Senate debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Cass, Hon. Dr Moses Henry (Moss)

3:12 pm

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate expresses its deep sadness at the death, on 26 February 2022, of the Honourable Moses Henry 'Moss' Cass, former Minister for the Environment and Conservation and Minister for Media and former member for Maribyrnong, places on record its admiration and appreciation for his service to the Parliament and the nation, and tenders its deep sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Mr President, today we honour Dr Moses Henry Cass, otherwise known to his loved ones and friends as Moss. He was the federal member for Maribyrnong from 1969 to 1983 and, of note, was Australia's first environment minister. Moss lived a long life dedicated to improving the world around him and preserving and protecting its natural environment. As a minister in the Whitlam government, Moss is remembered for his immense contributions to Australian public life and the selfless approach he took towards public service.

Moss Cass was born on 18 February 1927 in Narrogin in my home state of Western Australia. He was the eldest of the three sons of Ben and Esther Cass. His father was a GP, and Moss and his brothers all pursued careers in medicine. Moss studied medicine at the University of Sydney and in 1955, married Melbourne-born Shirley Shulman who was instrumental in exposing him to a world of free thinkers and stirred his discussions on progressive causes. Through the 1950s and the 1960s, Moss worked as a registrar at hospitals in Sydney, in London and in Melbourne. It was in London that Moss undertook work at Guy's Hospital developing open-heart surgery techniques. Importantly, we acknowledge his work as a research fellow at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital, where he conducted research into the use of a heart-lung machine for open-heart surgery. Moss actually built the first heart-lung machine in Australia. Moss brought his expertise in medicine to the Labor Party's state and federal health policy committees and, from 1964 to1969, served as the director of the Trade Union Clinic and Research Center.

A man of profound intellect, Moss thought deeply about the issues. He took to advancing a number of progressive causes, traversing health, media and environmental policy. Upon his election to parliament as the member for Maribyrnong in 1969, Moss advocated for the decriminalisation of homosexuality and marijuana and the legalisation of abortion. Moss was, as you would expect, entwined with health policy during his tenure in the parliament. It was following the election of the Whitlam government in 1972 that Moss was appointed as Australia's first Minister for the Environment and Conservation. He made this role his own and was instrumental in proposing and securing the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act 1974, mandating the use of environmental impact statements for federal government decisions. He initiated the influential public inquiries that preceded the end of sand mining on Fraser Island, the curtailing of the Ranger Uranium Mine in Kakadu and government protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Moss also enabled new grassroots environmental organisations through the doubling of federal government grants to these groups. He later became Minister for the Media in the Whitlam government. His work in issuing experimental radio licences is widely regarded as leading to the thriving community radio sector we have today.

During his time in this parliament, Moss was known as an effective politician, with a reputation for listening and a desire to relentlessly pursue reform where he felt it was necessary. Following his departure from the parliament, Moss maintained a keen interest in the Labor Party and in all those who were agents for change, from party branch members to environmentalists. Moss was a serious thought leader and a man who had vision of the type of Australia he sought to shape, and he pursued that vision untiringly. Today, let us all be inspired by the contributions Dr Moss Cass made to public life and by his reformist approach towards the significant challenges of his time.

On behalf of the Australian government and the Australian Senate, I extend our sincerest condolences to Moss's wife, Shirley, and the loved ones he leaves behind.


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