Our People


Merle Mitchell AM, former ACOSS President 1989-1993

ACOSS pays tribute to Merle Mitchell – a truly great social justice giant, who passed away suddenly on 21 September.


She is remembered in her local community and far beyond for her grace, courage and tireless advocacy.

Her work helped to shape and inform state and federal government social welfare policies through her roles with both ACOSS and VCOSS.


Former ACOSS President Michael Raper said: “She was admired locally for her personal warmth, vision and leadership. 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.”


Read more about Merle and her life of advocacy here

Peter McNamara, President

Peter has over 20 years of Executive and Director experience in the civil and corporate sectors, including as Chief Executive Officer, Good Shepherd Microfinance (GSM) and General Manager, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC).

Peter has studied finances and strategy at Harvard Business School, Stanford and Melbourne Business School, and is a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He has been a previous Board Director of four entities including Co-Chair of Community Sector Banking.

Peter has been a Board Director of ACOSS since 2015. He previously served in the role of Treasurer, before stepping into the position of President in June 2020.

Connie Digolis, Deputy President

Connie Digolis is the CEO of the Mental Health Council of Tasmania (MHCT). Prior to that, Connie was Executive Officer for the National Stroke Foundation in Tasmania. Connie brings to her role a wealth of experience in community sector management, advocacy, health promotion and policy.

 The Mental Health Council of Tasmania (MHCT) is a member based peak body, representing and promoting the interests of community managed mental health services. MHCT has a strong commitment to enabling better access and outcomes for individuals, families and carers and our communities.

Connie would like to see a Tasmania that is forward thinking and innovative in the mental health sector. Connie looks forward to a time when we can refer to our mental health system as an excellent example of person-centred, integrated care that provides the best mental health outcomes for all Tasmanians.

Matt Gardiner, Treasurer

Matt is the Executive Director of Australian Services at Save the Children Australia.

He has significant sector experience across the areas of child protection, family therapy, relationship counselling, mediation, sexual assault and violence prevention.

Passionate about social justice, improving systems and therapeutic practice, Matt is an experienced practitioner and has held senior executive roles in some of Australia’s leading not-for-profit organisations in a career spanning nearly two decades.

Hayden Patterson

Hayden is the immediate past President of the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union, and is a very active campaigner fighting punitive measures facing unemployed and underemployed Australians such as Work for the Dole, Compulsory Income Management, Mutual Obligations etc., and continues to campaign for a permanent Raise to the Rate of JobSeeker. He is also PLSA (Positive Life South Australia) representative within the NAPWHA (National Association for People with HIV & AIDS) community.

An active volunteer, lobbyist, campaigner and advocate within the community and social services sector, Hayden volunteers and facilitates training and events with the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, SameshSA/ShineSA, was the ‘Raise the Rate’ Campaign Coordinator for the Anti-Poverty Network SA, and continues working with the Anti-Poverty Networks of Australia.

Hayden is a speaker, facilitator and Coordinator with the People’s Health Movement Oz, and is also a member of the Accountable Income Management Network, and recently founded the Worldwide Coalition of Unemployed Workers’ Unions.

Through his many roles, Hayden presents and voices the lived experiences at events and conferences on local, State, National and International levels encompassing the lived experiences of the many members of the many organisations he continues to represent.

Hayden received a Centre for Australian Progress 2020 Fellowship.

Mary Sayers

Mary Sayers joined Children and Young People with Disability (CYDA) as Chief Executive Officer in July 2019. Over her career she has worked across policy and research, advocacy and service delivery to progress positive outcomes for children and young people, and the broader determinants of social wellbeing. She has family experience of disability as a parent, and is a passionate advocate for the rights of children and young people.

Her previous roles have been Deputy Chief Executive Officer at the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) for almost five years, Manager, Children, Young People and Families at the City of Whittlesea and Associate Director of translational research, policy and service development and the Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

She was on the Board of Management of QEC Early Parenting Centre for eight years including two years as chair of the board. Mary has a BA, Grad Dip HR, MCom, GAICD

Violet Roumeliotis

Violet Roumeliotis AM is a social entrepreneur who champions the strengths of our diverse communities. Through her C-suite and board roles, Violet uses innovation and collective impact to promote social justice and inclusion.

She is the CEO of Settlement Services International, a community organisation and social business that supports newcomers and other vulnerable individuals to achieve their full potential. During her eight years as CEO, Violet has taken SSI from a Sydney-based organisation with 68 staff to an 800-plus workforce that supports more than 37,600 people nationally each year.

Violet is committed to achieving equity, and advancing diversity and inclusion in all forms. In 2020, she was made a member of the Order of Australia for outstanding service to the community.

Violet is also a former Telstra Australia Business Woman of the Year, has been named one of AFR’s Top 100 Women of Influence for 2018 in the category of Diversity & Inclusion and was awarded the title of Community Fellow from Western Sydney University for outstanding service to the community.

Violet sits on the board of the Australian Council of Social Service, Family Planning NSW and the NSW Domestic and Family Violence, and Sexual Assault Council. Her other appointments include the SBS Community Advisory Committee, the Leadership Council on Cultural Diversity, the UTS Business MBA Advisory Group, the Council on Economic Participation for Refugees, the International Metropolis Steering Committee, the Australian Defence Force’s Chiefs of Service Committee’s diversity and inclusion panel, and the NSW government’s join partnership working group overseeing refugee resettlement.

David Panter

David originally trained as a psychologist and has been a Chief Executive in health and social care services for almost 30 years. In the UK he initially worked in the NHS in London and more latterly local government, where he was CE of Brighton & Hove City Council for a number of years before moving to Australia.

In 2004 he was recruited to the SA public health system where for over 10 years he led reforms including the development of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Currently the CE of profit-for-purpose ECH Inc, SA’s biggest provider of housing and support services for older people, David is passionate about enabling people to live well until death in their own home.

David is a past President of the Australian Hospitals & Healthcare Association, holds academic appointments with Adelaide University and the University of South Australia, is currently the Chair of the SA Council of Social Service, a Director of ACOSS and a Director of Leading Age Services Australia.

Jana Favero

Jana is Director of Advocacy and Campaigns for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), where she has worked for 11 years.

Jana is a regular spokesperson in breaking news on human rights and refugee policy on and offshore. She contributes comment to major media publications and is a regular keynote speaker at conferences, roundtables and events on asylum policy.

With strong, varied global experience, from communications for the private sector in the UK to women’s social enterprise development in the steppe of Mongolia, to leading a campaign to increase the effectiveness and acceptance of women’s leadership in India.

Jana’s global social justice work has sharpened her social justice values and entrenched in her work a basic belief that collaborative effort is needed to end discrimination and disadvantage. Jana is committed to advocating for the fair, equal and respectful treatment of everyone in Australia.

Outside of work, Jana is a proud member of the Cloud Appreciation Society and in leisure time can be found on a flying trapeze or on a bike path with her three young children in tow.

Jo Taylor

Over the past 20+ years Jo has worked in the For-Purpose sector in the UK and Australia, leading philanthropic foundations for families, corporations and government departments. Jo was part of a team that raised over $100m to reduce poverty in the UK and Africa. Managing a diverse range of philanthropic trusts and foundations, Jo has distributed in excess of $300m to for purpose organisations focused on creating long term transformational change.

Leading national for purpose organisations has given Jo a deep understanding of the unique challenges of building resilient not for profits and how to work with people with diverse experience, in the hope of creating a more equitable, thriving Australia.

Jo joined the Paul Ramsay Foundation in 2016 as General Manager for Operations, responsible for supporting and working with investments and partners to flex and shift systems to create better outcomes. Jo’s expertise in working alongside communities, evidence and learning, funding and systems has been invaluable. Jo is now Chief Capability Officer, leading a new portfolio of work for the Foundation, investing directly in growing the capabilities of our partners, communities and the sectors we work with.

This work enhances our joint capacity on specific programs and broadens the horizon of what is possible in the future. Jo is also Chair of the taskforce set up by the Foundation to support our partners through COVID-19.




Cassandra Goldie is CEO of ACOSS and Adjunct Professor with UNSW Sydney. With public policy expertise in economic, social and environmental issues, civil society, social justice and human rights, Cassandra has represented the interests of people who are disadvantaged, and civil society generally, in major national and international processes as well as in grassroots communities. Prior to joining ACOSS, Cassandra held senior roles in both the NFP and public sectors, including with the Australian Human Rights Commission, Darwin Community Legal Service and Senior Executive with Legal Aid in Western Australia.

Cassandra has a PhD from UNSW Sydney and a Masters of Law from University College London. She is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and serves on the UNSW Law Advisory Committee, the Australian Climate Roundtable, the Pinnacle Foundation Board and the Energy Charter Independent Accountability Panel. Cassandra is Co-Chair of the ACOSS and UNSW Sydney Poverty and Inequality Partnership and a member of Chief Executive Women. 

Cassandra has been recognised as one of the Inaugural Westpac Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence. She has been voted one of the Impact 25 Most Influential People in the Social Economy, most recently in 2021. In 2018, Cassandra was recognised as one of Australia’s top 50 Outstanding LGBTI Executives by Deloitte and, in 2021, she received the 2021 UNSW Alumni Award for Social Impact and Service.

Photo by Gavin Jowitt.

CHRYL PERRY, Executive Assistant to the CEO

Chryl joined ACOSS in November 2018, after working for many years in the book publishing industry, where she developed and honed her communication, administration and project management skills.

An expat American with a Master of Arts degree in Social Anthropology, Chryl is thoroughly delighted to be supporting Cassandra and the ACOSS team as they work towards a more equitable Australia, in which everyone truly gets a fair go.



Policy & Advocacy

JACQUELINE PHILLIPS, Deputy CEO and Director of Policy and Advocacy (Jacqueline is currently on parental leave)

Jacqueline Phillips joined ACOSS as the Director of Policy and Advocacy in August 2013. From 2010-13, she was the National Director of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR), a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights and reconciliation advocacy organisation.

Jacqueline has a long history of involvement with the COSSes, having previously worked as a Policy Officer at ACOSS and the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS). She has policy expertise across a range of areas including social security, housing and homelessness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy issues, community development, human rights and justice.

Photo by Gavin Jowitt.

EDWINA MacDONALD, Deputy CEO and Director of Policy and Advocacy 

Edwina is passionate about working collaboratively for social justice, putting people and communities at the centre of social change work.  She has deep expertise in policy, strategic advocacy and driving change on social issues and social justice, human rights, gender equality and civil society, with over two decades of experience in research, policy and advocacy in government, university and community sectors.

Prior to joining ACOSS, Edwina led the Sydney office and United Nations advocacy for the Human Rights Law Centre. She has previously led reform agendas for Women’s Legal Services and UNSW’s Kingsford Legal Centre; worked as a researcher with UNSW’s Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law; lectured in law reform and public interest law; and worked in federal government.

ROB STURROCK, Program Director – Community Services

Rob leads the community services and health policy work for ACOSS, having joined the organisation in 2021. He is passionate about improving the lives of disadvantaged and marginalised people, ensuring they can fairly and equitably access life opportunities. Rob wants to bring about systemic change to make Australia more equitable, compassionate and caring. Rob has been involved in public policy development, advocacy and research at various levels of government, as well as within the community and private sectors, including at the Centre for Policy Development as a Policy Director and at The Smith Family as Senior Manager Public Policy and Advocacy. Rob has expertise and experience in social policy, community service delivery, poverty, disadvantage and education. Rob also has a Master’s Degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and in his spare time is an author and commentator on gender equality, fatherhood and masculinity.

KELLIE CAUGHT, Program Director – Climate and Energy

Kellie strives for a more sustainable and just future where planet and people thrive together. For the past 16 years, Kellie has specialised in international climate negotiations, domestic climate mitigation and adaption policy, community advocacy and campaigning, with a focus on social and environmental outcomes. Kellie has strong skills in policy development, advocacy, and cross sector collaboration, gained from working as a senior political adviser, climate change program manager at WWF and now as Senior Adviser with ACOSS. She has also worked at the United Nations, in government and in academia. Kellie has a Master in International Business and a Bachelor of Science. Kellie was named Energy Efficiency Champion in the National Energy Efficiency Awards 2020 for her outstanding contribution to the field of energy efficiency, management and demand response, including her advocacy work on the outsized impact poor energy efficiency has on vulnerable Australians.

CHARMAINE CROWE, Program Director – Social Security

Charmaine joined ACOSS in June 2016 and leads ACOSS’s social security policy work. Charmaine gained her expertise in social security policy working for Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association (CPSA), where she was a Senior Policy Advisor and Policy Coordinator. She has also worked as a legislative advisor in the NSW Parliament.

Charmaine has a Master’s in International Health and Welfare Policy from Oslo University College and her policy expertise also covers the areas of ageing, health and housing.

DR PETER DAVIDSON, Principal Advisor

A recognised expert in social security, employment and tax policy, Peter’s research and policy interests include employment assistance, the labour market and unemployment, income support, poverty research, taxation and superannuation policy. He has served on a number of Government advisory bodies and contributed to major reform efforts in these areas.

ACOSS publications prepared by Peter cover such topics as reform of the personal income tax system, an analysis of tax concessions for superannuation and proposals to make them fairer, and reform of employment assistance for long term unemployed people. He is currently undertaking a PhD in social policy at the UNSW Social Policy Research Centre.

SIMONE CASEY, Senior Policy Advisor

Simone Casey joined ACOSS in April 2021 as Senior Policy Advisor – Employment, and previously held a variety of roles in policy advocacy, research and communications where in the employment services and welfare sectors. Simone holds a PhD in employment services is an expert on marketisation, welfare conditionality, labour market program design,  unemployment and related social security topics. Her campaigns and reports are underwritten by rigorous analysis and the use of up-to-date evidence and arguments. She has designed and contributed to many academic and normative research projects involving quantitative and qualitative research methods, where the publication outputs have been both scholarly and/or policy focused. Simone contributes lived experienced to the role of Senior Advisor and is passionate about amplifying citizen perspectives in policy development.

MICHELLE SHACKLETON, Community Organiser and Engagement Officer

Michelle first joined ACOSS in 2015. She has a background in community organising and grassroots campaigning focused on the power of human connection and the way our stories inspire others to action. She earned a Bachelor and Masters degree in behavioural ecology from the Australian National University, a Graduate Diploma in Sustainable Development from Macquarie University, and a Certificate in Vocational and Community Engagement from UTS.

PENNY DORSCH, Project Manager and Researcher

Penny is the project manager for the ACOSS/UNSW Poverty and Inequality Partnership. She also works on the Australian Community Sector Survey and Faces of Unemployment projects. She has been at ACOSS since 2009, first as librarian then in information and communications.

Penny has had previous roles at the National Parks Association, at Fairfax Media and various publishing companies. She holds a Masters in Information Management along with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Diploma of Design.  

Media & Communications

CAMERON LUM, Digital Communications Officer, Social Media Coordinator and Content Creator

Cameron has been with ACOSS since August 2019. His extensive background in Illustration, Visual Communication and Digital Design makes ACOSS a bigger presence in today’s digital landscape. Cameron aspires to apply his creativity, knowledge and skills toward a worthy cause. A strong belief in universal and equal rights for all has lead Cameron to become the Digital Communications Officer at ACOSS.

Operations and Stakeholder Engagement

AMY SIMMONS, Director of Operations and Engagement

Amy is the Director of Operations and Stakeholder Engagement at ACOSS. She leads a dynamic team of ops and engagement professionals – otherwise known as “The Enablers”. Amy has 13 years of experience in the community sector. She has a long history with ACOSS and the COSS movement, having begun her career at ACOSS in 2007.

Amy went on to spend 6 years working in the domestic and family violence sector in a variety of roles, most recently as Head of Operations at Domestic Violence Service Management NSW. Amy returned to ACOSS in 2015 and moved into her current role in 2019.

Amy has qualifications in Business Management and Financial Services and an strong commitment to the Australian community sector. She is passionate about the critical role it plays in providing key services and supports and progressing social justice and inclusion.

DANI PREVITERA, Marketing, Communications and Events Coordinator

With four years’ experience in the Public Relations industry and a Bachelor in Media and Communications, Dani came to the ACOSS team in 2019 with knowledge in events planning, strategic communications, media relations, consumer campaigning, content creation, social media management, and crisis handling. Dani now works as part of the ACOSS Operations team, and is passionate about creating engaging events and publications for the ACOSS membership and the community sector more broadly.

BEV CARTER, Reception and Team Support Officer

Bev came to ACOSS as a lived experience advocate on the Raise the Rate campaign. Bev is passionately committed to addressing inequality and social equity issues. Previous pursuits have included study in psychology, child welfare and wellbeing, and working on small social projects in Nepal.

With interests extending into regional mental health, environmental health and sustainability, and humanitarian concerns, Bev loves working closely at the grass roots level, and firmly believes there is always more to be done.

RENATA FRANZ, Operations Manager

Renata joined ACOSS in 2012 July and currently holds the position of Operations Manager.  She has global experience in Management, Customer Relations, HR and Administration and has worked in wide range of industries including construction, hospitality and sport.  Renata studied Economic and Sciences at Technical School and holds an Advanced Diploma in Human Resources. She completed her Postgraduate Certificate in Management in 2011 and gained her Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA) in 2015. Renata is committed to the principles of equity and diversity and passionate about sport.

MAI NGUYEN, Finance Officer

Mai Joined ACOSS in 2017 with a number of years experience working in Accounting and Finance in the Charity and NFP sector. She is currently completing her CPA. Before joining ACOSS, Mai worked in different industries including pharmaceutical, hospitality and education. She has a Masters Degree in International Marketing and Bachelor in Business Administration with full scholarship. Before moving to Australia, she worked as a lecturer in International Trade and International Marketing in a leading economics University in Ha noi, Vietnam.