Victorian Governor Linda Dessau: Tempering justice with mercy

August 25, 2017


If we jump back in history, governors of Australian states were elevated, remote male figures who were there to rule over us rather than be there for us.

Victoria’s 29th governor, The Honourable Linda Dessau AC, explodes that stereotype, being female and heavily involved in the community.

The daughter of a Polish immigrant, Governor Dessau was appointed Governor of Victoria in July 2015, after a long and distinguished legal career as a barrister, magistrate and judge of the Family Court of Australia.

Married to barrister Anthony Howard, with two sons who have completed arts/law degrees, the Governor has immersed herself in her community in a range of diverse roles, from founding Chair of Essendon Football Club Women’s Network, to the arts, education and many charities and support organisations, including Melbourne Legacy of which she is patron.

Earlier this year she was made a Companion of the Order of Australia, for “eminent service to the people of Victoria through leadership roles in the judiciary, to the advancement of economic ties and business relationships, and as a supporter of charitable, sporting and arts organisations”.

Linda Dessau is a woman who stands up for what she believes, and one of the organisations close to her heart is The Salvation Army.

She sees a true correlation between her life’s work and what the Salvos do, telling her audience at the 2017 Red Shield Appeal launch that “the work of The Salvation Army is primarily about justice. Justice in its broadest sense”.

Justice is a subject on which Governor Dessau is well qualified to speak.

“Between us, my husband and I have 83 years of experience as lawyers in the justice system: in my husband’s case as a Queen’s Counsel and judge in criminal law, and in mine, as a barrister, as a magistrate in the Children’s, Coroners and Magistrates’ Courts and as a Family Court judge.”

Governor Dessau says that justice in all its forms must never be taken for granted, because unless we are vigilant, justice can become inaccessible.

This is a governor who is all too aware of the problems in our society outside the cosy walls of Government House.

“We live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet too many of our children still go to school with empty stomachs. Too many of our families are torn by domestic violence and too many of our citizens are homeless,” she said.

As a magistrate, Governor Dessau recalled seeing the work of the Salvos up close in the Children’s Court, recalling an influential Salvo officer, Brigadier Doreen Griffiths, a much-loved and respected woman nicknamed “Griff”.

Governor Dessau recalled that Griff always made sure that “the naughty kids”, as Griff affectionately called them, who were locked in the cells, had a hot pie for lunch on a cold day, and was often seen holding the hands of frightened teenagers in court, or helping young parents make steps to try to have their babies at home with them.

But there was also a very personal experience of the work of the Salvos for the young magistrate.

“Upon reflection, Griff turned up, as if by magic, when a young mum, a green magistrate of just 33, had dealt with a heartbreaking case, and might just need a chat and a cuppa,” Governor Dessau recalled with gratitude.

She shares the Salvo ethos that we are all diminished unless we do our part to ensure justice for everyone.

“That is why The Salvation Army—as an institution that strives for everyday justice—deserves our support,” Governor Dessau said.  


Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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