ACOSS pays tribute to social justice giant Merle Mitchell

The ACOSS board, staff and members express their deepest sympathies to the family and loved ones on the passing yesterday of Ms Merle Mitchell, former ACOSS President, and one of Australia’s truly great social justice giants, who fought until her last days for the basic rights of people less powerful in society.

ACOSS President, Peter McNamara said: “Merle was a lifelong advocate for equality, community and diversity. She was well-known by many people in her local community and far beyond for her grace, courage and tireless advocacy. Her work helped to shape and inform state and federal government social welfare policies through her roles with both ACOSS and VCOSS. In addition, Merle played a vital role in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne for almost five decades. As the founder and patron of South East Community Links, she advocated for migrants and refugees experiencing poverty and structural inequalities so that they could feel a sense of belonging and contribute to a vibrant multicultural Australia. Our community is richer for her having lived in it and we extend our deepest sympathies to her friends and family.”

Former ACOSS Vice President, Hang Vo said: “Having arrived in Australia in the late 1970s as Vietnamese refugees, my family and I were direct recipients of Merle’s generosity and welcome in Springvale. Merle is much loved by our community for her groundbreaking work at 5 Osborne Ave – a place of welcome and belonging for refugees – a legacy that still stands strong today. I will forever treasure my recent connection with Merle. She was so proud to see this refugee kid grow up to be an adult who shares her passion and drive for a more just and equitable society. I know I speak on behalf of so many refugees – we are indebted for all that Merle gave us.’

ACOSS CEO, Cassandra Goldie said: “Merle was a sharp, determined, tenacious, compassionate advocate who touched the lives of millions across her long life. Merle leaves an extraordinary legacy of lives made better, organisations built and stronger, and policies which have stood the test of time. Merle Mitchell leaves a powerful message to us all about what true leadership really takes. Merle spoke not in slogans but with truth, heart and head, and showed us all what true courage takes. Merle spoke out to the end about the appalling conditions of aged care in Australia. In doing so, she showed again the power of the community voice, speaking with courage and truth. May her life and her passing call us all to do better in the days, months and years ahead.”

Former ACOSS President, Michael Raper said: “I learnt so much from Merle’s dogged commitment to her clients and local community and her determination to obtain state and national solutions for their daily struggles and injustice. She was admired locally for her personal warmth, vision and leadership. She was respected throughout the community sector in Australia for her evidence-based advocacy and compelling voice for justice, diversity and inclusion. She was heard and listened to by politicians at state and national level. She achieved so much improvement for migrants, refugees and people on social security. We are all the better for her time with us.”

Former ACOSS President, Julian Disney said: “Merle had been an exceptional deputy president, always willing to help with good advice, decisive interventions and moral support. It was good to be followed as president by someone who combined the position with heading a small, front-line welfare service. She was deeply committed to firm and constructive advocacy, rather than being content with flamboyant rhetoric or vague calls for action. She was widely respected for her energy and ability to work well with people from very different backgrounds, including senior politicians.”

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