Longer-term ACT residents will likely remember Dr Deb Foskey, former ACT Greens MLA, ANU academic and long-term campaigner. A passionate environmentalist, academic, advocate for East Gippsland, and a former ACT Greens MLA, sadly Dr Foskey died in 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, and at a time when holding a public memorial service was not possible.
Dr Foskey was the sole ACT Greens representative for Molonglo in the Legislative Assembly from 2004 to 2008. She was a hard-working campaigner and activist throughout her life and devoted her life to acting with compassion and sustainability. After university and an early life teaching in Melbourne, she moved to East Gippsland in the early 1970s with her then-partner Bob to start a family and a sustainable lifestyle in the bush.
She soon saw the impacts of intense forestry and the beginning of woodchipping on the local forests full of giant shining gums and cool temperate rainforests, feeding the pulpmill in Eden. When another large water-guzzling pulpmill was proposed for the Snowy River area, she was instrumental in bringing the local community together to campaign against it, forming Concerned Residents of East Gippsland - an organisation still going today. Their campaigns brought about the protection of the Errinundra National Park - a win for the day, but poorly designed for ecological protection, leading to further decades of forest conflict.
She moved to Canberra with her children in the 1980s. I was lucky enough to meet her in 1992 at ANU when she was doing her masters in Human Ecology, and I was privileged that she later became one of my mentors and co-activists. We worked on forest campaigns and Greens campaigns together as well as WTOwatch, which she established in the ACT in the late '90s.
Dr Foskey had a fierce intellect, a Masters in Human Ecology and a PhD in Political Science from ANU - she was very interested in humanitarian ways to achieve a lower ecological footprint and her thesis focused on community movements and their role in UN population programs.
Dr Foskey was very committed to the ideals of the Greens - environmental sustainability, social and economic justice, grassroots democracy and peace and non-violence, and played an important role in early policy formation for the party locally and nationally. Prior to being elected to the Assembly, she ran in the ACT for the Senate in 1998, as well as for the Assembly in 2001. She was unlucky enough to be the sole Greens MLA in the Assembly through the only period in ACT history when there was a majority government. Despite the numbers being stacked against her, she worked incredibly hard on issues such as triple bottom line accounting - which has now been a standard process for evaluating major government decisions through the cabinet process for the past nine years.
She was particularly proud of the work she did for residents of the Narrabundah long-stay caravan park, ensuring that when the private owner sold the land the residents were not simply evicted but that the ACT Government stepped in and did a land swap with the owner to preserve the homes of those residents, some of whom had lived there for over 20 years. That caravan park is still home to more than a hundred people today and is an important part of the affordable housing options available in the Territory.
One piece of legislation passed during the term of Dr Foskey was the anti-SLAPP legislation (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). Those kinds of SLAPP suits are sadly used against activists in Tasmania, but we can be proud that we have upheld people's rights to protest peacefully here in the ACT.
After her term in the ACT Assembly Dr Foskey moved back to East Gippsland to be on her beautiful bush block in Cabanandra where she was actively involved in a range of community support activities over the past 12 years. As well as running for local council, she ran for the Greens in East Gippsland for the 2019 federal election. Even after being diagnosed with a terminal illness, she was incredibly focused on working to improve our world and her local community in holistic ways. She was an office bearer for Environment East Gippsland, chair of the Orbost Exhibition Centre, and the independent chair of Headspace Gippsland until her death on May 1, 2020.
A memorial service will be held for Dr Foskey on May 1 - the anniversary of her death - to enable her friends and colleagues to celebrate her life and achievements.
The event will also be a launch of the newly created Dr Deb Foskey Fund established by her daughters, Samara and Eleni McIlroy. Dr Foskey is particularly remembered for her flair, poise and mentorship of other women, and the fund seeks to honour their mother by supporting women.
If you would like to contribute to the Dr Deb Foskey Fund to support women in remote, regional or rural communities to campaign for environmental and climate action, please find out more about how to donate here.
- Indra Esguerra was a friend, fellow activist and an advisor to Dr Deb Foskey when she was an MLA.