Shaping our city

Connecting communities within the bustle of a busy city

19 April 2023

Meet your City of Melbourne Councillors
Councillor Dr Olivia Ball

With a background in human rights advocacy, Councillor Dr Olivia Ball has embraced the council portfolios of health, wellbeing and belonging and Aboriginal Melbourne. 

“This is a great fit for me and there is so much that is really meaty in a policy sense. Health, wellbeing and belonging is very broad and it covers all our multicultural communities and of course our recreation centres, health services, inclusion and even domestic pets who contribute so much to human wellbeing,” Cr Dr Ball said.

A group of six people standing outdoors in front of a market stall holding canvas shopping bags and fresh fruit and vegetables.
Councillor Dr Olivia Ball joins members of the community to launch The Community Grocer

“I’m also very honoured to be deputy lead on the Aboriginal Melbourne portfolio (led by Lord Mayor Sally Capp). We have Reconciliation Week coming up and Sorry Day and Mabo Day (May 27 to 3 June), so this is a busy time of year for that branch.” 

Councillors unanimously voted to take a position to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and to support the yes vote in the upcoming referendum on the Voice to parliament. Council will also deliver a campaign to educate and inform the community on the Voice. 

Cr Dr Ball welcomes the chance for all Melburnians to learn more about the Voice.

“It is a profoundly important and historic moment. It’s a once in a generation opportunity to advance the right to self-determination of our First Nations as recognised in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It’s only a first step and the City of Melbourne has responded very consciously and explicitly to all three points of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – truth, treaty and the Voice,” she said.

A commitment to inclusion underpins many of council’s community programs and Cr Dr Ball values hearing from all of Melbourne’s neighbourhoods.

“We do have measures. We ask people on a routine basis how connected they feel to their community. For example, we have a big high-rise population as many residents of the City of Melbourne live in apartment buildings. These can be communities of their own, like vertical villages, but they also have the potential to be very isolating. We know that single person households are the fastest-growing type of household. 

“So we have all sorts of programs such as our Connected Community grants. These can go to individuals or community leaders who have great ideas to get their community connected. Of course we support Harmony Day and many other ways people interact with each other to increase a sense of belonging.” 

She singles out the Local Lunch Club at the Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre as another example of addressing social isolation. Supported by a grant from the State Library of Victoria and Public Libraries Victoria, the club recently hosted a free meal for all, a gardening workshop and a live band. 

She uses the term interculturalism as often as multiculturalism, to reflect on the city’s diversity – a Melbourne where people of all backgrounds, generations, genders and identities are welcome.

“I recently attended the launch of Diasporas 2023 which is a forthcoming intercultural arts festival here in Melbourne. There were people from all sorts of origins, artists working in incredibly diverse media, from weaving to hiphop, from countries across the Asia-Pacific. This is the kind of thing we love to support. We also support the Melbourne International Comedy Festival which brings people from all over the world to entertain us.” 

Two adults playing with wooden toys while three children watch on, smiling and pulling silly faces.
Lord Mayor Sally Capp and Councillor Dr Olivia Ball join youngsters at Lady Huntingfield Early Learning and Family Services Centre

Indeed one of her favourite places, Princes Bridge, epitomises health, wellbeing and belonging. At the heart of the bustling city centre, the historic bridge overlooks riverside walking paths and the boathouses and clubs that keep rowers active over generations. Nearby is the arts precinct where she often enjoys theatre and music. 

Cr Dr Ball said she became a councillor “as a continuation of a lifelong commitment to human rights. I started my career working with refugees as a psychologist, and I moved into international development and worked in the Pacific for a time. Finally I found human rights as a discipline … and I shifted consciously into human rights advocacy. Politics is a way we can realise human rights and that’s at every level of government. 

“Obviously we can recognise the rights of our First Nations people … but there is also the right to housing, the right to food, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. These are clearly connected with my portfolio, but there is also the right to protest and to freedom of assembly, and the right to seek asylum.

“Council supports refugees in a very real way, where people fleeing conflict and persecution meet our immunisation nurses and maternal child health nurses. We saw this in recent times with Afghans and Ukrainians arriving through the City of Melbourne before settling in other parts of the city. It was so important we could give them the health care they needed at this critical time. That is a great privilege and I hope very rewarding for our staff.”

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