Tribute to Betty Hounslow AM

1951 – 2023

ACOSS pays tribute to the mighty social advocate Betty Hounslow, who passed away on 27 July 2023. We send our deepest condolences to Betty’s partner Kate Harrison and her family and friends.

Among many other magnificent contributions to social justice and the community sector, Betty served as Executive Director of ACOSS from 1994 – 2001, a time of great challenge through the early Howard Government years, yet significant social progress.

Betty was a trailblazer. One of the original Mardi-Gras 78ers, she also fought for women in refuges, gained the first funding to meet their childcare needs through Marrickville Women’s Refuge in 1977 and lead the lobby for gay and lesbian immigration rights. A canny strategist and a great tactician -she combined these with genuine humility and disarming humour to forge great gains on almost every issue she worked on.

Betty’s work contributed to community legal centres, women’s refuges, Indigenous health programs and overseas aid and development, including a stint in Cambodia working for the UN on human rights issues.

During Betty’s tenure as Executive Director of ACOSS, she campaigned forcefully to improve the lives of people on low incomes. ACOSS’ contribution to the national debate on taxation reform helped to achieve the exclusion of food from the GST, as well as improved compensation for low-income people and a reduced GST burden on charitable organisations.

In addition to her extensive service to ACOSS, Betty worked at the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and subsequently served as the Deputy CEO of the Fred Hollows Foundation. She also contributed enormously to the sector through her work on the boards of APHEDA-Union Aid Abroad, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, the Asylum Seekers Centre and the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID).

Betty was driven by an unwavering commitment to social justice and was a fearless campaigner for social reform throughout her life. This was recognised in 2003 when she was awarded the Justice Medal for her commitment to improving access to justice for socially and economically disadvantaged people. And again in 2013, Betty was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her decades of unique and energetic work on behalf of low income and disadvantaged people throughout Australia.

In paying tribute to a sector great, ACOSS CEO Cassandra Goldie said:

“Betty’s love and support for ACOSS never waned.  Just recently, she donated generously to ACOSS saying ‘Glad to support the great work you and the ACOSS team do Cass. It’s a tough gig, I know!’.

“Betty was a wonderful supporter and adviser to so many frontline advocates, including myself. Her policy mind was sharp and tactful, and many in the sector, including myself, learnt so much from her wonderful insights and generosity.

“Her passing leaves both a sense of great loss and a renewed drive for all of us to continue her work advocating against injustice and inequality in all its forms. This was a commitment that Betty acted upon throughout her incredible life.”