The Honourable Marcia Neave AO (2003)

When the Wyvern Society chose The Honourable Marcia Neave AO as the 2015 Wyvern of the Year they were acknowledging her role as the first academic to be appointed directly to the position of Justice of Appeal, Supreme Court of Victoria, Court of Appeal, her work as the Foundation Chair of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, and more recently as Commissioner for the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

Since 2015, the Royal Commission has moved to the implementation stage of the changes recommended in order to prevent and respond more effectively to family violence. Ms Neave is also Chairing the Board of Justice Connect, a non-Government organisation that provides advice on legal issues with tenancy, homelessness and building.

“I have found it very fulfilling to contribute to the work of an organisation which advocates for legal changes to enhance social justice as well as helping individuals.”

In the last two years Ms Neave has also been working full-time as the President of a Commission of Inquiry, the equivalent of a Royal Commission, into the Tasmanian Government’s Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings.  The Commission has had to consider the extent of abuse in state schools, health settings, out of home care and youth justice. 

“The work of the Commission has been distressing and challenging, but our opportunity to make recommendations for systemic reforms will, I hope, improve the lives of many Tasmanian children in the future.”

Over her career Ms Neave has seen far-reaching changes for women in the law but feels there is much more work to be done.

“Perhaps the biggest changes in the position of women have come as a result of feminist scholarship and activism which has demonstrated how racial and gender bias are built into social and legal procedures, laws and institutions. We now have a female Chief Justice of the High Court. The Chief Justice of the Victorian Supreme Court and the President of the Court of Appeal are both women. I doubt there would have been inquiries into sexual harassment in the courts and the legal profession if that had not been the case.”

Ms Neave sees two major challenges ahead.

“The first is for people to grasp the concept of intersectionality.  White middle-class feminists may have little understanding of the issues and problems faced by Aboriginal women, women from working class backgrounds and women whose cultures regard them as inferior to men. Feminists need to constantly listen to the perspectives and experiences of people from different backgrounds and persuade politicians and policy makers to do so.  Without hearing from everyone changes will be limited. The second is to address the role of women as workers, either in the paid work force or the home. Women dominate in areas of the economy which are indispensable to caring for others-nursing, aged care, and care of disabled people. Our up-side-down values need to be reversed so those who perform caring work are adequately paid and recognised. We need to tackle the disadvantages women experience because of their primary role in caring for children, which brings financial insecurity, little superannuation and poverty after separation and divorce or in old age. There is still a long way to go in bringing about this change, but I am hopeful it will occur.”

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