20 Questions with Dr Olivia Ball

It's been a busy year for Dr Olivia Ball. Hot on the heels of her campaign as federal candidate for Maribyrnong, she is now the Greens candidate for Lord Mayor of Melbourne.

By Emma Davidson
Thursday, August 25, 2016

Melbourne-born and bred, Olivia has had an international career in human rights advocacy in academia and the NGO sector. She is a founding director of national human rights watchdog Remedy Australia.  Equality, freedom and justice are at the heart of her politics. She starts from the premise that human rights are real and binding and that government exists to respect rights and remedy violations. She is concerned to restore democracy to Melbourne City Council and plan for liveable communities in the context of climate change.

Name: Dr Olivia Ball

Role with the Greens: Greens candidate for Lord Mayor of Melbourne, 2016

1. What do you remember about your first election?

I was so eager to be old enough to vote, and was devastated when a federal election was called 6 weeks before my 18th birthday! I had joined the Fabian Society as soon as I started uni and they sent me to a tiny polling booth somewhere in the bush to hand out for the ALP all day long. Bob Hawke was narrowly re-elected.

2. Leadbeater’s possum or eastern longneck turtles?

Oh my goodness, they’re both amazing and wonderful. But I am passionate about saving the Leadbeater’s habitat and creating Great Forest National Park in the Central Highlands of Victoria, so maybe the little possum. GFNP is so beautiful and so important. The Victorian Government is subsidising its destruction instead of protecting it!

3. What’s your precious place and why?

I would have to say Pt Lonsdale, which is very special to me. My family has been holidaying there for four generations. It is always restorative to be there, whatever the season. The sky, the light, the sea, I love it.

4. Favourite Greens policy?

I’ve just shifted gears radically from a federal campaign to local government. In the federal campaign, I was especially proud of our ‘Better Way’ refugee policy.

At Melbourne City Council, I feel passionately about restoring genuine democracy to the way we elect council, and ending political donations from property developers.

I am so proud to be a Greens candidate; so proud of our policies. Thank you to everyone who puts in the effort to develop our policy platform.

5. Best part of your work with the Greens?

Working with wonderful, fun, hard-working, talented, inspiring people. The hours we all put in! It’s amazing.

6. What keeps you going?

On the campaign trail? My colleagues in the party. There are great days and awful days, but we’re in this together and look out for each other. And there’s no way I could do it without my long-suffering and rock-solid supportive partner.

A mentor of mine used to say, we do this because to not do it is unthinkable. It’s living what you believe in, and you keep going, whatever the odds.

7. Favourite political song?

So many. If it makes you dance and happy, all the better because, hey, we need to keep our spirits up and celebrate the movement and our solidarity. Go listen to ‘Nelson Mandela’ by The Specials. Two great Melbourne bands in this vein today are The Conch and The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra. Love them.

8. Who inspires you? Why?

Lots of people, but if I had to pick one, I could say Mandela. I think my earliest political commitment was to the anti-Apartheid movement, here in Melbourne in the 1980s. I was barely a teenager. Later, when he was finally released from prison and he toured the world to thank his supporters, I went to hear him speak. He walked through the crowd and we were madly excited, like he was a rock star. He really was exceptional.  A legend.

9. Comfort food?

The famous borek from the Vic Market deli hall. There’s always a crowd and they can barely hand it out fast enough.

10. What would you spend $20 billion on?

Wow, where to begin? A broad-based national campaign to get us a bill of rights, with all our human rights protected in Australian law. Wouldn’t that be something? And some serious money to address homelessness and its causes. The rest I would spend on climate mitigation and adaptation in Australia and the region, and on humane regional solutions to refugee flows. The great thing is, the Greens have policies to raise this kind of cash.

11. Secret vice?

Hot jam doughnuts from the Vic Market. Bad!

12. Best coffee/drink in town?

I like to think I discovered chai before it became fashionable. It was in a shop somewhere in India, where customers are offered tea and hospitality. We have a lot to learn from Indian know-how and deep experience in community development. I had the good fortune to study community development in India on a field trip with Oxfam. But, back to the tea – chai has to be made with tea! Never syrup or powder. I’ve tried chai all over Melbourne and the best is from a little place in North Fitzroy, where the barrista is Toby, my oldest friend since babyhood.

13. Three apps you can’t live without?

Um, Navigator, Twitter ... is there a dictionary app? That’s what I need. I’m forever looking up the dictionary. Today’s word: stertorous. Adj. (of breathing) noisy and laboured.

14. What did you want to be when you grew up?

In musicals. I love musicals and was devastated when my mother told me they didn’t make movie musicals any more. That was before the Baz Luhrmann-led renaissance.

15. Morning run or night time swim?

Does that include running for the tram? I do love swimming in the sea at dusk. But that doesn’t happen often!

16. What’s your greatest hope for the future?

My greatest hope is hoping we are not too late to avert catastrophic climate change. It’s more fear than hope. However, people like Bob Brown give me hope. I do believe we will enjoy comprehensive clean energy in the near future and its early manifestations are a joy. But the transition is urgent.   

17. Magic wand to solve one world problem — what would it be?

To re-write post-Industrial history to ensure the ascendancy rather than neglect of clean energy. Electric vehicles! Wind and solar! Australians crazy for bicycles!  

18. What advice would you give a new volunteer?

Don’t be shy to get involved in Greens activities or attend an event, even if you don’t know anyone. You soon will, and what a great bunch of people.   

19. You can travel through time — where do you go?

To stroll with Jane Austen through the villages, woods, lanes and parlours of 18th century England. Maybe a spot of horse riding and a country dance.

20. If you weren’t doing this for a living, what would you be doing?

Even if somehow I didn’t need to make a living, I would still be fighting for human rights. It’s what gets me up in the morning and keeps me up late at night. It gives me meaning and a way to tackle the sorrow and injustice of the world.