I am very pleased to rise and make a contribution on this condolence motion for the recent passing of Mr John Cain. This was a man who played a central role in bringing in important reforms to the legal and social system in Victoria. Many of the reforms were groundbreaking, particularly for those of us who practised the law and particularly for me over 35 years of practice as a private practice lawyer in Victoria. He graduated from Melbourne University law school in 1952, and after completing his articles in the firm of John Galbally, he started his own practice in Preston.
He joined the Law Institute of Victoria council in 1967 and became the president in 1972. From 1973 to 1976 he was an executive member of the Law Institute of Victoria. This was a feat—becoming president of the law institute as a suburban or a rural practitioner—that was something to really recognise. At a time when we continued to see most of our law institute presidents come from the big city law firms, it was a real treat to see someone like John Cain in the position. I can say that very shortly after in the years that followed we had a law institute president from Shepparton. So these were feats that were not unrecognised throughout the legal profession.
There were years when he was president of the law institute that notice was taken of suburban lawyers and of regional lawyers, and I believe he always had a soft spot for Shepparton—something that we in Shepparton recognised and appreciated. Among his legacies at the law institute was working with former presidents the Honourable Bernard Teague and the Honourable Tony Smith to reform the disciplinary process around lawyers, making it independent and transparent. The establishment of the Legal Practice Board was very important to the management of the legal profession in those days and created an arms-length process for all of us. He was honoured by the law institute in 1998 with life membership.
In 1976 he entered Parliament as the Labor member for Bundoora. This was at a time of really significant change in our community. We had the Fitzroy Legal Service, we had the West Heidelberg Legal Service, we had young lawyers going off to the Northern Territory and working for legal aid services, law councils and land councils in those days. It was a very vibrant time in the law.
I think when John Cain came into power as the Premier of Victoria in 1982 he arrived at a time when there was a real impetus to achieve significant social change in our society. In the legal profession we did not really want to see it happen. He made a whole lot of things happen that probably a lot of practising lawyers did not want to see, particularly in the private practice field. He made significant changes to conveyancing laws. Conveyancing had been the bread and butter of lawyers. He introduced the vendor’s statement, something that really gave consumers who were buying land a lot more of a safety net than they had previously had.
He introduced the Transport Accident Commission. He introduced WorkSafe—WorkCare, as it was then called. These were massive changes in a legal sense because, again, these areas were bread and butter for lawyers—the compensation cases that used to run for many years. In a situation where people had to be involved in extensive litigation, it was costly, and often the results of it did not achieve the outcome that was best for the person who had been injured. They were amazing achievements.
He established the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to create a more efficient and independent system by removing the criminal prosecution process from the political arena, and that has been adopted throughout Australia since.
John Cain was a social justice advocate who played a pivotal role in improving Victoria’s and ultimately the whole of Australia’s justice system. I remember him well for his initiation of reforms in relation to mental health in the state. The Mental Health Act was introduced in 1986. In the 1980s this was still an era of standalone mental hospitals. There was Willsmere, there was Larundel, there was Mont Park, there was Royal Park, there was Mayday Hills in Beechworth, there were Aradale and Brierly, and there was Lakeside in Bendigo. Many of these names are now nothing more than faint recollections to the people who worked in them. For those people, seeing change brought about in the mental health system in those years was very important. My first husband in those years was training as a specialist psychiatrist. I got to live at Larundel and I got to live at Mayday Hills during his training years. These were institutions really embedded in the past, so it was truly a fundamental change that John Cain brought about in his government by introducing the Mental Health Act in 1986. There were 100 amendments to that legislation when it was brought before this house before it was passed. He introduced, probably most fundamentally, in that legislation the requirement that those patients in mental health hospitals who were involuntary patients had to be regularly seen and assessed. They had been forgotten people in many ways.
So while this legislation was pivotal then, I suspect that John Cain now, looking at the fact that we have a royal commission into mental health, would be very pleased to see that because it has been a long time since those changes were brought about in good faith, and they need to be looked at again. I do not doubt that he would welcome the changes that will come in this area because he clearly saw them as something that needed to be done.
I do not think there is anyone in this place who cannot appreciate how difficult it would be to have a family member with mental health problems. As a community and as a society, we all know how incredibly hard it is to find a solution that is the right solution, that is the right treatment, that is the right place to put people when they are suffering from mental illness. It is a huge challenge, and I trust it is one that we in this community here in 2020 will be able to meet in a way that will do them justice.
John Cain’s passing is a great loss to the legal community, but his legacy of contributing to improve the legal system will not be forgotten. He modernised it, he brought it forward, and there has been so much built on it in the years since then.
I was at the memorial service yesterday, and I appreciate what a very significant person John Cain was to his family. It was truly moving to hear those accounts of family life. I did not know him personally, but he had an influence on so many of us. I think his work is much appreciated. My deepest condolences go to his wife, Nancye, and his three children and their families.