Profile: Cassandra Goldie
16 September 2010 at 2:38 pm
Many readers would have heard that Cassandra Goldie was recently appointed as CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service. As such, she is now one of the main leaders of the Not for Profit sector in Australia. But where does she come from, what makes her tick, and why? David James, Co-publisher of Pro Bono Australia, went in search of answers.
Cassandra Goldie believes in the law. Her conviction about the importance of the law comes through strongly during our hour chat on the phone. She is also, I discover, engaging, positive, energetic, and highly articulate.
Cassandra believes that, through the law, we can make the world a better place. This is not, for her, a matter of high theory, an ideology. Rather, she emphasises, “It’s about a practical approach”, which “remains a consistent theme through all my work”.
Cassandra formed this view as a young woman, which is why she headed from her high school in Perth to study law at the University of Western Australia. “But, like many young people, I soon learned that the legal profession directs most of its efforts towards people who can pay. Many people who need justice can’t afford it.”
So: not for her a lucrative career as a partner in a corporate law firm. Where did she head to after graduating? “It helps to think in five year blocks,” she offers.
For the first five year block, she travelled overseas, completed further studies in the UK, which is where she became involved in human rights. Rejecting the possibility of a life of academia, she returned to Australia, and joined the Legal Aid Western Australia, ending up as Solicitor-in-Charge of Client Services, cutting her legal teeth working with people who could not afford private lawyers.
Then it was off to the tropical heat of Darwin, and out of the strictures of a large semi-government body. For this five years stint, she was Principal Solicitor of the Darwin Community Legal Centre – small, financially strapped, but working even closer with those most in need of access to legal services.
Then – and, yes, for a further five years – she studied her PHD – its Dr. Cassandra Goldie, LLB, Masters, PHD, to give her full and proper title.
‘Congratulations on finishing, many don’t”, I offer. “Umm…I do remember sitting besides the pool in Darwin reading a booklet on ‘How to get your PHD done quickly!”
No doubt Cassandra would have completed her doctorate more quickly if she had not also set up the Homelessness Legal Rights Project, at UNSW; a clearing house on legal and human rights for homeless people and a core part of the hub of newly emerging homeless people legal clinics. And if she had not also worked internationally, as the Asia-Pacific Consultant for the Centre of Housing Rights and Evictions.
As is usually the case, the subject of a doctorate tells us much about the author. Cassandra’s title: Living in Public Spaces, a Human Rights Wasteland? It focuses on the legal status and needs of one of the most disadvantaged groups in Australia: people who live in the “long grass” around Darwin, whose are regularly moved on and criminalised. Using human rights law, Cassandra mounts a critique, and a direct challenge, to the Darwin City Council’s bylaw that bans sleeping in public places between sunset and sunrise. The themes of law, human rights, social justice – and a practical approach – shine through.
Next. The now Dr. Goldie then joined the Australian Human Rights Commission ( formally known as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, for those of us yet to catch up with the name change), as Director of Sex and Age Discrimination.
It was a period of significant achievement. After a listening tour in 2007, the Commission put paid parental leave firmly on its agenda. Extraordinarily, come 2010, both Labor and the Coalition, with the support of the Greens, took major policies on this issue into the last election (with the Coalition ‘outbidding’ Labor with a more generous scheme funded by a new tax on big business). Cassandra is quick to point out that this achievement resulted from a broad based campaign that attracted support from many sectors. Yes. And. The ball has to be formed, and then rolled up the hill. And the Commission was instrumental in this process.
Another big achievement was reform of the Sex Discrimination Act, which had not been looked at for a quarter century. The Commission’s research on Equal Employment Opportunity legislation showed that Australia had actually been going backwards over the last decade, in terms of representation of women at senior executive and Board levels.
That’s why, from January 1, 2011, public companies will be required to report every year on the representation of women on their Boards and in senior management. And if, over the next five years, their performance does not improve, then they will face the prospect of legislation. Well done the Commission; well done Cassandra.
Cassandra was appointed as new CEO of ACOSS, commencing a week into the election, replacing Clare Martin, who has returned to Darwin. She is not new to the COSS world: In Darwin, she soon joined the NT COSS Board, and was soon elected its President and, through that, was soon a member of the ACOSS Board. She was also ACOSS’s Law and Justice Policy Advisor for several years.
In her new role, Cassandra seems to have cemented her commitment to social justice, which includes the somewhat legalistic remit of human rights law and equity in legal representation, and extends well beyond.
“What is your personal philosophy?”, is my closing, and perhaps unfair question; not the easiest question, especially on a Monday afternoon on the phone. Cassandra does not hesitate: “Human rights starts at home. It is about the small things in our personal lives, in our homes, in our work places – and then all the way through to the big national and international agendas”, she says, “it’s about the fundamental values of fairness and equity, expressed through our personal lives, the life of our society, and all our institutions. That is what we need.”
Having served on the ACOSS Board myself, many years ago, it was affirming, exciting even, to hear Cassandra’s positive, energetic, intelligent approach to the Not for Profit sector and the people it serves. ACOSS can look forward to an exciting and productive next five years.
For more information about ACOSS, go here(www.acoss.org.au)