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Councillor Profile

13 Nov 2014

For a local councillor, Richard Foster speaks a lot like a politician.

Of course all councillors are politicians, but Cr Foster sounds like a “real” politician – the type you see on TV or hear on the radio being charming, but not really answering the questions.

This is not such a surprise when you understand how enamoured he is with the ALP.  The former president of the Carlton branch says his values and the party’s are aligned.

Therefore, he says, he can take decisions within the council based on his own personal beliefs as well as the party’s values.

“I’ve very much felt at home there (the ALP) and I very much share the beliefs that it espouses.  I don’t agree with all its policies but I know that its core beliefs are sound,” he said. “There’s very little difference between my own and the party’s values.”

Cr Foster is also very much at home as chair of the council’s “People City” portfolio, which roughly equates with what others might call human services.

After a career that started as a fraud investigator for a phone company, diverged into consumer advocacy before arriving in the welfare sector, Cr Foster is passionate about his brief.

He lists addressing disadvantage, community health and childcare as his three main priorities and is confident about making a real difference in the area of homelessness during his four-year term.

“We’ve engaged in a lot of band-aid solutions because we haven’t really done the work to know any better,” he said.  “Our city is not the most liveable for everyone.  I think we need to spread the benefits a little better.”

In his current day-job, Cr Foster finds work placements for Monash University finance and business students within not-for-profit organisations such as community legal centres and welfare agencies.

He says former prime minister Paul Keating sparked his political interest when he was a teenager, but he didn’t get seriously involved in the Labor Party until his late 20s.

“Being involved with a major party, your passion doesn’t wane. It only tends to go the other way,” he said.

So, can he be described as a “bleeding heart”?

“If you’re asking whether I am socially aware and sympathetic to people less fortunate than me?  Then, yes, absolutely,” he said.

“But I’m very pragmatic about it.  I’m not some loony-lefty racing out with, probably well-founded, but unachievable ideas.”

“I’m very much of the school that believes that if you are seriously trying to achieve social change, then you need to bring people with you.”

Cr Foster is coy about his future political ambitions.

“I’m very, very happy in local government.  Very, very happy at the council,” he said.

“Yes, but you may still harbour ambition for the future?”  CBD News suggested.

“Like I said, I’m very happy at the council,” he responded.

Cr Foster had an accelerated path towards self-reliance as a child.

“I was born to a single mother.  My mother flittered around through a lot of lowly-paid jobs when I was growing up.  Her task was to make ends meet and she generally did that,” he said.

At 14, he put himself into foster-care for the rest of his school years after his mum married a man he “didn’t see eye-to-eye with”.

“I think its fair to say that anyone who finds themselves in that position when they are in their teens is not going to have it too easy.  But I don’t think it’s the worst story you will ever hear, but probably not the best either,” he said.

“There’s not one part of me that regrets that decision.  In fact, I verily believe that if I had not taken that decision when I did, my life would be very different now and I don’t think it would be for the better.”

After finishing school in the Dandenongs, he supported himself initially working night-shift in a service station before progressing to being a voice-over artist.

Returning to Melbourne, he lived in Prahran and Brunswick before settling in Kensington.

Cr Foster acknowledges that the opportunity for achievement within the council may be limited.

However, he says, the platform it offers outside of the council and capacity for advocacy should not be overlooked.

“Last year I called for 24-hour public transport and now it’s part of the opposition’s policy,” he said.  “It’s those type of things you can achieve in local government even though you might not have the direct lever to pull yourself.  You can

make the right noises to the right people.”

“You have to accept that you are not going to change the world in four years.  You have to focus on what you think is important and concentrate on achieving those.”

Next month's Councillor Profile we look at
Cr Cathy Oke

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