Melba Marginson

on Thursday, 03 May 2012. Posted in Gillard Election 2010 Campaign

Melba Marginson

Melba Marginson is the Executive Director, Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition. Ms Marginson is of Filipino background and has worked in the area of multicultural and women’s affairs since migrating to Australia in 1989. She facilitated the formation of several women’s organizations including the statewide advocacy body, Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition, which she served as Chair for 9 years.

Her own journey as an Australian woman was an example of how most immigrant and refugee women settle in this country. They invest their skills and wisdom in voluntary work for many years while bringing up families and trying to get decent jobs, while maintaining their passion and commitment towards equality and social justice in this country. Her advocacy for immigrants and refugees has been recognised by the Labor Government in Victoria under Premier Steve Bracks by appointing her as one of the first new Commissioners of the Victorian Multicultural Commission in 2000. She has served the Commission for 5 years.

Ms Marginson has a Master's Degree in Social Science (Policy and Management) at RMIT University. She is a Director with the Victorian Women’s Trust Board, member of FECCA Women’s Committee and Deputy Chair of the Network of Immigrant and Refugee Women of Australia. She has served in a number of Ministerial Advisory Committees and Reference Groups on important aspects/issues of women's lives.

Ms. Marginson was selected for the First Women's Honour Roll by the Victorian Government in celebration of Australia's Centenary of Federation in 2001.

Ms. Marginson’s work on around Filipino women’s issues was the subject of extensive media coverage and academic research in the late 1980s through to the 1990s. Her public appearances in the media and in her various speaking engagements inspired many Filipino and migrant women to be stand up and be counted. Her perspective on women’s organizing and advocacy was the reason she was asked to write the Filipino chapter by Dr. James Jupp for the 2001 Australian Encyclopedia. In 1994, the national campaign she led to protect Filipino women from violence helped bring about the Domestic Violence Provisions to the Immigration Act of 1982.

Ms. Marginson continues to advocate for the Filipino community in Australia through her position as national spokesperson of the Centre for Philippine Concerns Australia, which has offices in Melbourne and Brisbane. She was the one who helped the ABC bring together the team of Filipino community leaders who last saw Vivian Alvarez Solon before she was deported in 2001.

Ms. Marginson is well-known in the community sector as the Executive Director of the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition. Through this organization, Melba provides organizational leadership, mentoring and advocacy for and on behalf of numerous migrant and refugee women who trust her engaging and humble style of leadership. Melba has pioneered the development of a Women’s Leadership Course and a Multicultural Community Leadership & Advocacy Course tailored for migrant and refugee women and men. She has directly delivered these courses to more than 350 migrants and refugees in Victoria.

Many migrant and refugee women who are now in important roles in the Victorian community and government sectors have been mentored by Ms. Marginson. She is one of few migrant woman leaders who kept up to her values of working with the grassroots, individually and in groups.

Commentaries by Melba Marginson:

2 April 2010

International Students need human rights protection

In the past five months, both PM Kevin Rudd and Victorian Premier John Brumby have been trying to stave off the negative publicity of recent violent attacks against Indian international students in Australia and Victoria.

This is to be expected because in economic terms, international education has now becomeAustralia’s third largest export after coal and iron ore, ahead of agriculture and tourism and worth $16.8 billion.

Our organization, the Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition, cannot turn a blind eye on the issue because we work with women.

In October last year we launched a Survey Report on Female International Students’ Needs. Our women’s coalition has been receiving students on placement from various TAFE and private colleges around the Metropolitan Melbourne since 5 years ago. We have been in receipt of these resilient and talented students who present with optimism but behind that is often a high level of anxiety and stress.

The VIRWC holds a strong view that international students are like refugees but without the backdrop of war. They are global and mobile citizens of the world. They have crossed borders for better education and better life for themselves and their families. They have human rights, educational rights, civil rights and all other rights. They are directly a product of increasing globalization of education, culture, technology, environment and practically all aspects of human life.

International students should be protected like other residents in this country. In fact, up to 40 % of students are engaged in the workforce and around 20 % go on to become permanent residents with a wide range of skills and qualifications (Australia and New Zealand Race Relations Roundtable 2009).

We are concerned most with the female international students. They may not have been visible in recent attacks, but they were in incidents that dated back to 2005 when a female international student committed suicide in Canberra. We are also in receipt of anecdotal stories of sexual assault and harassment in schools and workplaces and have attended to clients with domestic violence cases.

The issue of international students should not be just a public relations issue.

It would be interesting to know what all political parties have to say about the human rights of international students and Australia’s role in protecting them as they pay their way into Australia to get the education and opportunities they want.


18 April 2010


The complexity of immigrant and refugee women’s needs and issues make them a “hard basket” sector

The CALD [ 1] Women’s Project Final Report commissioned by the Department for Victorian Communities and Victorian Multicultural Commission in December 2005 discusses at length why CALD women require specific attention. It purports that CALD women share the double disadvantage of cultural diversity and gender that can result in their needs and issues either not being adequately recognised or not addressed. It argues that CALD women may encounter issues that confront all women (e.g. lack of access to decision-making roles, less access to wealth and resource) as well as issues that confront all members of culturally and linguistically diverse communities (e.g. racism, language barriers to employment and education opportunities).

In addition there are a range of unique issues that CALD women face specifically because of their status (e.g. less access to public spaces, less access to skills recognition). Even when the issue is the same as for other women or other migrants, it may be experienced differently by CALD women due to additional barriers and because of the presence of the ‘other’ factor (e.g. CALD women experiencing domestic violence may have less knowledge of what to do because of their lack of English).

Therefore, immigrant and refugee women’s experience in the context of government policy development is intersectional in nature and Australia’s legislations are not yet prepared to address this. When I raised the Filipino women’s experiences of domestic violence to HREOC in 1992, I was asked to choose which Commission I should lodge the cases I want reviewed – Race or Sex Discrimination Commissions.

I hope to see changes in the structure of the HREOC that will ensure a more targeted approach to human rights experience of immigrant and refugee women. Some structural change in the way the Commissions are separated should be looked into.


[ 1] ‘CALD’ stands for culturally and linguistically diverse, a term preferred by the Australian government. The Victorian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Coalition, on the other hand, arrived at ‘immigrant and refugee’ after months of discussions in 1997 by more than 200 women to express how they want to be identified in their constitution.