Talking courage with a Journalist

(7 minute read)


Paul Kennedy is an author and presenter with ABC television with more than two decades journalism experience. He has worked in news and current affairs for three television networks and annually presents ANZAC Day parades for the ABC. Currently, he presents sport on the popular national morning program News Breakfast.

His four books include “Hell On The Way To Heaven” (co-authored with Chrissie Foster), a key component in the push for Australia’s largest Royal Commission.  A married father of three sons and former AFL reserves player, he is now a successful youth sporting coach. He has become an advocate for better youth sporting participation through Facebook page @funcoachmovement.

Join us as Paul shares that courage is about doing the right thing and it is about truth; and that we can all stand up and be courageous.

What does courage mean to you?

I don’t know that I have defined it in exact terms, but I think that you need courage when you’re fearful of something, but you have to do it anyway; when you are compelled to do something even though you know there is risk.  So, I think courage is linked with fear.  Courage is moving past the fear or being fearless, of acting despite the fear or challenges that exist.  With courage, regardless of the fear or challenges, you just do it anyway, because it’s the right thing to do.

What’s the right thing?

Well, that’s different for everyone.  I think in every circumstance, someone has to work out what the right thing to do is for them.  For me, the right thing is about being kind, caring and helping others; it is about not harming others.

So, what does courage look like in your work place?

In journalism, courage is chasing a story because it matters and because it is meaningful, regardless of the personal obstacles that you face.  I would define a story that matters as something that would potentially help the lives of other people.

What’s the most courageous story you’ve chased?

It’s got to be the courage of the Foster family, Chrissie and Anthony Foster, whose daughters were abused.  Originally, they were fighting to save their daughter, Emma’s life, because she was abused and suffered greatly; they were fighting for their family to receive justice. After Emma died, their fight was for all survivors, resulting in the recommendations from the Royal Commission in December, 2017 (note: Paul first called for a Royal Commission in 2012).

14 Dec 2017

Chrissie Foster standing outside the Royal Commission,
on the final day in Sydney, about to do a live interview for television.

Their fight for justice continues – the Fosters have shown enormous courage to keep going despite their trauma and grief; they have also inspired others to be courageous.  In the early stages when it was seemingly impossible to sue the church because of their legal structure, their lawyer showed courage.  The Fosters were saying, “Can we do this? Will you do this?”  And he replied, “Well, it must be done,” and he was talking about pursuing justice.  “It must be done, so therefore, I’ll do it,” and I thought those were great words.  A little like Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings; “I will take the ring … though I do not know the way.”  The lawyer in that circumstance was very courageous.  At that point, he thought there was very little chance of success, but he decided to do it anyway, because it was the right thing to do. This has stayed with me and it’s still inspirational to this day.

Courage looks different for different people and sometimes those people who others consider are most courageous, don’t see it that way. How courageous were you in this situation?

Well that’s interesting.  It’s been said to me that I have been courageous in writing and co-writing the book with Chrissie, making the documentary Undeniable, and writing and speaking about the clergy sex abuse issue over the years.

But in fact, I don’t see that one bit, because I was doing my job as a journalist. This was something I had to do.  How could I not?  And if I didn’t do that, then who was I?

IMG_4428Chrissie Foster on the set of “Undeniable.”  

What was the impact on you of writing that story?

I don’t remember feeling any sort of stress or trauma with the book.  I cried a lot, sometimes uncontrollably, but I always felt that was a good thing.  If you talk to people who have been through a lot of pain and grief and personal trauma and you’re not moved by that to cry yourself, that would be more worrisome.

The making of the documentary Undeniable caused me to cry very easily, and I did start to worry about whether or not there was something that had changed in me, that I was more fragile and emotional.  So I had some counseling and I felt much better after that.  Even now, when I talk about it, I get a bit emotional, but I’m all settled now.

What have you learned from that experience?

The main thing I’ve learned is that people can stand up and be courageous; people can show courage and challenge what’s right and wrong, and they can fight and achieve something.

The Royal Commission was a combination of a lot of people’s courageous efforts to stand up against the Catholic Church and other institutions.  They stood up and spoke out – the survivors kept speaking out; journalists kept telling their stories; lawyers kept representing them.  And eventually, the State had to listen and Julia Gillard called the Royal Commission.  And then I learned that the Royal Commission is handled by people who were so courageous as to not stop until there was enough information for the final submissions.  So, ultimately, I learned that people have a lot of power.

People have a lot of power and the organisations that would have people silenced are not nearly as powerful as people who are inspired by love and courage.

IMG_4427Chrissie and Paul on the set of “Undeniable.”

Having reflected on and shared that story, if I come back to the question – how courageous were you? – would you respond differently now?

No, I held the line and I reported the truth.  It has been said that I became an advocate but above all, I was a journalist.  I was asking the questions that needed to be asked. I did my job and I did it well.

Truth is very powerful; as a journalist, if you take the time to learn and understand, and ask the right questions and come to the truth, then carrying the truth forward is not nearly as hard as it might otherwise be.  The truth is a very powerful thing and throughout this situation people were abused and it was covered up and I found that out.  I knew the truth; it’s a very inherent thing for a journalist to take the truth forward and try to achieve justice.  If you don’t know the truth, then that’s a different situation.




Chrissie Foster with her granddaughter, Ivy, on the set of “Undeniable,” which was filmed on her property.


When else have you been courageous?

There have been other instances where I have tried to create change within the local football club, which doesn’t sound like much, but it was a great example to me, once again, of people coming together to create change.  I was a coach of a local team that was struggling with its identity. As long as I knew it, this football club was a place where alcoholism, sexism, homophobia were rife, and the place was falling apart.  There were drugs.  So, as a coach, I decided to try and change that environment and along with some other really good people, we were able to do that.  It doesn’t sound like much compared to the Royal Commission but it was an example of community.  I learned a lot from that.

What are some of the things you learned and also what are some things you did to create that change?

 One of the things that I did was make some judgment on behavior.  I got rid of sexist fundraisers.  I got rid of the screaming and swearing at the umpires from the boundaries.  I just asked people to stop.  I always asked myself, “what would my mother and my sister want me to do?,” because I knew the footy club wasn’t a comfortable place for women, and if it’s not a comfortable place for women, it’s no place at all, because you want families there.  You want people to enjoy each other’s company.

I learned that the people who are angry about you creating change are a very vocal minority; I learned that those who wanted to abuse and swear at the umpires were only a handful of people.  There was also a silent majority who were opposed to them.  I learned that if you make these judgments with an inarguable motive then the silent majority inevitably stands beside you.  My motive was that I wanted to create an environment where people can come and enjoy themselves.  I also wanted to create a good performance environment, where the players could be their best.

I am also involved in junior sport, which includes having a Facebook page called Fun Coach Movement.  Kids get abused at junior sport, but they only get abused by a very vocal minority, and the silent majority of the parents who don’t know what to do about it, are sitting back, thinking how awful it is and eventually taking their kids away.  The majority of parents want to see fun and encouragement and positivity.  So the way you create change is to empower and educate the silent majority to understand that they have a voice too.  My motive is I just want to see my kids, their friends and other kids enjoy sports the way I enjoy sports.

To what extent do you think Australia’s leaders are leading with courage?

I see very little courage in politics.  I wouldn’t say no courage, because I’ve seen some courage, but day to day I don’t see enough courage in our politics.  Politicians too often are worried about maintaining their own positions, rather than doing the best job possible.  You need to get on with the business of helping people and helping lives, helping fellow Australians rather than looking after your own power base.  I think too many politicians choose the latter.

I think most leaders make it too hard on themselves.

If you decide to do the right thing, that will set you free; you don’t have to re-examine your values every time you come across an issue.

If you don’t know what the right thing is, read about the topic and speak with others to understand what is right and wrong in any given situation. If you stick to what is right – and you have the courage not to worry about the fallout or your lost position or the votes you’re going to lose because of the opposition’s campaign – that’s very powerful as well.  Just do the right thing.  In politics this might cost you your job, but if you’re worried about keeping your job all the time, then what sort of leader are you?

I do want to emphasise that moral courage and leadership is not just something for high office.  Courage and leadership is shown every day in our communities and schools.  If you look at the Australians of the Year, you could write a book about their courage.

You can go a local school and see courage there – a friend of mine is a principal and he is really challenging the way we teach kids to read now.  He is an advocate of a reading technique which has achieved amazing results for children with learning difficulties and is now using this same technique throughout the school – now that’s enormous courage and leadership.  I’d like to see someone have the courage and take this technique into our indigenous communities, so that this may have positive impact on their incarceration rates.

There is great courage and leadership in our communities and families.

To learn more about Paul and his work, please go to:

Twitter: @paulwkennedy

Facebook: @paulkennedystories

Instagram: @paulabckennedy

The photograph of Paul in the Victorian State Library was taken while filming “Undeniable.”

I was fortunate to meet Paul earlier this year and to understand his perspectives on courage.  As you will have read in the interview, Paul speaks about knowing the truth and mentions, “This was something I had to do. How could I not?  And if I didn’t do that, then who was I?”  This has had significant impact on me as I ask myself the question “who am I?” when I need to be courageous.  If only more leaders – in high office, in workplaces, in communities and families – asked this question of themselves more often.



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