Kennett was elected as a Liberal Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Burwood in 1976, having had an interest in local politics since the early 1970s. His preselection for the seat reportedly irritated then Premier Dick Hamer, who disliked Kennett's campaigning style, and had endorsed the sitting member, Haddon Storey. However by 1981, Kennett was promoted to Cabinet as Minister for Housing, Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. He was one of several younger MPs whom Hamer promoted to Cabinet in a bid to renew his government. Kennett retained his post when Hamer was replaced as Liberal leader and Premier by Lindsay Thompson in June of that year. Following the defeat of the longstanding Liberal government in 1982, Kennett was the leading candidate to replace Thompson despite being the youngest member of the outgoing government. On 26 October, he was elected leader of the Liberal Party and hence Leader of the Opposition. He took an aggressive posture against the Cain government, and was often criticised for his "bull-in-a-china-shop" style and his anti-government rhetoric.