Wednesday, 30 March 2022
Cass, Hon. Dr Moses Henry (Moss)
I rise to make a contribution in the condolence motion for Moss Cass, the Hon. Moses Henry Cass, who was Australia's first environment and conservation minister in, of course, the Whitlam government. We've heard some really terrific condolence speeches for Moss Cass in the main chamber in support of this condolence motion, and, as the shadow environment minister, I wanted to make a contribution as well, to recognise the really nation-changing work that he did as our first environment and conservation minister.
He was also, more broadly, someone of very progressive bent. You heard him described yesterday, or the day before, as 'the minister for lost causes' in the Whitlam government. But they weren't lost causes; he was just well ahead of his time. He was a proponent for legalising cannabis. He was a proponent for legalising abortion. He was a proponent for legalising homosexuality. He was a pioneer of universal health care. He was responsible for creating the SBS. He was responsible for issuing experimental radio licences, forming the basis for community radio broadcasting here in Australia. He was someone whose activism has left an indelible mark on Australia. And Australian society—in some cases, decades later—has caught up to him.
I remember reading, in a biography, actually, of Harriet Harman, the UK Labour deputy leader and former acting leader, that she talked about the phenomenon where what was considered to be radical could then turn into orthodoxy. And that's certainly a hallmark of Labor: sometimes what we put forward can be described by some as radical, but it later becomes orthodoxy and seems, in retrospect, to have been inevitable. And you could certainly say that about Dr Cass and the work that he did and the ideas that he had. Deputy Speaker, I know that you would have an affinity with Dr Cass—both of you medical practitioners and people who stand strongly for environmental protection and conservation. Isn't it terrific that we have a tradition of medical doctors who come to this place? They bring their medical expertise. They also bring a progressive approach and a commitment to many causes much broader than their own discipline and professional capacity. With respect to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and with respect to the late Dr Cass, doctors understand that everything is interconnected—that, to be a healthy society, we have to look at all of the determinants of health, and that, to be a good and just society, we must have laws and frameworks and policy decisions that promote better arrangements for our society and better arrangements for our natural environment as well. And that includes conservation.
Dr Cass instituted the most significant environmental legislation in the postwar period. He instituted the predecessor to today's environmental laws, a really important framework for assessing the impact that developments have on the environment. Again, it just seems like orthodoxy today: it is inevitable that we would assess the impacts of projects and development on the environment. But Dr Cass brought in this framework in the mid-1970s, and it really was the predecessor. Former Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe AO has said that Dr Cass was responsible for the most important environmental legislation in Australia's postwar period. He's been quoted as saying that. And that's right.
And Dr Cass was responsible not just for our domestic environmental law, for ensuring that we have in this country the right domestic settings for environmental protection, he was also a pioneer on the international stage in relation to developing international movements and international frameworks for environmental protection and conservation. I want to mention a few examples of that work. In June 1973, Dr Cass announced that the cabinet had decided that Australia would sign the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. He said: 'Cabinet's decision meant that the Customs Act and regulations would be amended so that international trade in the species will be prohibited. A decision was taken to protect a number of mammals, birds and reptile that have been designated at the conference to conclude the international convention.' So he was a leader in making sure that Australia supported this really significant international convention; and he talked about what else we could do, as a country, to demonstrate leadership in relation to species protection.
Dr Cass also announced in 1974 a bilateral treaty with the Japanese government to protect migratory birds and birds in danger of extinction and their environment. That was a bilateral treaty of great significance. In fact, last week I was at a former golf course that is being turned into an environmental precinct in Victoria and the environmentalists and local government representatives there were talking to me about the Japanese snipe. So it's quite interesting to reflect that, before I was born, the first environment and conservation minister was issuing releases about what more Australia could do in a bilateral approach with Japan to protect that particular migratory bird. He was very committed to the conservation and protection of biodiversity, including those migratory birds. The significance of this is vast. I suspect he was incredibly proud that Australia became the first full party to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. He made that announcement in May 1974, a little while after the Japanese bilateral agreement. He said, 'By signing the wetlands convention, Australia has become the first full party to it.' He noted that other nations, like Finland, Iran, the UK and several others, were close to signing it or were going to sign. This, I think, demonstrates that Dr Cass was willing to take this international leadership to really push for treaties to be a basis for environmental protection.
It was in the context of Australia becoming the first full party to that convention that there was then triggered an obligation on us as a nation to designate at least one wetland for the list to be made under that treaty, and that is how Australia came to list the Cobourg Peninsula on the Northern Territory coastline, north-west of Darwin, on that list of wetlands of international significance. As was said at the time, this was a further example of Labor's high level of activities in nature conservation, which has included enthusiastic acceptance of our international obligations. Again, this is an example of what Australia can be when it comes to environmental protection. We can be a country with domestic laws that facilitate environmental protection and conserve biodiversity. We can also, despite us not being a large country by population, be a beacon for the international community of what environmental protection can be. We can do those things. I think it would be wonderful to see the election of an Albanese Labor government that had a disposition towards Australia demonstrating leadership in the world in relation to environmental protection.
I also want to mention Dr Cass's announcement in 1973 of a national water policy. Water policy in this country has been fraught since before Federation. There have always been struggles—I guess that would be the right word—in respect of the allocation of water, the use of water and ensuring that water is available for all of its uses, whether they be leisure, human need, environmental, cultural or agricultural. So it is incredibly significant that in 1973 Dr Cass announced a comprehensive policy statement for the future management of Australia's water resources. He said in the announcement that this was the first time there'd been an overall policy framework advanced for the future management of Australia's scarce water resources. Don't we know today how important it is to actually have a national approach? Hasn't that been demonstrated to us by the consequences of the current government's decision almost a decade ago to abolish the National Water Commission and to really vacate the field when it comes to ensuring that we have an appropriate national water policy? In 1973, when he announced this comprehensive policy statement, Dr Cass said, 'This policy statement commits the Australian government to ensuring the development of water resources will be fully integrated into the economic, social and environmental planning of the nation.' Quite a different approach, one would argue, is being adopted by the current government.
I want to mention two other examples of environmental protection from Dr Cass that are of great significance to me as the shadow environment minister but also to my home state of Queensland. Firstly, I want to mention the prevention of sand mining on Fraser Island. I've got many friends who are involved in the Fraser Island Defenders Organisation—FIDO, as they're called. This was a matter of great significance to Queenslanders and to the entire nation, and it was Dr Cass who laid the groundwork and established the framework for the end of sand mining on Fraser Island. It was not done until 1976, but it was done as a result of a recommendation of the Fraser Island environmental inquiry. That inquiry had been established pursuant to section 11 of that environment protection legislation that I spoke about earlier. Decades later, Fraser Island was actually inscribed on the World Heritage List. That was a nomination from the Hawke government, and it was building on the work that Dr Cass did in the Whitlam government that allowed that to occur.
The other thing I want to acknowledge, and this has been acknowledged by everyone who has spoken in this debate, is that it was Dr Cass who, in the Whitlam government, established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act. That established the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to really protect and care for the entire Great Barrier Reef region. Dr Cass laid the groundwork for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef. These are Whitlam government achievements and these are Dr Cass's achievements. I know that all of us in Labor are so grateful to him for the work that he did for environmental protection and for the broader work that he did for our country. We feel very deeply the loss of Dr Cass, the first environment and conservation minister not just for Labor but for the nation. We express our sincere condolences to his family, to all who loved him, to the environment protection movement. All Australians have really lost a giant.
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:
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.
It's a pleasure to rise to speak on this very important motion, and it has been a particular pleasure to hear the generous and heartfelt remarks of my friends the member for McMahon and the member for Griffith, which I associate myself with. Moss Cass was an extraordinary man who lived an extraordinary life, including, of course, his very notable service to public life as a minister, as a parliamentarian and as a great and very longstanding servant of the Australian Labor Party. It was my very great privilege to have known him for almost all my time as a member of the Australian Labor Party through our shared membership of the North Carlton branch. I note that, when I first came across Moss in that branch, it was quite some time after his service in this place had come to an end. But at that stage, in the 1990s, and at all times since his activism and his idealism remained undiminished and undaunted. He was always up for the next argument, always up for the next challenge. I think it's quite remarkable, particularly when you think about such a significant record of contribution, that Moss was always looking forward and not luxuriating in the victories of the past.
On that note, I want to acknowledge here the very significant personal debt that I feel I owe to Moss, who was generous to me in a way that was far from unique. He was generous to all people he came across, although, as I think the member for McMahon noted, he had some thoughts about some of his former colleagues that he shared. But the way in which he went about his involvement post public life I found and I find quite inspirational. When I think about the opportunities that I have serving in this place as a member of our great party, I think of the example he set: the example he set while he held public office, the example he set in his activism prior to being elected and the example he continued to set throughout his long and very impactful life. I don't know the extent to which Moss would appreciate all of the decisions I've made. From time to time he was good enough to vote for me in internal Labor Party ballots—and, as we know on this side of the House, there's no greater tribute that can be paid!—but I like to think that, in his encouragement to me, he saw something of value.
The debt that I feel, the debt that I express now, is of course absolutely nothing in comparison to his contribution. I won't go through that in great detail because we've heard eloquent testimonies to what Moss Cass meant to this country and indeed to the world's natural environment from the Leader of the Labor Party and my colleagues I referred to earlier. But, having started by referring to an extraordinary life, I feel I do need to touch upon some small elements of what would be a long highlights reel.
His work as a doctor in many respects has been highlighted: as a pioneer, an inventor, someone who understood public health earlier and better than most, someone who was a key enabler—if not perhaps the architect he might have liked to have been, as the member for McMahon noted—of Medibank and Medicare, which is now such a critical element of our modern Australian social compact. He advocated for a woman's right to choose, for reproductive rights, at a time when this was very, very heavily contested not just in the community but in our party. He advocated for law reform on questions of sexuality, when again it was not always an easy fight for justice to have been a part of.
Then, of course, when he entered this place, his contributions were really nothing short of remarkable. He will always be our first minister for the environment and conservation. I think we could have an excellent one in this chamber right now, the member for Griffith, and I look forward hopefully to seeing her contribution in the very near future, but the standard that Moss Cass set is one that is very hard to emulate. I think it is no exaggeration to say that, in assuming that mantle, he changed our national political debate. He changed our understanding about the possibilities of national politics and our responsibility as custodians of our natural environment. The physical memories of that are significant—Kakadu and the other successful campaigns he waged—but, more particularly, it is important to dwell on the fact that he brought this discussion into the centre of this parliament and the centre of our national debate. He indeed was a leader in international forums as well. He was also Minister for the Media, briefly but—I think most of us would agree—presciently in terms of his understanding of the role that the media plays in sustaining a healthy society and a healthy democracy. His contribution in establishing community radio was something that means a lot to me and means a lot to many Australians around the country.
Beyond this service, which was of course sadly brought to an end as a minister, he continued in parliament for another five years. But I just want to reiterate how significant his contribution was in a very long, productive and, frankly, inspirational post-parliamentary life. I said, in acknowledging my personal debt, that it was far from unique—Moss was incredibly generous with his experience and his encouragement. He was full of ideas, full of enthusiasm and never let slip the notion that there is a better world out there if we have the wit and the will to make it. When I think about Moss and his impact on me, his impact on our party and his impact on our country, those are the guiding words that I hope can sustain me and my colleagues and all of us in this place as we go about the work that we are so privileged to do.
My thoughts today and since his passing are with his family, with Shirley and his children, Naomi and Dan, and all of those whose lives were shaped by Moss, all of those who loved him, all of us who walk in his shadow. Rest in peace.
The Whitlam government changed Australia and it encapsulated the spirit of the 1960s. And no-one did that better than Moss Cass. Long haired, bearded and described by the Sydney Jewish News as 'with it', he was happy to invite colleagues to smoke pot in his office when they critiqued Australia's drug policy. He was somebody who didn't always get on with the Prime Minister. He carried with him the same drive and passion as his parents, who'd fled the anti-Jewish pogroms in tsarist Russia. He was a trailblazer in the area of the environment. He was frustrated at the timidity of the Australian Conservation Foundation, which was then chaired by Sir Garfield Barwick and whose patron was Prince Philip. He was an activist in the environmental area, effectively managing to stop sand mining on Fraser Island—an outrage that, when you go to Fraser Island today, you cannot believe ever occurred—and curtailing the Ranger Uranium Mine in Kakadu. He began that process of turning the Labor Party into Australia's leading environmental party, which it remains today.
As a doctor, he attained significant note. He built the first heart-lung machine in Australia. He brought back from his time in London with his wife, Shirley Shulman, a sense of free thinking and a willingness to challenge authority. We in the ACT acknowledge Moss for his sponsorship of private members' bills that legalised abortion and decriminalised homosexuality in the ACT.
But there is also his important work in the media portfolio. As the Leader of the Opposition noted in the House, he initiated Double J and got rid of the television licence fee. He also put in place the Press Council, though not without some critique. When he initially proposed the notion of a press council, The Sunday Telegraph talked about it as 'a real threat to democracy, and a monstrous pre-empting of the judicial system'. The Australian editorialised: 'What country are we living in? It sounds more like Dr Goebbels's Nazi Germany than Dr Cass's Australia.' Others noted at the time that, if anything demonstrated the need for a press council, it was those distorted responses to the proposals for a press council.
But Moss didn't stop when his political career ended. He continued corresponding with a range of members of parliament, including, I'm pleased to say, me. An email that he sent me on 26 September 2021 said: 'For the survival of democracy, it is essential that opinions and assertions be supported by established, confirmed data readily available for everyone through the media.' He went on to make a range of observations about the work that he'd done and the importance of conducting a fact based debate in politics. As the cliche goes, you can have your own views but not your own facts. Yet too often today we've forgotten the lesson Moss Cass taught us about the importance of a robust, ideas based political conversation. Moss Cass's email of 26 September 2021 finished with this sentence: 'If you have reached this far and feel like objecting or commenting, please do so by email. I am now too deaf, at the age of 94, to follow a phone conversation.'
I wrote back to him to simply say: 'Moss, thank you. I appreciate your views. I will do my best to ensure that we have that vibrant democracy that you worked for.' By golly, I hope that, like Moss Cass, when I'm in my 90s I'll be engaging with policymakers to try to make the world a better place.
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.
I rise to speak on this condolence motion for the honourable Dr Moses Henry Cass, better known as Moss. Moss Cass served in this House from 1969 to 1983. He left parliament four years before I was born. I never had the privilege of meeting him, but when I was elected to this place in 2019 I was the 22nd Jewish Australian elected to our federal parliament. Moss was the eighth. He was elected in 1969 with a new generation of Jewish MPs together with Barry Cohen, Joe Berinson and Dick Klugman. The three of them would go on to be ministers in Labor governments. Moss Cass was buried in the Batalum Cemetery in Springvale, near where my grandmother is buried. So we do have a shared history, and I'm proud to have this with Moss Cass.
He was one of the generation of new, young Labor MPs who came to this House in 1969 as part of the wave of enthusiasm for the new Labor leader Gough Whitlam. One of his fellow new MPs in the class of '69 was a young man named Paul Keating. As a doctor and director of the Trade Union Clinic and Research Centre, Moss Cass was enthused by Whitlam's determination to reform Australia's ramshackle health insurance system. As a son of Jewish refugees, he was a champion of human rights and for a more liberal immigration policy. He was an early campaigner for environmental activism, for abortion law reform and for the decriminalisation of homosexuality. He used his first speech to argue for the decriminalisation of abortion. With the late Sir John Gorton, he co-sponsored a motion in this House supporting decriminalisation of homosexuality well before this cause was adopted by the political mainstream. He was fiercely progressive and he was a trailblazer.
As the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, his campaign manager at the time when he first came in suggested a good line: 'I don't mind who you vote for, as long as you think about it'. As the voters of Maribyrnong have never elected a Liberal MP since, no doubt Moss Cass helped turn that seat red.
Moss Cass went on to be a very fine and visionary minister for the environment and conservation, Australia's first ever Minister for Environment in the visionary Whitlam government. He passed the environmental protection act in 1974, despite some opposition both internally and externality. It was a bold idea well ahead of it time but it got through. Moss cared for our environment.
Moss Cass had a turbulent time in politics. He fell out with Gough Whitlam and was shunted out of the environment portfolio. He was the shadow health minister under Bill Hayden but was dropped from the front bench after the 1980 election. His views on many subjects were too leftist even for the Left of that time, though, mostly, they would be pretty uncontroversial now.
He chose to retire in 1983 when he was only 56. He went on to have a second career at the Melbourne university's Melbourne School of Land Environment and chaired the Australian National Biocentre. In many ways, he was a man ahead of his time, and he paid a price for that. But he deserves to be remembered as a pioneer of many good causes and a champion of progressive Labor policies and values.
To Shirley, Naomi and Dan, and the entire Cass family, we wish you long life and we celebrate a man and a life worth lived.
I thank the member for McNamara. I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places and I ask all those present to do so.
Honourable members having stood in their places—
I thank the Federation Chamber.