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Monday, April 12, 2021

Senior lawyer enters ACT politics: Peter Cain’s first speech

A background in law and tax has prepared Ginninderra’s new Liberal MLA, Peter Cain, for his role as Shadow Minister for Regulatory Services, Jobs and Workplace Affairs, and Shadow Assistant Attorney-General.

In his inaugural speech at the ACT Legislative Assembly on Wednesday (2 December), Mr Cain promised to hold the government to account for its use of taxpayer money, held in trust to deliver quality services to the community.

“Sound economic management is essential to increasing prosperity, and a sign of responsible government,” he said.

Mr Cain brings to the role nearly 20 years as an ACT government lawyer, managing the tax disputes section at ACT Revenue Management, and senior positions in the ACT Law Society.

Mr Cain’s political involvement dates from the 2016 ACT election, which he expected the Canberra Liberals to win. He joined the party that year, determined to help it win this year’s election.

“The freedom to have sensible, reasonable, and respectful discussions about our differences is a freedom essential to our democratic system of government and to a civil society,” Mr Cain argued.

“I started to see a distressing decline in how issues were discussed in the public arena, including the rise of accusatory and insulting language that was intended – or so it seemed to me – to prevent exploration of differing ideas, and intimidate and silence those with the contrary view, rather than to engage openly and respectfully.

“I was becoming very worried for our society. What occurred to me then, and has crystallised strongly with me now, is that the best government policies arise from free and open discussion. The desire to shut down and de-platform differing opinions is contrary, in my view, to the fundamental Westminster principles of our parliamentary democracy.”

Mr Cain grew up in the Hunter Valley in low socio-economic circumstances, but said he had an enjoyable childhood exploring abandoned mining equipment and infrastructure, picking grapes in vineyards, and watching Star Trek.

He studied to be a teacher at the University of Newcastle, where he met his wife Claire. Their grandchildren are Anglo-Indian and Anglo-Indigenous.

After teaching maths in NSW, Mr Cain became principal of a private school in South Australia, then moved to Canberra in 1990 to take the helm of a school here.

His school responsibilities brought him into contact with lawyers – and he said he liked what he saw. He began a law degree in 1999, graduating with honours. From 2002, he worked in the ACT government, managing the tax disputes section, dealing with objections and appeals.

In that position, Mr Cain said, he dealt with the most legally and factually complex Territory tax cases of the last decade, as both a decision-maker and as an instructing client when the dispute moved to the tribunals or courts. A nationally accredited mediator, he conducted more than 60 civil and residential tenancy settlement conferences, and initiated a pilot program for a pro bono mediation scheme.

He was vice-president of the ACT Law Society for three years, and chaired its government law committee for seven years.

Mr Cain said he was deeply committed to core Liberal Party values.

“The most effective government is the one that is barely noticed. Citizens are free to enhance their own lives and that of their family and community. Quiet Australians are a very capable bunch. Work is a wonderful benefit and the best form of supporting oneself and one’s family,” he said.

“Every individual has value, irrespective of differences one from another, whether those differences be of gender, age, colour or creed, and there is incredible potential for good in every human life.”

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