Dr Deb Foskey

Pictured: Dr Deb Foskey in 2018 (Photo Credit: Victorian Greens)

Dr Deb Foskey

12 November 1949 – 1 May 2020, aged 70

“…a writer, poet, philosopher, politician, mother, agitator for change and thinker…Her life was lived to the full, selflessly, generously, inspirationally.”

Shelly Nundra, Deb’s friend

Dr Deb Foskey was a passionate environmental activist, advocate and do-er. A tireless, principled feminist, intellectual and scholar. She is remembered for her flair, poise and mentorship of other women. 

Deb was one of the pioneers of the campaign to protect the magnificent forests of East Gippsland, which continues today almost 50 years on. She was a founder of Environment East Gippsland, the longest-running forest conservation organisation in the country. 

Raised in Bacchus Marsh, Deb received her diploma of Education at the University of Melbourne and shortly thereafter, in 1972 aged 22, she moved to Cabanandra, East Gippsland with her husband and six-week-old baby. Over the next 14 years, Deb and her family would live off the land, off the grid and build their own home. During this time, Deb was the main breadwinner for the family of four, working in education and travelling all over East Gippsland. This time was formative to both the deep attachment Deb built for the area and the development of her interests in protection of the environment, support for rural communities and women particularly, that would last for the rest of her life.

After moving to Canberra in the mid 1980s, Deb went on to be active in the ACT Greens through the ‘90s, and contributed to policy development at a local and national level. 

In 1996, Deb commenced a PhD in Political Science from the Australian National University, focusing on population issues and analysing humanitarian ways to achieve a lower ecological footprint. She became involved in the anti-globalisation movement in the late 1990s/early 2000s, leading the charge in Canberra for many years.

Deb was elected to the ACT Legislative Assembly in 2004 as the sole Greens Member and crossbencher in the first and only period of majority government in the ACT Assembly’s history. It was the year after the 2003 fires in Canberra, during a long period of drought, and Deb worked successfully to raise issues of water efficiency, climate change and sustainability in the face of vehement deniers and dated thinking. Deb put forward legislation that successfully brought in Australia’s first legislation banning SLAPPsuits – Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. She pushed for triple bottom line analysis, better annual reporting on ecologically sustainable development indicators, and for improved democratic processes. Her intelligence, humour and doggedness got the Greens team through the period of majority government, and her momentum took the Greens into an unprecedented balance of power. 

One of her lasting legacies was to ensure that the residents of the Narrabundah Long Stay Caravan Park were not evicted when the private owner sold the land. That caravan park still provides affordable homes to more than a hundred people today. 

In 2008, Deb moved back to Cabanandra and committed herself to a life of community advocacy and activism. She was coordinator of the Tubbut Neighbourhood House and played a key role in the East Gippsland Network of Neighbourhood Houses, the Centre for Rural Communities and countless other community groups across East Gippsland and across the border in New South Wales. 

In the last years of her life Deb connected community activism and electoral politics together as only someone with Deb’s life experience could do. She stood for East Gippsland Shire Council in 2016, the Victoria state election in 2018 and for the federal seat of Gippsland in 2019, campaigning powerfully on our interconnected crises climate, nature, inequality and democracy and on the local solutions to these national and global problems. Deb was determined to use the elections as a platform to build and amplify the voices of rural and regional communities in environmental and social politics.

Dr Deb Foskey passed away on 1 May 2020, aged 70. She leaves behind a strong contribution to East Gippsland, Canberra and the world, having worked to make them all better places. Along with a powerful and feisty memory, a legacy of love, care and respect, and deep relationships with people and the earth.

A complete biography of Deb’s life has been prepared by Eleni McIlroy, Janet Rice, David Foskey and Indra Esguerra – thank you to each for their contributions to this tribute to Deb’s life.

“Ahead of her time in many respects, making and living the links between gender, women’s rights (or lack thereof) and climate care.”

Sue Finucane, Deb’s colleague and friend

We are very grateful for the support of the Dr Deb Foskey Fund, established by Deb’s daughters, Samara and Eleni McIlroy. The fund welcomes applications from women in remote, rural, and regional communities working (paid or unpaid) for our environment and climate action who would like to undertake the WELA National Leadership Development Program. Find out more on our scholarships page. 

We also invite Deb’s family, friends and colleagues to contribute to the fund, as a living legacy to Deb. In doing so, you’ll help us commemorate Deb’s life and contribution, and support women from rural, remote and regional Australia to step up in their leadership for our environment and climate action.