House debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Cass, Hon. Dr Moses Henry (Moss)

12:54 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

On 25 February 2022 we lost a giant of Australian political history, Moss Cass. Following the pogroms, his Jewish grandparents fled Bialystok in 1906 seeking safety for their family in Western Australia, where they found it, and Moss was later born in Narrogin. Moss was a medical scientist by training. He was a registrar at major hospitals and a medical researcher who built Australia's first heart-lung machine. He was a politician for many years, and he was also a conservationist at heart. He loved the environment, in his own garden and beyond. He kept bees. He talked about sustainability and intergenerational equity long before it was common to do so. He understood the climate crisis better than anyone. He eschewed Comcars in favour of riding a bike to parliament. He hated waste.

He first ran against Robert Menzies in Kooyong in 1961. His radical platform took more votes off the Liberal Prime Minister than anyone before. Buoyed by the idea that people responded to vision, honesty and openness, he ran twice more and was, ultimately, elected as the member for Maribyrnong in 1969 and was appointed Minister for the Environment and Conservation in 1972. He secured passage of the first national environmental assessment law: Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974.

As a politician, Moss Cass never shied away from the grunt work of policy development, of bold decisions, hard conversations and vigorous debates, of listening to the community and getting things done. He helped overturn the white Australia policy and helped get Labor to oppose the Vietnam War. He was instrumental in the design of universal healthcare. He fought against the flooding of Lake Pedder and worked towards ending sandmining on Fraser Island and securing protection for the Great Barrier Reef. He funded community radio. He advocated decriminalising cannabis, legalising abortion, law reforms to ensure gay men and women were not discriminated against and for stopping public money going to wealthy private schools. He thought that a country's success should be measured by the wellbeing of its citizens, not just its GDP. As his son, Dan Cass, said in The Saturday Paper, 'Moss could imagine a green and fair world and did as much as anyone to bring it about. He taught us that collaborative thinking is what we do. To live is to work it all out: how to care for each other and the planet.'

Moss attributed his political achievements as evidence for what Dan calls his 'science of hope'. Radical honesty wins votes; power only matters if you do something bold. I was lucky enough to meet Moss Cass briefly early on in my term, and since then have had more sustained engagement with his Melbourne based family over the years. On behalf of the Australian Greens, I offer my thanks to Moss Cass for the groundwork he laid for environmental and social justice reforms in this country. My condolences to his family and friends for their loss, to Dan, Shirley and Naomi, and also to the broader Labor Party movement who will no doubt be feeling this loss keenly as well. On behalf of the Australian Greens, we will remember Moss Cass.


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