By Sean Car
Young, driven and full of ambition for reviving Melbourne from the pandemic – newly elected councillor Roshena Campbell is passionate about creating a better city than the one we had before COVID struck.
The 36-year-old barrister and mother of three could be easily forgiven for already having enough on her plate, but her desire to help the city’s struggling small businesses recover from last year’s lockdowns was too great to ignore.
As chair of the council’s city activation portfolio, the first-time councillor has wasted no time in leading that recovery and she told CBD News she believed a better CBD than the one we had before awaited.
“I think coming out of COVID we might actually have a better CBD – that’s my real hope,” she said.
“There are fantastic opportunities for Melbourne to reinvent itself as an innovation hub. We are an ideal destination for start-ups to begin their businesses and for businesses to grow.”
“For so long, so many of those start-ups and innovative businesses have been priced out of the CBD. I think there’s a real opportunity for them to come back into the heart of the city.”
“Why can’t we be another Silicon Valley where the people with the great ideas have the conditions to be able to bring them to life? I don’t see any reason why not.”
Cr Campbell has practiced law for more than 10 years in a career which has seen her act in a number of Royal Commissions and represent some of Australia’s largest companies, as well as state and local government bodies.
And while she might be a new councillor, she’s no stranger to the political scene. A member of the Liberal Party with a long history of campaigning, she has been politically active since the age of 18.
But having been elected as the second councillor on Lord Mayor Sally Capp’s ticket in last year’s elections, she said nothing could have prepared her for a “COVID campaign” as conventional campaign methods were thrown out the window.
However, despite the challenges forced upon all candidates running for Town Hall, she said Team Capp’s “clear plan to come back from COVID” had resonated with residents and businesses, as well as her own ambition for running.
“I think anyone who runs for council only does it if they’re passionate about something. I made the decision to run between the two lockdowns and walking the streets of Melbourne broke my heart because my parents had a background in small business,” Cr Campbell said.
“I know that for people that run a small business, it’s their whole lives.”
While a firm believer that councils should primarily “stick to their patch” of roads, rates and rubbish, she said she wanted this council to be ambitious in fulfilling the needs of its ratepayers by ensuring Melbourne came back strongly from COVID.
With a diverse range of opinions represented on council, she said she was very confident that the newly elected team of councillors was both “energised” and “unified” in its passion to do just that.
“We’ve got some great plans at the council around what we’re going to do with those vacant shopfronts, both in terms of bringing in new businesses, bringing in creatives and I think that we’re starting to feel that vibrancy coming back to Melbourne. I think we’re definitely on the right path,” she said.
While she asked CBD News not to hold her Sydneysider roots against her, having lived, worked and studied in the City of Melbourne since relocating as a 20-year-old, we think she’s done enough to earn an honourable pardon!
As a Fitzroy resident and former CBD resident, she is a strong advocate for the “15-minute lifestyle” that the city offers and, similar to her desire to drive business to the city, she is keen to encourage more residents to move in.
“The beauty of city living is that the way people think about dashing between meetings, that’s just how you lead your life. It’s the fluidity around meeting all of your commitments that comes around from being right in the heart of things,” she said.
“My children love the inner-city lifestyle; they love the fact that their playground is Carlton Gardens. They love the fact that the museum is not just a once a year come into the city thing, it’s something they do every week. It’s their backyard.”
“I actually think in terms of raising kids, people say it’s cramped in the city, but I don’t think it is. Your world just becomes bigger and there’s a great sense of community.”
As Melbourne continues its recovery from COVID, she said it was important for the council to make doing business in the city involve as little red tape as possible.
“As a council need to do all we can to try to alleviate all of that uncertainty. Obviously, we have no control over border closures, but we can take steps to make it easier for businesses to trade,” she said.
“We know that businesses have enough on their plates … we want dealing with the City of Melbourne to be as easy as possible.”
“I think the visibility of the hardship businesses suffered is so apparent to everybody; to visitors, to the people who’ve returned, but I am starting to see those green shoots.” •