Brunswick Residents Network Newsletter, February 2023

Welcome to our February news, including dates for Council’s Level Crossing Removal community meetings; 2020 Council election vote-rigging finally before VCAT; residents taking action to make streets safer; and our regular quirky history section. Read on (clunky version copied from Mailchimp); or view neatly formatted here.

Brunswick Residents Network News:
February 2023

VCAT finally hears 2020 election case;  speak up on level crossing removals; disability PT access; lots of resident campaigns; history corner . . .

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LXRP Watch

picture of rail over roadPublic meeting and roundtables on Brunswick Level Crossing Removals

In the next few weeks, you can have a say on plans to remove eight level crossings on the Upfield Rail Line in Brunswick.

Merri-bek Council will hold three “Brunswick Upfield Rail Corridor Roundtables” on 18 and 21 February to discuss the project, as well as a public meeting on Thursday 2 March.

The three roundtables will be held on:
– Saturday 18 February, 10am–12 midday: “Moving around” (transport and traffic issues)
– Saturday 18 February, 1pm–3pm, “Place, culture and country” (neighbourhood character, open space, trees and heritage)
– Tuesday 21st February, 4pm-6pm, “Construction and Disruption” (impacts on adjoining properties, detours and closures on nearby roads and paths)

  • Venue for roundtables: RMIT PlaceLab, Shop 1/17 Union Street, Brunswick
  • You need to register to participate: registration and criteria for participation at Conversations Merri-bek: Brunswick elevated rail

The public meeting will be held at 6pm on Thursday 2 March, at Brunswick Town Hall. Register via the link above.

Information from these meetings will inform a Merri-bek Council advocacy paper that will be used to lobby the State government as well as the Level Crossing Removal Project (LXRP), which will co-ordinate the project between 2023-2027. The draft discussion paper will go to the April Council meeting for approval.

Merri-bek Council has already issued an initial “Issues and opportunities paper”, but it avoids a number of fundamental issues about the project. For example, there no discussion of equity, and how more vulnerable members of the community (e.g. people living with disabilities and the elderly) will be affected during and after the construction phase. The paper is silent on planning laws – a striking omission, given people living on the west of the rail line may be faced with new problems such as overshadowing.

A major concern is that the changing flow of vehicles west-east along eight streets will have a massive impact on Sydney Road and residential streets to the east – yet LXRP is unlikely to take legal or financial responsibility for these wider impacts. And debate continues around station locations – with some suggesting removal of one station as an easy solution to the problem of finding a big enough space – to the detriment of train travellers.

For this reason, it’s important that diverse perspectives on direct and indirect impacts are brought into the debate. You can get updates and follow debates about the LXRP project on a Facebook group set up by the Brunswick Skyrail Community:

The State Government has put out a brief update in January about its soil testing program along the Upfield line in Brunswick and Parkville, and will eventually get round to a community consultation process.

  1. Talk to your neighbours and friends about what you want from this major project. Start community discussions on what sort of Brunswick should come from this massive infrastructure initiative. Lobby your MP and local councillors. Send your questions and comments to LXRP at email:
  2. If you are interested in taking part in the roundtables on 18 and 21 February, register through the Conversations Merri-bek website.
  3. Tell your neighbours about the Public Meeting at the Brunswick Town Hall on Thursday 2 March, where everyone can find out more about the LXRP project, come together to hear from each other, and propose what is most important to inform Council’s advocacy position. Encourage them to register
  4. Read Council’s “Issues and opportunities paper” and send in your feedback through the Conversations Merri-bek website



Merri-bek Council news 

Disputed elections case drags on

Years after the 2020 local government elections, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) is again hearing evidence related to the North-West ward election for Moreland City Council (now Merri-bek).

El Halabi posterAfter winning election as one of four North-West ward councillors, Milad El-Halabi served on Moreland City Council between November 2020 and February 2022, when he resigned his position.

As we reported in the March 2022 BRN newsletter, Victoria Police laid charges against Milad El-Halabi, his wife Dianna El-Halabi and daughter Tania El-Halabi in February last year. This followed investigation of the 2020 Council election after a number of voters reported not receiving ballot packs, which prompted concerns they had been stolen from letterboxes and fraudulently filled in. The three people were charged on summons with 21 counts of theft and one count each of conspiring together to cheat and defraud voters, the council and the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) and charges of conspiring to make a false document, completing forged ballot papers and interfering with postal ballot material. Before a February 2022 hearing, all three plead not guilty to the police charges.

The committal hearing for Milad, Dianna and Tania El-Halabi has now been scheduled at the Melbourne Magistrate’s Court at 9.30am on Monday 6 March.

After the 2020 vote, the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) applied for a review into the North-West ward election under S312 of the Local Government Act (Vic) 2020, based on evidence of vote rigging.

At an initial hearing in October 2021, VCAT began to determine whether elections should be rerun, in the case of Victorian Electoral Commission v Oscar Yildiz et al (2021).

Until now, however, there has been no resolution of whether elections for the ward should be re-run or whether 83 ballots in the possession of the Victoria Police should be made available to all parties.

The resolution of this case was delayed after application for production of a number of documents, including the so-called “83 Suspicious Ballot Papers”. There was legal dispute over “whether the documents are relevant to matters to be considered in the review”; and whether documents should not be produced due to the ongoing criminal investigation and pending charges against former councillor El-Halabi.

Another hearing was held in May 2022, after Victoria Police resisted the production of some documents on the basis of public interest immunity. These documents are still required for VCAT to carry out its inquiry, and VCAT orders ruled that public interest in ensuring the election has integrity, outweighs the public interest in maintaining confidentiality of the documents.

The long-running saga continued this month, with a new substantive five-day hearing before VCAT beginning on Tuesday 7 February. As we go to press, VCAT has not completed the latest hearing, and we’ll report on its ruling in future newsletters.

Councillor Conlan quits the Greens

Merri-bek South Ward councillor James Conlan has resigned his membership of the Australia Greens, in solidarity with Senator Lidia Thorpe, who also resigned from the party this month. Conlan will sit out the remainder of his term as an independent, before the next local government elections in late 2024.

Conlan set out his reasons in a lengthy Facebook post, stating: “I’m not interested in being a member and elected representative of a political party that talks big on anti-racism, whilst silencing, undermining and crushing the voices of those who most need the party’s support and leadership.”

His resignation reduces the Greens contingent on Merri-bek Council from 4 to 3, with Conlan declaring: “I will be an independent and will vote how I see it on each issue.”

Library hours continue from 9am

In May 2021, Council introduced a trial of extended hours for some Moreland Libraries, but the initiative was interrupted by library closures and COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The trial was then extended into 2022 when service interruptions ceased. The trial of earlier opening times has been a huge success: last year, 30,000 library visits were made during the trial.

For Brunswick book nerds, this meant an extra five hours access a week, with Brunswick Library opening at 9am instead of 10am on weekdays.

At their meeting on 8 February, Councillors agreed that the revised library hours be designated as the permanent library opening hours, effective immediately. Hooray!

Brunswick Library (Dawson Street, just west of Sydney Road) is a great community asset. Join today for events, lectures, children’s services and books galore.



Sustainable transport and traffic

Cyclist safety – another tragic accident

BRN sends condolences to friends and family of Angus Collins, a member of the Brunswick Cycling Club who was killed in an accident on 2 February. Collins was hit by a truck at the intersection of Footscray and Dock Links roads, West Melbourne.

Just 22, he had been a member of the Brunswick Cycling Club since he was 12. After a commemoration last weekend at the Brunswick velodrome, BCC president Tony Maughan said: “We had a couple of hundred people turn up just to be there for each other, with a lot of hugs and tears and conversations and it was just a wonderful illustration of the love for Angus in our community.”

The issue of cycling safety in Brunswick is an ongoing issue. In 2015, cyclist Alberto Paulon was killed in Sydney Road, after a car-dooring incident. After his death, there was a flurry of action by VicRoads, the State Government and Moreland Council to look at a re-design of space on Sydney Road to improve safety and mobility for all road users.

Since then however, this work has foundered, with differences over the allocation of space for parking and separated bike lanes. We think it’s time for the newly merged Department of Transport and Planning to step up and FIX SYDNEY ROAD, especially before the looming disruption of the Upfield Rail Line and Share Path!

Disability access on public transport

The national Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (DDA) requires that all tram stops must be fully compliant with the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport 2002 (DSAPT) by 31 December 2022.

We’re now past that deadline, but the State Government has failed to address its legal responsibility to construct disability accessible tram stops on Sydney Road, a major transport route through Brunswick and Coburg.

People living with disabilities are angry there are no accessible tram stops on Sydney Road, along the 5-kilometre stretch between Brunswick Road and Bakers Road in Coburg North. This puts the Brunswick and Coburg shopping strips out of reach for some people in wheelchairs or mobility devices. It often makes it difficult for parents with children in prams, or the elderly with heavy shopping trolleys.

In March 2022, disability activists and supporters blocked trams on Route 19 along Sydney Road as part of a campaign to improve accessibility to public transport. How much longer do we have to wait for action?

A 2020 report published by the Victorian Auditor General found that “Tram services are not meeting the accessibility needs of passengers with mobility restrictions. In 2018–19, only 15 per cent of tram services delivered a low-floor tram at a level-access stop. [Department of Transport] DoT has not met legislated targets for accessible tram infrastructure and cannot comply by 31 December 2022. Based on the trend to date, DoT is also at risk of not meeting the 31 December 2032 tram compliance requirement.”

This problem will only get worse when the Level Crossing Removal Project (LXRP) begins the removal of eight road/rail intersections in Brunswick between 2023-27 (see story in this edition). Many people living with disabilities use the Upfield Rail Line, but it will be closed regularly during the LXRP project. Without disability accessible tram stops on Sydney Road, how will people cope?

LXRP will no doubt argue that this is not their responsibility – they are only responsible for the zone where they plan to build an elevated Skyrail. So will the State Government provide funds to the Department of Transport and Planning to fix this problem, before the Upfield line is disrupted during LXRP works?

Please write to relevant State government ministers, to encourage action before the LXRP has its way with our streets:

Safety trial for Cocoa Jackson Lane

Residents of Cocoa Jackson Lane and nearby Warburton and Horne Streets have had some success in their campaign to make their neighbourhood safer. Long-standing local business Reece Plumbing does not have a self-contained loading dock on their property, so trucks and utes queue illegally in Cocoa Jackson laneway, at times blocking all access for an hour or more. Meanwhile, industrial sites fronting the lane are being converted to residences, with pedestrian access to Lygon Street via the laneway.

At their February meeting, Councillors rejected the draft resolution from Merri-bek Council officers, which included a note that “Cocoa Jackson Lane and the surrounding local streets currently operate in a generally safe manner for all road users” (!). This draft was replaced with a resolution that noted the need to ensure safety for all laneway users and access for emergency vehicles.  Instead of no action, a trial will now occur where “no stopping signs” will be installed In discussion with residents, trialling of a Lygon Street loading zone, and the blocking of a laneway linking to Warburton Street, will be considered. Other options will be considered in a future report to Council.

Breese Block campaigns for safer walking

Breese Street residents have begun a campaign for better infrastructure, starting with pedestrian safety. According to Brunswick Voice, residents are asking [reasonably] why developers didn’t have to upgrade pedestrian infrastructure when this former industrial area was changed into high density residences.

Rushing slowly

Why the rush? A new book about urban mobility invites us to think differently about our streets: who do they belong to, what are they for, who gets to decide?

Movement – how to take back our streets and transform our lives” argues that the majority of Australian, North American and European cities were completely redesigned around the needs of the motor car. People who study the impact of motorways have come to realise that the more roads you built, the more people expect to be able to drive — generating what’s called “induced demand.”

But do we really recognise what it costs us as a society when children can’t move safely around our communities?

Money for roads, money for (foot)paths

Merri-bek Council collects a Developer Contribution from developers every time a subdivision occurs or an apartment goes up. This levy adds up over time, and BRN has long argued for more transparency on where it goes (what is the money spent on? Is money collected in the South Ward spent in Brunswick or in other suburbs?)

The DCP levy is intended to be used for footpaths as well as roads, infrastructure and childcare centres. However in 2022, much of the DCP went into road resurfacing. In the latest listed for DCP projects in 2023, the word FOOTPATHS has been removed and replaced with PATHS.

We think Council should be directing more resources towards pedestrians rather than roads, given the range of needs detailed in our 2021 report “Walking in Brunswick.” What do you reckon?

Smelly trams

An ode to trams, from former Brunswick (now Tasmanian) resident First Dog On The Moon:



Planning issues

Do developer incentives require loss of resident rights?

At their latest meeting on 8 February, Merri-bek Councillors agreed to investigate, develop and trial “a process model that encourages a better quality, planning scheme compliant two dwelling development, while maintaining public notice and rights of review to VCAT.”

Once developed, Council will “proceed with a 12-month trial period of the new process model”, “update Council’s current Good Design Advice sheets” and “commission the preparation of examples of better-quality medium density developments.”

The crucial clause is “while maintaining public notice and rights of review to VCAT.” Over many years, Council has tried to incentivise developers and speed up planning applications by trading away resident rights to notification, review and appeal, in return for possible design improvements. This “trade-off” culture does not sit well with many residents: a culture of always seeking ways to incentivise development at residents’ expense, and taking away clarity to residents’ understanding of how planning works in our municipality.

Moreland Council tried this on before, through the Design Excellence Scorecards or the proposed amendment C190 to the Moreland Planning Scheme for two dwellings on a block in 2020. As BRN argued in a 2020 submission to a planning panel about C190, “By removing the right for residents to object, this blind sides the residents as they will not be able to review plans or know that there is a proposed medium density development on a neighbouring property. With 40% of Moreland’s application’s being two dwelling developments, a large portion of Council applications for medium density would not require public notice, which revokes the rights of many residents who reside within the City of Moreland.”

At the time, planning expert Stephen Rowley said: “Amendment C190 is fundamentally misguided and should be abandoned. It misuses both the VicSmart provisions and the ResCode provisions. It creates considerable risks for council, including increased likelihood of process errors and mistakes in assessment, heightened workloads, potential cost impacts to council from VCAT failure appeals, and potentially bad outcomes.”

Merri-bek Council planning staff now argue “it is evident that Council would have the most impact in seeking to influence better-quality benchmark for a larger proportion of development, as opposed to pursuing further initiatives that seek a design excellence benchmark for a now much smaller number of major development projects occurring in Merri-bek . . . In addition, the development and trial of a process model that encourages better quality, planning scheme compliant, two dwelling development is recommended.”

So is this a reheated attempt to revive C190? As Council tries again to create incentives for developers, we urge them once again not to trade off notification, review and appeal rights.

Wylie Reserve upgrade

In our September 2022 newsletter, we reported on a planned upgrade of Wylie Reserve, a small piece of open space opposite Brunswick South West Primary School.

After lots of community discussion, you can read the latest report on what locals wanted for the reserve:



Music Galore

Brunswick Music Festival

The annual Brunswick Music Festival kicks off with the Sydney Road Street Party on Sunday 5 March and runs through until 13 March.

Lots happening throughout the week, with plenty of local and international bands (including Mdou Moctar from Nigeria, Crumb from USA and Startijenn from Brittany). There’s album launches, the traditional Sydney Road street party on Sunday 5 March, and special concerts to mark International Women’s Day.

Check out the program and start booking your tickets (though there are plenty of free concerts and events as well).

Brunswick Beethoven Festival

What’s Beethoven’s favourite fruit? Banana (pronounced Bah-na-na-NAH!)

This year is the 15th Brunswick Beethoven Festival, and the next set of concerts will be held between 14 – 18 February. Every night, there’s a wonderful classical concert starting at 8pm at the Brunswick Uniting Church, 212 Sydney Road, Brunswick.

  • Tuesday 14 February: lutenist Rosemary Hodgson presents ‘Walsingham’
  • Wednesday 15 February: Invictus String Quartet plays Hayden and Bach
  • Thursday 16 February: Pianist Stefan Cassomenos performs works by Alkan and Beethoven
  • Friday 17 February: Elyane Laussade, Luke Severn and Louise Turnbull play Ravel, Bruch and Beethoven
  • Saturday 18 February: Sergio de Pieri OAM performs works by Satie and Chopin

For program details, bookings and more, check out the website:

10,000 Kazoos in Melbourne
From the classical to the sublime. Would you like to join 9,999 other Kazoo players at the Rising 2023 festival next June? The organisers are inviting Melbourne to take a deep breath, join as one, and release an almighty chorus of kazoo.

10,000 Kazoos is a mass participation event for RISING 2023. It’s happening in the heart of Melbourne in June, and anyone can take part. You don’t need any musical ability or training. Simply stick a kazoo in your mouth, with the pointy end at the world, and send some do-do-dos down that tube.

They’ll have 10,000 biodegradable kazoos at-the-ready. They just need 10,000 willing noisemakers in the city to play a tune all-at-once, in frenzied unison.



History Corner

Chocolate and Violet Crumble

On the shopfront at 543 Sydney Road, Brunswick, there’s a couple of layers of painted signage. The top layer reads ASK FOR NESTLÉ’S CHOCOLATE. It’s covering up an older sign that reads NESTLÉ’S MILK CHOCOLATE as well as a sign for VIOLET CRUMBLE at the top of the building. Today, the store (just south of Hope Street in Sydney Road) is the home of Evie & John’s Childrens Boutique. But there’s quite a bit of history in this faded façade.

If you’re into painted signage on old shops and facades, this one is for you. Sean Reynolds of Melbourne Ghost Signs did a deep dive into this classic façade:

“This building was constructed just prior to 1925 for sisters Amy and Rene Parker as a confectioners shop. The first Nestlé sign and the Violet Crumble sign would have been freshly painted! The sisters were born in Ballarat, two of six girls born to William James and Amy Martha Parker. Amy and Rene were 43 and 32, respectively, when they opened the confectionary business.

“One interesting story: in 1935, Mr. William Hillard, a confectioner from Westgarth, was speaking to one of the sisters at their shop. They only spoke for about 10 minutes, but that was long enough for thieves to run off with Mr. Hillard’s pony and wagon, which was filled with confections!

“The business was auctioned off in 1940. The description in the Argus partially reads “The [shop] is most elaborate and consists of . . . refrigerator, electric mixers, 2 pedestal display counters, scales, ice cream manufacturing [equipment], beautiful lead light partition, mirrored shelving.” It must have been really lovely! Rene moved to Reservoir with her father; he died in 1942, she died in 1957, age 69. Amy moved to Little River and died in 1968, age 88. Neither of them married as far as I can tell.

“The shop continued to be a confectioner and milk bar for decades until it was last sold in 1985 – probably when it stopped being a milk bar.

“The Violet Crumble was a product of Hoadley’s Chocolates. Abel Hoadley originally had a jam-making business but expanded into confectionery. The Violet Crumble came about after a piece of honeycomb in one of Hoadley’s boxed chocolate assortments became crazy popular. The honeycomb was too sticky to sell as a bar on its own, so dipping it in chocolate was the solution. The company was eventually taken over by – you guessed it – Nestlé, in 1988. In a cool twist, Nestlé sold the Violet Crumble brand to an Australian confectioner in 2018, putting the brand back in Aussie hands.”

Thanks to Sean Reynolds of ‘Melbourne Ghost Signs’ for this piece of Brunswick history. You can find out more on the Melbourne Ghost Signs Facebook page.

Secrets of theatres in Brunswick and Coburg

In the BRN newsletter in July 2021, our feature article for the month looked at “The glory days of movies in Brunswick.” It described some of the theatres and movie palaces near Sydney Road in the early 20th Century: the Empire Theatre (294 Sydney Road), Hoyts Padua Theatre (624 Sydney Road) or flea pits like the Alhambra Theatre (828 Sydney Road).

Now, next Wednesday 15 February, Janine Barrand and Dianna Wells will talk about entertainment venues in Brunswick and Coburg, presenting fascinating facts about their history and stunning photography. Come along to Brunswick Library at 7pm for a slice of local history.

WHAT: Revealing Stories – secrets of theatres of Brunswick and Coburg
WHEN: Wednesday 15 February, 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
WHERE: Brunswick Library, Dawson Street, Brunswick



Merri-bek Council stuff

Get the Council’s regular e-news.

Regular Council meetings – held on the 2nd Wednesday of each month –  are normally held at: Council Chamber, Merri-bek Civic Centre, 90 Bell Street, Coburg (enter from rear).

2023 dates include:

  • 8 March 2023
  • 12 April 2023
  • 10 May 2023
  • 14 June 2023

Further meeting dates and more details are available on the Council website.

Council meetings can be watched online, either live, or later – you can find details here along with the agenda for the next Council meeting when it’s posted on the Friday before the monthly meeting. You can register there to receive an alert when the agenda is posted.



Email us!

Please note our email address: And write to tell us what you think of the newsletter. We love feedback. 

If you are able to offer some time to volunteer to help organise our campaigns, and support our work, please get in contact. Our work includes organising meetings, leafleting and letter boxing, graphic design and publicity, and research; on planning, greening Brunswick and traffic management.

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Contacts for our local councillors

Mark Riley
Mobile: 0499 807044

Lambros Tapinos
Mobile: 0433 419 075

James Conlan
Mobile: 0409 279 335




Welcome to new readers! To contact organisers of the Brunswick Residents’ Network, or to offer help with future activities, please email (This gmail is our preferred address, rather than replying to this email). Thanks to those who have contributed to this edition.

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