Altona’s Maria Dimopoulos has been appointed a Member of the Order of Australia but says her work has just begun and receiving the honour on Australia Day has left her torn.
She has been recognised for service to women, cultural diversity and prevention of domestic violence.
Her current roles include training judges and magistrates, working on family violence policies in several Pacific Island countries and acting as deputy chairperson of the Victorian Multicultural Commission.
Born in Greece, Ms Dimopoulos’ first job out of law school was working on domestic homicides.
“That certainly has a sobering effect on your political views of the world,” she said.
She said over the 25 years she had worked in the field there had been many gains but society could do better.
“I think the media has improved but still needs to take some responsibility around the way in which it reports these acts of violence,” she said.
“We still focus too much on that crisis end of family violence.
“I think the prevention work is absolutely vital, and young people are clearly needing to be a greater focus of some of that prevention work.
“What is really lacking I think – and this is the work that I do with multicultural women – is that we still see day in, day out barriers to their access, their equal access to these services.
“We need to build a greater understanding of what those barriers might be for migrant and refugee women: why they won’t seek out support, why not speaking English means that they’re far less likely to make reports to police. Some of them come from histories of trauma where police are actually the source of abuse rather than a protector.
“This is where I feel a great deal of my work has only just begun.
“One of the key messages for me right throughout my activism in the fight against family and domestic violence – in fact, in anti-racism, anything that I think belittles us as human beings – is this argument that somehow family violence is cultural. It is absolutely not and I’m sick of people saying it’s culture.
“Culture is a source of strength – it should never be used as an excuse for acts of violence.”
She said it was “absolute honour” to receive the Australia Day award, but she felt conflicted.
“It’s a tough one because of my work around the rights of Indigenous people or First Nations people in this country,” Ms Dimopoulos said.
“I feel really torn about the fact that it’s on Australia Day.
“I’m very proud of my country and I’m very proud of the migrants in this country and I feel, like many migrants, we have contributed significantly.
“But at the same time, I think now more than ever before, we’ve got to start telling the truth about the history of this country.
“And as a migrant that came to Australia, a country that’s yet to sign a treaty with its First Peoples, then that’s going to continue to be a thorn in our side.
“I’m hoping in all honesty that I can use this award – an honour, absolutely; as a migrant woman I accept it on behalf of all migrant women.
“But I would hope that it gives me a platform to keep pushing this need for us to recognise the truth of our history.”