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Friday, December 1, 2023

ACOSS mourns the passing of ‘social justice giant’, Merle Mitchell

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The Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) board, staff and members have expressed their deepest sympathies to the family and loved ones on the passing yesterday of 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 CEO, Cassandra Goldie said Mitchell 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,” Goldie said.

“As importantly, Merle Mitchell leaves a powerful message to us all about what true leadership really takes.

“She 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, and 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.”

In her last years Mitchell lived in an aged care facility and was one of many who shared their story with the aged care royal commission.

In her long submission, she spoke of moving into a care home with her late husband Eric in 2016.

“The sense of loss that comes from moving to aged care is really underestimated,” she told the Commission.

“I had lost my independence, control over my life and I felt I had lost my connection with my much-loved community.”

In March this year after the final report into the aged care royal commission was released she expressed her concern and shock that commissioners were split over the recommendations.

“I’m only hoping that there’s enough push from the community to say enough is enough, we’ve got to have the funding, we’ve got to listen to the people who did all the work and implement those recommendations as soon as we possibly can,” Mitchell said.

“I just keep thinking, when I was getting people to write their submissions, that this was the one opportunity that we had to make things right again.

“And if we didn’t, we were failing our generation, and all the generations to come.”

ACOSS President, Peter McNamara said Mitchell 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,” McNamara said.

“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 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, his family were direct recipients of Mitchell’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,” Vo said.

“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 justice and equitable society. 

“I know I speak on behalf of so many refugees – we are indebted for all that Merle gave us.”

Former ACOSS President, Michael Raper said he learnt a great deal from Mitchell’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,” Raper said.

“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 Mitchell 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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