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Foster, Allan John (1925–1987)

by Doug Lowe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Allan John Foster (1925-1987), medical practitioner and politician, was born on 4 September 1925 at Currie, King Island, Tasmania, second of five children of Reuben Jack Foster, a Tasmanian-born road overseer, and his wife Mary Veronica, née McCormick, from Scotland. Educated at Scottsdale High School, Allan left at 15 and became a junior clerk with the Department of Public Works in northern Tasmania. He enlisted in the Militia on 2 August 1944 and trained as a clerk. Transferring to the Australian Imperial Force in August 1945, he served with the 6th Prisoner of War Reception Camp in Singapore before being discharged on 19 November 1946 in Tasmania. Through the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, he matriculated and studied science in 1948 at the University of Tasmania. Next year he was accepted into the medical faculty at the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1953). On 16 April 1949 at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Launceston, he married June Ada Watson, a salesgirl. They lived on the outskirts of Melbourne in a crude bungalow that they built with the help of friends, using timber from motorcar packing cases.

Returning to Tasmania in 1954, Foster became a resident medical officer at Launceston General Hospital and at Cosgrove Park Home for the Aged, where he developed an interest in geriatrics. Next year he set up in general practice at St Helens. Honorary geriatrician at LGH from 1960, he moved back to Launceston in 1962. On study tours in 1963 and 1966 he investigated developments in geriatric care in Britain and Europe. He was a founding member (1964), federal councillor (1965-74) and president (1971) of the Australian Association of Gerontology.

In 1965-68 Foster was director of geriatric services in the State Department of Health Services. He was appointed deputy director-general of health in January 1969, but he resigned and successfully contested the seat of Bass for the Australian Labor Party at the State election in May. In the House of Assembly he was immediately appointed shadow health minister. Seeing the need for integrated medical facilities and equality of access to curative and preventive care, he criticised the Commonwealth Grants Commission for equating health costs with the cost of hospital beds. He argued that aspects of community health care other than provision of hospitals, for example home care for the aged and the disabled, also needed financial help from the Commonwealth. In April 1972 he was re-elected to parliament and on 3 May was appointed minister for health, social welfare and road safety in E. E. Reece’s new Labor government. He considered that his main achievement was negotiating with the Federal government a cost-sharing arrangement for the redevelopment of Launceston General Hospital.

Due to ill health caused by injuries sustained in a car accident, Foster resigned from parliament on 15 July 1974. Having been elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, in 1973, he returned to limited medical practice in Hobart, and worked extensively with cancer patients. In 1984 he chaired the joint Commonwealth and State review into the needs of intellectually disabled people in Tasmania. Survived by his wife and their two daughters and son, he died on 15 January 1987 at his Rose Bay home and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 4 Mar 1987, p 20
  • Examiner (Launceston), 13 Apr 1972, p 7, 20 Jan 1987, p 9
  • Mercury (Hobart), 16 July 1974, p 1, 19 Jan 1987, p 5
  • series B883, item TX17017 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Doug Lowe, 'Foster, Allan John (1925–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/foster-allan-john-12506/text22501, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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