Sitting on the crossbench isn’t always a pleasant place – particularly for the Canberra Liberals who have now been out of government for two decades.
But Member for Ginninderra Peter Cain has faith there’s a path back to power.
The former ACT public servant, teacher and missionary said there were two key issues which would drive voters in the next election – housing affordability and service provision.
It’s the latter which gets Mr Cain out of his house and onto the streets of Belconnen on a regular basis – talking to voters about issues from bike paths and potholes to Access Canberra waiting lines and everything in between.
Serving his voters comes naturally to Mr Cain, whose faith drives what he does. It even brought him to Canberra in the first place.
“My faith really does instruct me on how to behave as a person – even if that does sound very pious.”
Joining the Liberal Party was never a natural choice.
Mr Cain grew up a long way from the Canberra Liberals in the coalfields area of the NSW Hunter Valley – home to the ‘as Labor as Cessnock’ catchcry.
But his family wasn’t political and growing up wasn’t always easy as the family moved around and his dad bounced from job to job.
“Alcohol was part of the scene, unfortunately,” he said. “My mum is my hero. She made sure I stayed away from certain attitudes and practices.”
Mr Cain’s parents split up not long after he started at Newcastle University where he studied maths and then teaching. His mother, who he still chats to once a week, married again into a much happier union.
Mr Cain met his wife to be, Claire, at university.
Like many enduring love stories, theirs started with a simple gesture when they were neighbours.
“Someone told me it was a thing to give a bowl of sugar as a present,” he said. “So I went over with my little bowl to say ‘welcome to the neighbourhood’ and I was smitten by her at first sight.”
Both were teachers but moved to Canberra for a missionary course with Youth With a Mission, a group formerly based in Watson.
Mr Cain became a teacher at the school but later changed paths and studied law before joining the ACT Public Service.
He worked in multiple roles, but mainly in taxation where he contributed to the overhaul of the stamp duty system that became the defining reform of the Barr Labor Government.
His almost 20-year term as a public servant followed 20 years as a teacher. He was now starting his last 20-year stint as a politician, he joked.
In the end, a throwaway comment made to him in the lead-up to the 2016 ACT election led him to politics.
“If the Canberra Liberals don’t win this election, they never will,” he was told.
They didn’t win. But the idea about joining local politics stuck in Mr Cain’s head.
At the same time, he began to take issue with how political discourse was shaping up in the country – at a federal level more than locally.
“I’m a fan of freedom of expression and free and open discussion … otherwise we risk handing over control to elites whose opinions will prevail,” he said.
“I was bothered by people name-calling instead of listening and debating.”
Watching Canberra grow and change – not always for the better in Mr Cain’s eyes – engaged him more in local issues.
About 160 votes edged him over the line in the end.
Since then, balancing faith and politics hasn’t always been easy.
“[The Legislative Assembly’s] not always a pleasant place to be a human,” Mr Cain said.
But he remains adamant the Canberra Liberals can change their fortunes.
“Ideally next term. But we will be in government at some point.”