Dr Melissa Phillips
Additional Board Member
Melissa Phillips has worked among the world’s most vulnerable; with refugees and asylum seekers whose lives have been upended.
In the Middle East and North Africa, she worked with the Danish Refugee Council assisting migrants and refugees who were living in the community and in detention centres; these people, from mostly Syria and the Horn of Africa, had been displaced by civil war and were escaping political oppression.
In Libya, East Africa and South Sudan, with the United Nations, and international non-government organisations she undertook refugee protection and supported international community coordination efforts.
Her international experience is rounded-out by her work in Australia with migrants from many of those regions. Melissa’s doctorate examined the success of regional refugee settlement programs in Australia, and she now lectures in humanitarian and development studies at Western Sydney University.
Her interest in civilian protection and humanitarian coordination was first nurtured at Australian Red Cross.
“I was the super enthusiastic student who volunteered to take the minutes at meetings,” she says.
Her first job was as an official visitor with the International Tracing and Refugee Services department.
Almost 20 years later, in 2018, she was appointed to the board.
“Red Cross is the pinnacle of humanitarian work. It’s there in times of conflict, it has a seat at the table by being auxiliary to government, it advocates for all humanity and people everywhere have an affinity for its powerful emblem,” she says.
“Its mandate is utterly unique and keeping that front of mind is very important to me.”
Melissa is first generation Australian; her parents are Anglo Indians who trace their lineage back to the British Raj.
Melissa has come to view Aboriginal reconciliation as integral to Australia’s migrant narrative.
“Until we establish justice for Indigenous peoples, heals those wounds, then we can’t be a truly multicultural and diverse nation.”
Chair, ACT Divisional Advisory Board
When Wendy Prowse was Community Manager of the customer-owned Beyond Bank she led the design of Australia’s first dementia-friendly and disability-accessible branch.
Having worked for not-for-profit organisations for many years prior to joining the bank, she knew how it was important to help bank staff understand the health issues many customers faced.
“It is a basic human right for people to access a financial institution and for reasonable design adjustments to be made to facilitate this,” she says.
“Someone in a wheelchair must be able to change their own pin number. People in motorised scooters must have adequate space to enter a room for a private conversation. It can be critically important for people who live with sensory sensitivities to have a quiet place to sit.”
Wendy is deeply passionate about ensuring all members of the community are treated with respect and dignity. She is also passionate about advocating for the changes that will address the societal barriers many people face every day to live a good life.
She joined Red Cross ACT’s Divisional Advisory Board 2012 and was elected chair in 2016. She has held many senior roles in the not-for-profit and corporate sector, in health, banking and community services. In 2020 she was appointed Chief Executive of the ACT’s Disability Aged and Carer Advocacy Service.
On the Red Cross Board Wendy says, “I’m the truth teller who brings to the table what I know of the community sector and where Red Cross can best place itself within that.”
“Collaboration is vital for our success,” she says. “Relationships are everything and the only way you’re going to make real change is by working together, having a shared vision of where you want to get to and what you want to achieve along the way.”
”You can see the difference you are making every single day and it’s wonderful working with people that really care,” she says.
Charles has served as a board member since October 2014, when he was elected as Chairman of the Northern Territory Divisional Advisory Board. He is also Chair of the Finance Committee and a member of the Audit & Risk Committee.
Charles' journey with Red Cross commenced at a very early age not long after his family endured the devastation of Cyclone Tracy in Darwin, which resulted in directly experiencing the Red Cross Power of Humanity with support being provided following this event. Since this time he has continually volunteered with the Red Cross cause.
Charles began his career as an experienced Investment Adviser specialising in financial markets, having worked in that industry for more than 15 years. He now actively works within the Property Development Industry based in Darwin, while also having obtained extensive Board experience as an active Board Member of several local organisations. Charles enjoys an active lifestyle with an interest in most sports and leisure activities.
Nazli Hocaoglu is an executive and a company secretary in the artificial intelligence sector, where data and AI are leveraged to help organisations manage critical safety and security decisions, whilst upholding individual privacy and human rights.
The daughter of first-generation Australians, her family arrived in Australia from Bulgaria, via Turkey.
Growing up in Western Sydney, she witnessed the challenges most migrants face and the determination to overcome them.
“Language barriers restrict access to services and to life in general. From a young age I wanted to help people overcome obstacles,” she says.
As a youth leader, volleyball champion and decorated debater, Nazli entertained a career in politics.
“There are different paths to create change and right wrongs. I want to work through the legal system to develop and fine-tune policy in an innovative way,” she says.
Appointed to the Red Cross Board as Youth Member in 2020, Nazli sees it as her role to elevate the voices of young Australians.
“I want to change people’s perception of what a young person looks like and what they are capable of.”
She is passionate about humanitarian issues, an advocate for the abolition of modern slavery and completed a Masters in Human Rights Law at the University of London.
Nazli's study focused on international discrimination of minorities, especially refugees, women, and children.
“It’s important to consult widely, including with minority groups. We must be listening to understand, not just to respond," she says.
Nazli's work in AI involves legal and governance oversight in emerging technology companies. Her current projects include software combatting mass violence and terrorism risk, a crowd management software that measures density, flow, and mood, as well as a platform that provides end-to-end product lifecycle management.
“I bring a humanitarian lens to every aspect of my work in AI, they actually come together really well.”
Additional Board Member
During three decades working with varying levels of government, including four years as Executive Director of Aboriginal Affairs in Victoria, there is one moment that really stands out for Ian Hamm.
In August 2010, from the Public Gallery of the Victorian Parliament, he watched then-premier John Brumby propose legislation that would revolutionise Native Title negotiations.
For the Yorta Yorta man and member of the Stolen Generations, who had risen to the most senior government post in Aboriginal Affairs, it was a momentous speech to witness.
The government Ian worked for hadn’t realised the full potential of land justice. For claimants, the process was painful, protracted and often prohibitively expensive, so Ian had set about reimagining it.
“I said every bit of public land should be on the table until it was off, rather than the reverse scenario,” he explains.
“We proposed a process without lawyers or anthropologists, that cut straight to the chase of let’s do a deal,” he says.
Ian remembers the powerful rush of satisfaction he felt when he heard the legislation had been passed.
“It’s a vastly superior way to resolve land claims. The Victorian Traditional Owners Settlement Act has come to be seen as the exemplar.”
Ian has an extensive portfolio of directorships, in addition to his role on the board of Red Cross, which he has held since 2017.
“My favourite thing about being on the board is having the opportunity to be part of a reform process that is making Red Cross fit and focussed for the 21st century,” he says.
Reforms during Ian’s time working with the Federal and Victorian governments, included elevating the importance of culture.
Surveys revealed community members’ greatest concern was “culture and identity and our place in the world,” Ian says.
“So we worked to address that, and one of the payoffs has been the Victorian Aboriginal community has doubled in 20 years, from 30,000 to 60,000 identified members.”
Chair, WA Divisional Advisory Board
Aisling Blackmore was elected Chair of the West Australian Division in October 2019. She has been an active member and volunteer within Australian Red Cross since January 2010. Aisling has a B.A. (Hons), M.A. (Research) and is a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and an alumna of the Australian Mental Health Leaders Fellowship. She has extensive experience in developing leadership systems and communities which are inclusive of the needs of young people and emerging leaders. She is committed to removing barriers to full participation and citizenship for people of all abilities and backgrounds.
Aisling has held leadership roles in Australian Red Cross on state, national, and international levels, and volunteered in services for people experiencing homelessness, newly arrived migrants and refugees, and peer-to-peer harm minimisation education. In recognition of her contributions, Aisling was awarded the Youth Meritorious Service Medal in 2014 and was shortlisted for WA Young Achiever of the Year in 2016. She has been Chair of the National Awards Committee since 2018.
Since May 2020, Aisling has been employed by Befriend Inc., a social enterprise in Western Australia focused on building strong, inclusive, connected communities in which everyone is valued and can belong. In addition to work and Red Cross volunteering commitments, Aisling has been involved with the International Initiative for Disability Leadership (IIDL) since 2016, and from 2017 onwards has led and coordinated the IIDL Emerging Leaders strategy across the eight member countries.
Additional Board Member
Cris Topfner Rigby would not be in Australia if she hadn’t been assisted by international aid agencies.
Red Cross in particular, she says, “helped me at crucial moments in my life and that has shaped who I am today.”
Cris grew up in Romania under the oppressive Ceaușescu regime and against considerable odds forged a career in computer science.
During her childhood, everyday life was heavily controlled, there were listening devices in homes and workplaces and food and material comforts became increasingly scarce.
Following university, she was deployed to work in a top-secret Russian military joint venture, but her knowledge of the defence program became a liability after the Romanian government was toppled during the 1989 collapse of Europe’s Eastern Bloc.
The following year, during Romania’s first free elections in a generation, Cris observed voting irregularities but when she reported them she was transferred to ‘higher duties.’
Within days she fled Romania and sought refuge in Germany.
As a refugee in democratic Europe she navigated a migration system under intense pressure.
“I promised myself I would be open and honest, I’d never make compromises that do not align with my principles. That’s what I expected life in a democracy would be,” she says.
Eighteen months later, aged in her late 20s, she flew into Melbourne, where she has settled, raised two sons and pursued a career in information technology.
Cris has held senior roles with Wesfarmers businesses such as Coles and Coles Financial Services and is now with Origin Energy.
Among many other accomplishments she contributed significantly to improving the Australian national payments framework.
Recruited as an independent director to the national board in 2018, Cris brings extensive technology and governance knowhow and the lived experience of having been a refugee.
“I want to help others facing the challenges I had as a migrant but from within an organisation where I can influence change and thinking” Cris says.
“There’s a strong alignment between my principles and the fundamental principles of Red Cross.”
Chair, TAS Divisional Advisory Board
Rita Richards is the keeper of all Red Cross knowledge in Tasmania, literally. As State Historian she traverses the island with artefacts and documents illustrating the organisation’s history dating back to the First and Second World Wars.
Rita joined Red Cross when she was in Grade 4 at the Dunalley School, attracted by the handsome costume of a skirt, cape and veil.
Red Cross work at that time consisted of fundraisers for the Blood Service, where children undertook Penny Drives and went door to door for Red Cross Calling.
Rita recalls when coastal freighter the Blythe Star foundered off the South-West Cape of Tasmania in 1973, the Red Cross branch sourced clothing and food for the surviving sailors who hacked their way through bush and stumbled into Dunalley after drifting at sea for 10 days.
The Blythe Star was at that time Australia’s largest maritime search operation, three sailors lost their lives and the wreck has never been found.
Red Cross in Tasmania doesn’t have the frequency of fire and weather emergencies that buffet the mainland.
“We have isolation, an aging population, small communities and mental health issues,” Rita says.
The indefatigable mother of three participates extensively in her community, specifically she has been a Telecross volunteer since 2010. Each Tuesday she calls about 16 people who live alone.
“Those calls are a lifeline; somebody calls them every day and the Red Cross call can be the only person they speak to that day. It’s very important,” Rita says.
“Sometimes I’ve called people who are extremely ill. Sometimes I’ve called ambulances.”
On one occasion a client did not pick up the phone. When help arrived they were found with broken arms, unable to get out of the bath.
For Rita membership is the most important aspect of Red Cross.
“I love getting together with members because of their devotion to what they do,” she says.
“It’s not just about fundraising, it fills a need in these little communities.”
James Birch AM
Chair, Australian Red Cross Lifeblood
James Birch was appointed Chair of Australian Red Cross Lifeblood in February 2016. He was previously a member of the South Australian Division Board from 2005 to 2008.
James is currently a non-Executive Director and a Chair on a number of Boards.
Until January 2016 he was the Global Health Care Leader for Ernst & Young, having previously been the Leader of its Health and Human Services Practice for Asia Pacific.
He has also been the Chief Executive of a Human Services and Health Department, Deputy Chief Executive of a Justice Department and Chief Executive of major health service delivery organisations, including academic teaching hospitals. In addition to Lifeblood, James is currently the Chair of Calvary Health, Clevertar Pty Ltd and the Women’s and Children’s Health Network (SA) and a Director of the Cancer Council of South Australia.
James has a Bachelor of Health Administration from the University of NSW (1983) and is a Fellow of the Australian College of Health Service Management (FCHSM).
Dr Garry Nolan AM
Chair, VIC Divisional Advisory Board
While volunteering with Red Cross in the Whittlesea community in the days after the 2009 Victorian bushfires, Garry Nolan encountered a small boy and his parents at the emergency evacuation centre.
The four-year-old was sobbing amid hundreds of distressed evacuees, exhausted firefighters and volunteers.
Garry asked if he could help and the boy’s mother explained he’d lost all his toys.
Amid the coming and going, Garry managed to find him a trauma teddy, one of the soft toys Red Cross volunteers have been knitting for children since 1990.
It was a modest gesture in the wake of one of Victoria’s most devastating natural disasters.
“He walked away glowing with joy. It was just gorgeous,” Garry says.
“Our ability to support people in distress is one of many reasons I am passionate about Red Cross. It is the glue keeping society together.”
Garry joined Red Cross in 2007 after he retired from National Australia Bank.
“Banks at that time made a highly valuable contribution to Australia’s economic and community development. Sadly, they lost their way, but it is reassuring to see them supporting Australians through this global pandemic” Garry says.
Garry’s final role at NAB was as Group Company Secretary & Chief Governance Officer where he contributed to the Best Practice Governance Recommendations for companies listed on the Australian, London and New York stock exchanges.
Governance remains a passion. “As a boy, I pulled a mechanical watch apart to see how it worked. I put it back together and to this day, I love it when everything works together to achieve the desired result. Without good governance practices, the sustainability of any organisation is at considerable risk.
Garry was elected Chair of Victoria’s DAB in 2020 after six years as deputy.
Chair, NT Divisional Advisory Board
Kathleen Cole’s first career choice placed her as a trainee psychiatric nurse in Perth but her idealism soured when she found herself working in an overcrowded system heavily reliant on medication and electrotherapy.
“Mental Asylums, as they were referred to at the time, were unsafe, archaic and awful. One day a former school friend was admitted, and this teenage girl was allocated a bed in an open ward alongside older men who I thought posed an obvious danger to her,” Kathleen recalls.
“I pleaded with the matron, but she refused to move the girl. That rocked me to the core, I thought I was joining a compassionate profession. So, at 19, I quit and went travelling overseas.”
Kathleen spent six years in Southeast Asia, India, Europe, around Australia working all manner of jobs before returning to Western Australia. “I missed being part of my own community but travelling had restored my faith in the collective beauty of people.”
Her next adventures led her back to the bush she loved so much and after completing an Accounting degree Kathleen recommenced work in mining and agriculture. This time in leadership roles. In Western Australia and the Northern Territory Kathleen worked in mining and in agriculture, among other sectors. She joined NT Red Cross as Corporate Services Manager in Darwin in 2000.
During 12 years in leadership roles with Red Cross Kathleen undertook international capacity building missions in China, Timor and PNG.
Her wanderlust stems from growing up in Wyalkatchem, an off-the-beaten track town 250kms north-east of Perth.
“In that small rural town I had lots of time and freedom to enjoy the land, have animal friends, be part of sport, community and time to dream of what I would do when I could get out,” she laughs.
Her mother was a piano teacher, and third-generation inhabitant of the WA wheatbelt town, but her Anglo-Indian father had arrived in Australia at the age of 13. “My dad gave me strong independence and a wider viewpoint, quite different to everyone else in town. That remains one of his greatest gifts to me.”
Kathleen joined the NT DAB in 2014, appointed chair in 2020. She also sits on the PKKP Native Title Board, the Mala’la Health Service Aboriginal Corporation, NT AFL and is Deputy Chair of the NT Primary Health Network Consumer Advisory Board.
“What I like about Red Cross is the seven principles. They are so wide and so fundamental; they allow the humanitarian condition to flourish. We can all fit into them irrespective of age, religion or sexual preference.”
Kathleen works at Miriam Rose Foundation. Miriam Rose was honoured as 2021 Senior Australian of the Year.
Chair, NSW Divisional Advisory Board
This is Sydney lawyer John MacLennan’s second stint on the Australian Red Cross Board. He has been a Red Cross NSW governance volunteer since 1998.
After six years on the Board from 2009 to 2015, he returned somewhat unexpectedly in September 2020.
He is a quick study and carries a wealth of corporate knowledge accumulated over almost 40 years of Red Cross involvement.
That historical perspective can be valuable when envisaging the future. “I am the person who sometimes says, ‘We tried that once before, and here are some of the lessons we learned,” he says.
John first encountered the Red Cross Movement when he found himself on the Thai Cambodian border in 1979 and volunteered for several weeks at the Khao-I-Dang camp for refugees fleeing Cambodia’s ruthless Khmer Rouge.
“I helped set up and then ran a feeding program for the infants in a paediatric ward at the camp hospital. This freed the doctors and nurses to deal with the measles epidemic, malnutrition, dysentery and malaria.”
Inspired by that experience he applied, unsuccessfully, for a job at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva.
Upon John’s return to Australia his legal career brought him back into the orbit of Red Cross when he worked with the Blood Service in the 1980s as it grappled with new donation conditions necessitated by the arrival of HIV. In the 1990s he defended the NSW Blood Service in litigation arising from that situation.
John has served on a wide range of Red Cross National and State committees and working groups. He is adamant voluntary service must remain core to the activities of Australian Red Cross. “Through our volunteers we remain relevant, engaged and vigorous,” he says.
Winifred Smith AM
Chair, QLD Divisional Advisory Board
For more than half a century Winifred Smith was an accredited amateur timekeeper for motorsports. She logged gruelling shifts in the timekeeper’s room at Australia’s most prestigious car and bike meetings, clocking races that often stretched over days.
Her passion for the track consumed considerable time and many of Win’s holidays, but it also took her abroad and around the nation, to events like the Bathurst 1000 and Adelaide Grand Prix.
Her late husband, Kevin, introduced her to racing and their two sons have taken up the mantel. Even with this passion, when Win retired in 1997 from her administration management role at General Electric, she was looking for new projects.
Her neighbour took her to a Red Cross meeting at Bribie Island, near Brisbane, and within a month she was branch secretary, three months later she was elected president.
“I was particularly interested in emergency services,” she says.
In 2002 Win was elected to the Queensland Board and in 2018 she became chair of the Queensland DAB.
“I am passionate about membership and volunteering,” she says.
“Red Cross is there to help people; it’s highly regarded and a powerful humanitarian force. Lifeblood also plays a big part of it.”
Win worked at Queensland Police Headquarters answering phone calls from family members trying to locate their loved ones after the Bali Bombing. She’s worked on Disaster Relief Appeals and has rolled up her sleeves in evacuation centres during cyclones and floods.
Her work was recognised with a National Emergency Services Medal, and she was made a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to Australian Red Cross.
“I am so grateful to my neighbour who introduced me into Red Cross almost 25 years ago. I am in awe of the humanitarian work performed nationally and globally for the benefit of mankind.”