He has left a kinder, fairer state, and I express my deepest condolences to Nancye and to the Cain family.