Linda Matthews

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Ms Linda Matthews

A former South Australian Commissioner for Equal Opportunity (1996-2010), Linda Matthews is the first female Chair of the St Mark’s College Board. She has served in that role since 2018, with a collaborative leadership style and a strong emphasis on upholding the values of the College and promoting opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds, including through increasing scholarship support.

Linda’s natural aptitude for leadership and her advocacy for some of the most disadvantaged people in society have been evident through successive community, not-for-profit and public sector roles over the last four decades.

Growing up in Broken Hill, Linda studied at Flinders University in Adelaide, from which she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, later also studying at Monash Mt Eliza Business School and through the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

After working as Director of the Parks Community Legal Service from 1985 to 1988, Linda served as Director of the Women’s Information Service in the South Australian Department of Premier and Cabinet from 1988 to 1990.

From 1990 to 1994, her focus was on preventing and responding to sexual and domestic violence, first as Director of the SA Domestic Violence Prevention Unit (1990-93) and then as Director of the SA Rape and Sexual Assault Service (1993-94).

In 1994 Linda moved to the position of Director of the Funding and Advocacy Division of the Intellectual Disability Services Council of South Australia. Managing a budget of $70 million, she developed and implemented funding agreements for 50 different organizations in the face of escalating costs. In this role she met with parliamentarians and media to ensure the projects were well understood by the public and interested parties.

The skills that led to her success in that role, negotiating necessary change in the face of resistance, equipped Linda well for her role as South Australian Commissioner for Equal Opportunity from 1996 to 2010.

During this time Linda oversaw the investigation and conciliation of complaints made under South Australia’s Equal Opportunity Act. When she came into the role, Linda worked to counter views that the Equal Opportunity Commission was biased in favour of people making complaints. In doing so, she changed the culture of the organization. She also developed a complaints management system that made the service faster, simpler, and less legalistic, with a focus on outcomes that were fair for all parties. Believing in the importance of change through education, she placed strong emphasis on programmes for community education as well as countless collaborations with business, union, and community groups.

Throughout her time as Equal Opportunity Commissioner, Linda promoted what she called a “climate of intolerance” for “discrimination in all its forms”. Amongst other changes, she advocated for change in response to discrimination and unfair treatment in sport and recreation arenas, including helping to initiate Play by the Rules to help coaches, players, and parents facing problems such as discrimination and harassment.

On Linda’s leaving her long-standing position as South Australia’s Equal Opportunity Commissioner in 2010 to inaugurate the role of Privacy Commissioner in Queensland, her successor at the Equal Opportunity Commission said: “On leaving, Linda was able to take pride in the fact that South Australia’s discrimination protections are more comprehensive than ever, although, as she would point out, there still remains work to be done.”

Linda served as Queensland’s Privacy Commissioner throughout 2010 and 2011, with responsibility for implementing the Information Privacy Act. Again, she brought a collaborative approach with a strong emphasis on community education.

In 2012, Linda returned to her work in women’s issues, assuming the role of Executive Director of Women NSW in the NSW Department of Families and Communities. Again she helped to lead reforms for victims of domestic and family violence, alongside other initiatives to improve services and outcomes for women.

On her return to Adelaide in 2014, Linda became the Interim Director of STTARS (Survivors of Torture and Trauma Assistance and Rehabilitation Service) during a transitional period between Chief Executives, during which Linda undertook an organizational review and led initiatives to improve organizational capacity.

Since 2015, Linda has been CEO of Altera Consultants, based in Adelaide, and undertaking various consulting assignments, while serving on several boards and at times undertaking interim CEO roles. In 2016-17, and for most of 2020, she acted as the Interim Chief Executive of Catherine House, a service for women experiencing homelessness. In 2020, Linda’s leadership proved vital to guiding the organization through the pandemic with no adverse outcomes for clients and staff, while also navigating a merger with Housing Choices Australia.

From 2017 to 2020, Linda served as a Board Director of Catherine House – one of many Board positions she has held. In 2018-19, as President of Scosa, a not-for-profit service for adults with disabilities, she led its successful merger with Novita, a not-for-profit service for children with disability – a merger undertaken to ensure financial viability following the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).

Since 2019, Linda has been a Board Director of the Adelaide Benevolent Society, and in 2021 accepted appointment as a Board Director of the SA Lifetime Support Authority and the SA Housing Trust.

In August 2018, Linda was appointed as what was described as “the new Independent Chair of St Mark’s” – also making her the first female Chair of our College Board.

When the announcement of her appointment as Chair at St Mark’s was made, the Interim Board and Council said they were “delighted with the appointment of our new Chair whose strategic skills, clear vision, competence, and positive approach will lead the future directions of the College.”

The Head of College, Professor Don Markwell, said on Founders’ Day 2021, when Linda’s photographic portrait was unveiled in the College Dining Hall: “I can give personal testimony from my time at St Mark’s to the dedication, clarity of mind, shrewdness of judgement, wise and realistic counsel, and warmth and generosity of spirit which Linda has brought to this role, aiming always to do what is best for the students of this College, and upholding the values for which the College stands.”

Linda has written that she has worked “to position St Mark’s as a modern, relevant and forward-looking institution” which reflects contemporary community standards, and to ensure the College’s “continuity as an important university residential community”.

The College Board’s emphasis under Linda’s leadership on upholding the College’s values and its culture of respect, inclusion and safety has been reflected in extensive work by College staff and student leaders over recent years – including through clear enunciation of values of respect and inclusion, strong policies, extensive training, and action when incidents occur. A detailed report on this work can be found here. Believing in the importance of “checking in” on culture, policies, and practices, Linda has been part of initiating the current independent external review being undertaken by Professor Catharine Lumby (details of which are here).

On becoming Chair in 2018, Linda wrote that she “quickly understood why it is so important for St Mark’s to continue its fine tradition as a great place for students to study, participate in community, sporting and cultural events. Many students told me that they loved being at St Mark’s and many alumni have spoken of their wonderful experience and making lifelong friends.

“Since my appointment I have met many wonderful St Mark’s alumni, philanthropic supporters, students and staff. I have greatly appreciated the support and dedication to St Mark’s from Board members and staff. It continues to be a pleasure to work with you all.

“St Mark’s has a proud history with many great traditions. But community standards and expectations have changed and some traditions needed to go. If you were a student adversely impacted by unacceptable behaviour, it is no consolation that other students were not so affected.

“When I accepted the role as Chair I was influenced by St Mark’s Constitution which welcomed people of all faiths and none. This was in contrast to other organizations who were clear about their exclusionary religious entrance rules and were overt in their restrictions on who could participate.

“I was aware that no women could enter St Mark’s College until 1982. I expect that the admission of female students was an indicator of preparedness to change despite strong opposition from a vocal minority.

“I believe our Founders were sincere in wanting to build a decent and industrious community of people who understood the importance of service. Current students speak of the gratitude they feel about the benefits of living and learning at St Mark’s, particularly those who are helped by scholarships without which they could not attend.

“I would describe St Mark’s as a safe, supportive and great learning environment. There is nothing to rival the experience of having great tutors, learning with peers and gaining the skills needed for adult life.”

Linda’s work as a Board director of other organizations has focused on dealing directly with disadvantage. She has been a champion of scholarships and other support for students who need such support to be at St Mark’s, and has recently said:

“I know that many students who come to St Mark’s are not financially secure and many parents make significant sacrifices to enable their children to live here. In addition, many St Mark’s students need to work to contribute to their living expenses.

“The Covid pandemic took a toll on students reliant on casual hospitality or other work when they could no longer go to work. I was immensely grateful that we were able to assist many students during that time because of the generosity of our benefactors.

“It is my hope that in the future St Mark’s entrance is open to anyone irrespective of means. This will take significant philanthropic support to achieve. If this did come to pass it would be a significant achievement and put to rest the notion that only the elite can come to St Mark’s.”

This goal – “working to support all students who need it through a major expansion of scholarships and other financial support for students” – is one of the key priorities in the new strategic plan which the College Board has worked on, under Linda’s leadership and with extensive consultation, over the last 18 months. (The strategic plan can be found here.)

Preparation of the new strategic plan is one of the ways in which the College is preparing for its Centenary in 2025 – which Linda looks forward to with enthusiasm.

Researched and written by Margot Pick.