Eulogy - Melbourne, Victoria
The Hon. Justice Peter McClellan AM
Chair, Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse
Anthony Foster leaves a legacy for all Australians. We can see his legacy in the changes which many institutions have made for the safety of children in their care. We can see it in the changes institutions are making in their response to survivors of abuse. More changes will certainly follow.
The sexual abuse of a child is a terrible crime. It is perpetrated against the most innocent in our community. It strips the child of that innocence. It can and often does damage the child’s ability to develop and live a happy and fulfilled life. It is the gravest of personal violations.
The abuse of a child can not only damage that child. In many cases it inflicts trauma on the close relatives and friends of that child. The distress, anguish, and sense of betrayal felt by the parents of a child who has been abused can never be fully appreciated other than by those who must suffer it. Can any of us who have not been in Anthony’s position imagine the sense of loss experienced by a parent who has entrusted their child to an institution only to find that a member of that institution has fundamentally betrayed that trust? Can we imagine the anger the parent feels when the abuser denies their crime or the institution seeks to avoid responsibility for it?
The Commissioners have spoken with many parents who have struggled with their own trauma as they sought to assist their children to recover and live productive lives. Some parents carry unresolved anger. Understandably overcome by grief their capacity to contribute to others lives may be diminished. For some their grief and anger becomes a motivating force to advocate for their own children, and for all abused children. They seek a just response. And they seek that institutions resolve to bring lasting change to ensure that other children will not suffer as their own have done.
Anthony Foster is such a person. Anthony loved all of his children. A love he shared with Chrissie. The suffering which they experienced as a result of the abuse of Emma and Katie is documented in Chrissie’s book ‘Hell on the way to Heaven.’ Many people, quite understandably, would have been destroyed by that suffering. Many would have been overwhelmed by what they saw as the uncaring response of an institution to the needs of their children. But Anthony, with Chrissie, did not let this happen. Instead they resolved to devote their lives to both care for their own children and to advocate for all children who may have been abused.
After Anthony had given evidence before the Royal Commission and we had reported in relation to the Melbourne Response I came to know him at a personal level. In every conversation I had with Anthony his central concern was for the welfare of others. In his quiet and articulate way he talked to me of his concerns that institutions and all their leaders should accept that terrible events had happened. And he was determined to do what he could to ensure that institutions and government made an appropriate and just response.
Others have documented Anthony’s contribution to the decision to hold the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry. This was of course followed by the decision by governments to create a national Royal Commission. Anthony knew when pressing for these inquiries that the needs of those who had been sexually abused as children extended far beyond his immediate family. He understood that unless the resources of a national inquiry were employed there was little chance that the Australian community would come to understand what had occurred. No doubt there were some, perhaps many, who thought the Royal Commission was not necessary. Anthony knew otherwise.
Anthony understood that the sexual abuse of children was a whole of community issue. He believed that crimes had been committed against children by many people in many institutions across Australia. He believed that those institutions had put their reputations before the welfare of children. He believed they had covered up to avoid scandal. He believed that they had failed by breaching the fundamental trust that the community’s parents had placed in them.
Whilst caring for their own family Anthony, together with Chrissie, devoted their lives to seeking justice for all victims. They spent countless days at Royal Commission hearings. They participated in roundtables. They provided us with considered submissions. They were always caring and thoughtful for others.
In as much as the Royal Commission has been tasked with bearing witness to the suffering of children who have been abused Anthony, with Chrissie, accepted an obligation to bear witness on behalf of survivors.
There were many occasions during our public hearings when some of those present were overcome by their own memories or the grief carried by others. Anthony was always alert to their suffering and ready to provide a comforting word or gentle embrace. Many have directly felt the warmth of the acknowledgement from someone who truly understood their pain.
Anthony and Chrissie attended our public hearings so often it was not a surprise that when our hearings were coming to an end they came from Melbourne to take their usual place in the room.
Anthony will remain in the memory of all the Commissioners and Commission staff. There are many others who have walked beside him. They have been encouraged, supported and inspired by Anthony.
Anthony was a loving and good man. He was gentle, courageous and caring.
Anthony’s legacy will be realised by a just response for all those who were abused in an institution. This must include a commitment by the Australian community that these terrible crimes should never happen again.