Senate debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022


Cass, Hon. Dr Moses Henry (Moss)

3:28 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

On behalf of the Australian Greens, I express our deepest collective condolences to the family and friends of Moss Cass. I never had the pleasure of meeting Moss Cass, but a great number of my fellow Greens did, and they have relayed to me nothing but admiration for a remarkable man.

Moss was a great many things: a doctor, a medical scientist, a parliamentarian, a photographer, a father and a pioneer. He was also a voice for those who needed a voice and a voice for the things that didn't have a voice. In each of his endeavours throughout his long life, he was always collaborating with others, looking to create a better humanity and a world where people are at peace with each other and in connection with nature.

Before entering parliament, Moss was a medical scientist. He built Australia's first heart-lung machine. While working as a registrar in London, he helped develop open-heart surgery. He used his experience as a doctor from the very start of his parliamentary career. His maiden speech is extraordinary. Instead of the usual story of self or grand pronouncements about the state of the world, he got straight to business. The entire speech was devoted to advocating for the legalisation of abortion. This included his own admission of criminality for having helped women terminate their pregnancies.

If Moss is perhaps less well known than other parliamentarians who achieved lesser feats than he, then the telling is right there in his first speech, because it was not about him. It was about getting things done. And get things done he did. While serving as Australia's first Minister for the Environment and Conservation, he established Kakadu National Park. He established the National Parks and Wildlife Service and established the process for environmental impact statements that saved Fraser Island from sand mining and that restrained uranium mining in Kakadu.

Later, as Minister for the Media, Moss proposed the establishment of a national press council. In scenes that would not be unfamiliar today, Rupert Murdoch turned the full force of his media empire onto Moss and, in fact, onto the entire Whitlam government. But Moss stood his ground, and although the Whitlam government did not survive, Moss's cause did, and in 1976 the Australian Press Council was established.

Moss continued to work on progressive causes after his time in parliament, particularly those which sought to build alliances. He did so in a way that always sought to foster the next generation. He didn't seek to big-note himself or use his undoubted status to wield influence amongst fellow activists. He was humble and he was generous, and he was always about the collective and always about the many, many causes he was a champion of.

Someone who did know Moss well was Dr Bob Brown, former senator and former Leader of the Australian Greens. I spoke to Bob earlier today, and he asked me to place this on the record with regard to Moss Cass: 'Moss, along with Tom Uren, worked hard to try to save Lake Pedder after the Whitlam government was elected in 1972. Later on, Moss was made Minister for the Environment, and Prime Minister Gough Whitlam offered $8 million to Tasmanian Labor Premier Eric Reece for a moratorium on flooding Lake Pedder. But Reece, to the cheers of the Tasmanian House of Assembly, said he'd have none of it. Lake Pedder is still there, 50 metres under water, awaiting restoration. Moss was a very intelligent gentleman, who was to the left of the ALP in wanting social justice and environmental protection. He worked tirelessly to get the World Heritage Convention signed by Australia, which became crucial to saving the Franklin River. I remember Moss very fondly indeed.' Those are the words of former Senator Bob Brown.

Moss's son, Dan, who has been a Greens staffer in the past, wrote of his dad recently that he made it into cabinet because of his science of hope, that radical honesty wins votes and that power only matters if you do something bold. What great and principled legacies those are to leave to the rest of humanity. To Dan, to Moss's wife, Shirley, and to his daughter, Naomi, I convey the deepest condolences from the Australian Greens. Vale, Moss Cass.


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