House debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Cass, Hon. Dr Moses Henry (Moss)

12:36 pm

Photo of Chris BowenChris Bowen (McMahon, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | Hansard source

Two press releases from Mr Cass as Minister for the Environment and Conservation tell the House a story about what an impactful figure he was. Many press releases get issued in this building every day and few of them would be remembered 50 years later. But one press release from the Minister for the Environment and Conservation on 4 December 1973 simply started with:

Dr Cass today announced that the Government has decided to create a national park in the East Alligator River area of the Northern Territory. The park will be known as Kakadu National Park

What a significant moment, which was probably not fully appreciated at that time. Kakadu National Park had existed for hundreds of thousands of years as a pristine environment. But it was only as a result of a government decision that it was protected for every future generation. Another press release, on 23 September 1973, started:

The parliamentary draftsman has been asked to draft two major pieces of environmental legislation for the current session, the Minister for the Environment, Dr Cass, said today. These were acts incorporating the environmental impact statement procedure and a truly national system of national parks.

Again, the environmental impact statement procedure, which we take for granted today as such a fundamental part of our environmental protections—that any big change in our urban architecture, or any development around the country, must have its environmental impact considered—only came about because of Moss Cass.

There are many people who played a role in the Labor Party having such a significant track record in relation to the environment. But none can claim a greater role than Moss Cass. His life before parliament would be enough to see him remembered. He played a significant role, as we heard in the House yesterday, in developing the first heart-lung machine. He was clearly an inventor, a man of great ingenuity. But his contribution in parliament is what we most remember. I think his role as a medico informed his passion for the environment. We see Doctors for the Environment today, and their care for country, and they see the implications of a changing climate for their patients. I think Dr Cass was very much of that mould—as you are, Mr Deputy Speaker—in seeing the impact of these changes on people. Dr Cass brought that passion to his role as Minister for the Environment and Conservation. I was struck by his statement to the first-ever OECD meeting of environment ministers. He told his international colleagues: 'We have not inherited this earth from our parents; we have borrowed it from our children.' Again, I think that summed up his approach.

As the honourable member for Griffith alluded to, Dr Cass was a radical in radical times. The late 1960s and early 1970s were radical times, and Dr Cass did not mind being a radical in that era. But many of the views that he held and expressed have become the orthodoxy. Imagine today, as controversial as it was at the time, suggesting that there not be a national park in Kakadu, or that we shouldn't have an environmental impact statement process. Some members of the House might suggest that these days, but they would be very much in the minority. What he believed in many instances has become the orthodoxy, as it should.

He shouldn't just be remembered for his role in the environment; he played other roles. He advised Gough Whitlam and Bill Hayden about Medicare and he introduced Gough Whitlam to the fathers of Medicare. It should be noted that he had a different model than Medibank and Medicare. You'd be interested to know, Mr Deputy Speaker, he only ever believed in salaried medical officers. He did not believe in fee for service, which was not the system that was adopted in Medibank or Medicare. He was perhaps a little more radical than others, but nevertheless he could claim a role in the beginning of Medibank and Medicare. Also, after being Minister for the Environment, he went on to serve relatively briefly as Minister of the Media, which today we would call 'minister for communications'. While his time there was relatively brief, he again had an impact in that he founded community radio. Many honourable members would have participated in community radio and seen the impact of community radio in their communities—in my case 2GLF, which stands for Liverpool and Fairfield. It's been going for many years—I think from that time, as you'd know, Mr Deputy Speaker—and again Dr Cass can claim a very significant legacy there.

Politics, for all of us, has its setbacks and its arguments. It's a matter of public record that Dr Cass and his Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, did not always see eye to eye. They had very different approaches, but that is what politics is about. It's about holding those arguments, holding your own, and winning more than you lose, ideally. Certainly, the family of Dr Cass can look back on his legacy and say he won more than he lost, and we are very grateful that he did.

To his family, their grief can be assuaged by pride in his achievements. To his widow, Shirley, his children, Naomi and Dan—I do know Dan, and I expressed my condolences to him personally—I express my condolences. To his brother Alec, who is still with us, his grandchildren and his one great-granddaughter, the House thanks them for sharing Dr Cass with the country and wishes them every condolence on the loss of their father, grandfather, great-grandfather and brother.


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