Family and domestic violence leave; the Family Violence Act; funding of organisations to combat family violence; and more.
Awareness of the scourge of family violence can be traced back to the advocacy of Melba Marginson some 34 years ago.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Melba became involved in community issues early in her career when, as a school teacher, she became secretary general of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers in the Philippines.
When she was invited to Australia to give a keynote address to the Australian Teachers Federation, Melba’s life took an unexpected course after she met Simon Marginson, the federation’s industrial officer, at the conference.
Following their marriage in the Philippines, the couple settled in Melbourne’s west because of its rich cultural diversity, where she gave birth to a girl named Ana Rosa.
Melba’s arrival on July 31, 1989, was a baptism of fire. ‘Less than two weeks later I was attending the funeral of a Filipino woman who had been strangled to death by her Australian ex-husband.’
At the funeral Melba met a number of Filipino women who were determined to fight for justice. Melba also heard anecdotally about a number of similar cases involving Filipino brides. And so began a decades-long involvement in tackling family violence.
Given her experience, Melba was the obvious candidate to take on a leadership role and investigate how widespread the issue was: she began working part time as the media liaison officer at the Philippines Resource Centre.
A key problem was that no one was collecting any data. Melba set to work with the help of Filipino women living interstate, and over many months discovered 18 murders/disappearances of Filipino women involving family violence.
With the help of the Centre for Philippine Concerns-Australia (CPCA), which had been established by connecting the support groups for Filipino domestic violence survivors, Melba encouraged the Federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to conduct an inquiry. In 1995, the HREOC commissioned the UNSW Institute of Criminology to study the cases, resulting in the publication in 1997 of the book Gender, Race and International Relations, Violence against Filipino Women in Australia.
Melba’s advocacy and the bravery of Filipino women survivors in going public raised awareness of the prevalence of and the need to combat domestic violence in all its forms and against whatever race and ethnicity.
Their lobbying also led to a key legislative change, thanks to the support of the then Labor Immigration Minister Gerry Hand. The Family Violence Provision, which was inserted in the Immigration Act of 1958, allowed women born overseas who become victims of family violence or sexual assault in Australia to become permanent residents in their own right. It was a huge moment.
Melba juggled family life, full-time work and community activism with part-time study, and completed a Master’s in Social Science in December 2000Now, Melba is back in the trenches, fighting for women of diverse cultural backgrounds who are experiencing family violence. Her life has come full circle.
Although she officially retired in 2016, Melba founded The Silent Witness Network, a multicultural network of people determined to reduce family violence and support affected children – the ‘silent witnesses’ – in culturally diverse communities.
Existing ‘on the smell of an oily rag’, the Silent Witness Network operates in the crisis intervention space through its helpline and referral process and in the area of primary prevention. It receives funding to pay for one-part time counsellor and time-limited funding for prevention activities in the community.
Melba says she was prompted to do this work because while there is a huge amount of support for survivors – including women’s refuges, government funded organisations such as Domestic Violence Victoria, Domestic Violence Resource Centre, InTouch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence, Safe Steps and Orange Door – she feels that much more could be done by existing systems to more effectively support multicultural communities.
Melba remains concerned that the multicultural community often remains unaware that family violence support organisations exist. ‘We need more culturally sensitive approaches and we need referrals in lots of languages.’
She is also concerned that one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence was that 50 per cent of the resources should be dedicated to primary prevention. ‘That is still not happening,’ she claims.
Melba served as Victoria’s Multicultural Commissioner from 2000–2005 and was inducted into the inaugural Victorian Women’s Honour Roll for her work on violence against immigrant and refugee women.
During her long career she also served on the boards and committees of several non-profit organisations, including the Victorian Women’s Trust, Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition, the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils of Australia, the Network of Immigrant and Refugee Women of Australia, Women’s Health West. Last but not least, Melba was named by Westpac and the Australian Financial Review one of ‘100 Australian women of influence in 2014’.
Melba is now a member of the voluntary management committee of Melbourne’s Living Museum of the West, serving as its Treasurer. She also works as a translator/interpreter because of a serious shortage of qualified interpreters. Melba works primarily in the justice system and the migration system, assisting people whose cases are under review, including international students, and partner and family visas.
And with the World Cup in full flight in Melbourne, she has also been working with FIFA interpreting for the Filipinas team.