Commissioner Melba Marginson

Melba Marginson is a woman who has made a significant difference for women and the community in Victoria and Australia.

Honour Roll

Melba Marginson was a public school teacher in the Philippines prior to arriving in Victoria in 1989, where she became a full-time union official. Melba devoted her early years in Australia to community work and eventually landed a full-time job as Settlement Planner with the Inner Western Region Migrant Resource Centre. She finished her Master's Degree in Social Science (Policy and Management) at RMIT in December 2000, after three years of juggling a full-time job, part-time study, family and community activism.

She is associated with many community organisations some of which she has pioneered. In July 2000, Melba was appointed one of three new Commissioners of the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

Melba Marginson gained public attention in the late 1980s to the 1990s for her advocacy work on behalf of Filipino women victims and survivors of domestic violence. Shortly after she arrived in Victoria in July 1989, a Filipino woman was strangled to death by her Australian ex-husband. Disturbed by the incident, Melba investigated similar cases and found that the issue of Filipino brides and domestic violence was rampant in Australia. She pursued the issue by networking with other Filipino women across Australia and found there was a significant number of cases where the women were either murdered or disappeared.

Using her organising skills, Melba set up support groups, and connected with other support groups, for Filipino domestic violence survivors which eventually led to the establishment of the Centre for Philippine Concerns-Australia. The CPCA documented the murder and disappearance cases and in 1991 sought the help of the Federal Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) for a possible inquiry. In 1995, HREOC commissioned the University of New South Wales Institute of Criminology to study the cases.

The book 'Gender, Race and International Relations, Violence against Filipino Women in Australia' was launched in 1997, the culmination of Melba's work to get the issue to public attention. Melba's achievement in putting Filipino women's fight against violence lies in the public interest that was aroused by the media coverage of the book's publication.

While not all media coverage may have been fair, in relation to the portrayal of Filipino women, the coverage assisted in raising public awareness and reinforcing the need to combat domestic violence in whatever form and against whatever race and ethnicity. Additionally, the constant exposure of Melba and other Filipino women articulating their views have empowered Filipino, and other migrant women, to leave violent relationships.

Having established Filipino organisations to address women and family issues, Melba moved on to work more widely with migrant women. In 1994, she organised the first statewide conference of immigrant and refugee women in Victoria. The assembly of 200 women unanimously voted to set up a statewide advocacy body which eventually was established in 1997 by Melba and a core of twenty dedicated immigrant and refugee women. The Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women's Coalition is now a dynamic peak advocacy body of 40 member organisations.

Her exposure of violence against Filipino women contributed to public acceptance that domestic violence is a public and community issue.