Brunswick Residents Network Newsletter, March 2023

Apologies for the delay in posting this March newsletter to WordPress. Read on for our submission to Merri-bek Council on level crossing removals; and our regular coverage of local events. April newsletter also coming soon . . .

Brunswick Residents Network News:
March 2023

VCAT decides on 2020 election case; former councillor El-Halabi to face trial; BRN position paper on level crossing removals; local history and more. . .

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Another pedestrian killed in Brunswick West

Yet another tragic death of an elderly pedestrian in Brunswick West highlights the need for action on safety and a reduction of speed limits on key stretches of Melville Road and Grantham Street.

On 2 March, an 82-year-old man from Brunswick West died in hospital after he was injured by a vehicle while crossing at the intersection of Hope Street and Melville Road in Brunswick West. The driver of the vehicle was subsequently charged by police with dangerous driving causing serious injury.

Brunswick Voice reports: “The man was the second person to be killed at the same intersection in the past two years. In March 2021, a woman died when she was struck by a car late at night. Further north on Melville Road, near the corner of Brearley Parade in Pascoe Vale, a cyclist was killed on 13 April last year when he collided with a tow truck.”

Andrea Bunting from ‘Walk on Merri-bek’ has called for the speed limit of 60kph on Melville Road to be reduced, with lower speeds especially in shopping strips on both Melville and Grantham roads. Other traffic calming measures in the area could include installing ‘Give Way to Pedestrians’ electronic signs at all intersections, reprogramming traffic lights to provide an early start for pedestrians and cyclists before motorists, ensuring all traffic lights have mast arms so they can be clearly seen by drivers from a distance, and marking pedestrian crossings with yellow paint.

Melville Road is controlled by the Department of Transport (DoT) (like Bell Street, Sydney Road, Nicholson Street Brunswick, and Grantham Road), rather than Merri-bek Council. Most of these are main roads, and historically it’s been difficult to persuade the Department to reduce speeds below 60kph even in shopping strips, other than Sydney Road. With increasing densification and priority to walkers now government policy, let’s hope for a more flexible policy.



LXRP Watch

picture of rail over roadBRN submission on level crossing removals

Brunswick Residents Network has made a detailed submission to Merri-bek City Council (MCC) commenting on their “Brunswick Elevated Rail Issues and Opportunities Discussion Paper.”

The BRN paper draws on feedback and discussions with local residents and businesses, and sets out issues raised by participants during our online seminar in December and the Council’s March public meeting.

Merri-bek’s December 2022 Discussion Paper introduces a number of important issues around the removal of eight level crossings across Brunswick by the Level Crossing Removal Program (LXRP), such as strengthening local character, improving public transport connectivity, and extending green open space and heritage protection for cultural sites.

However our BRN submission flags a number of other issues that are ignored in the initial discussion paper and should be prioritised in the draft position paper to be presented to Merri-bek councillors at their April meeting.

Most notably, we’ve flagged important issues of equity and access (e.g. the discussion paper doesn’t discuss the impacts of travel disruption for people living with disabilities). The discussion paper doesn’t highlight Council policy on the road hierarchy (prioritising pedestrians, cyclists and public transport over motor vehicles); likely impacts across the entire suburb from opening up expanded east-west routes for cars; potential problems like flooding from new open spaces under an elevated rail; and how Council will continue to engage with locals after they adopt an advocacy position in April.

Above all, as detailed in our newsletter feature below, it’s time to fix Sydney Road. This should be a central advocacy priority for Council discussions with the State government.

Connecting buses and trains on the Upfield line

In previous level crossing removal projects around Melbourne, the LXRP has often failed to integrate infrastructure work with service planning. For this reason, many level crossing removals have not delivered all the benefits they could have, especially for bus passengers.

Five of the eight level crossings to be removed in Brunswick have a bus route that passes through them. If different State government departments could work more effectively with private bus operators, there are potential synergies between removal of level crossings and improved connectivity between buses and Upfield railway stations.

As part of the community response to the LXRP project, we should call for upgrades to frequency of rail services on the Upfield line (and others in Melbourne’s north): currently, the line has intervals between trains as long as 40 minutes on Sunday mornings (compared to 15 minutes in Sydney and Perth) and 30 minutes at night (compared to widespread 15 minute evening frequencies in Sydney).

The Melbourne on Transit blog has a great article looking at the bus services that pass through Brunswick, with suggestions on how to improve connectivity:

University of Melbourne researchers like Iain Lawrie and John Stone have also proposed a grid of fewer, but more frequent and direct bus routes, operating on a budget of bus service-hours comparable to the existing network.

Closing the Upfield line – past and present

With the Upfield rail line facing disruption through the level crossing removal program, it’s worth remembering that locals have long campaigned to protect and enhance this rail service.

The future of the Upfield rail line was in serious doubt in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with proposals for the line to be converted into a light rail or even closed. Brunswick residents and people further north along the line campaigned together with the railway workers union for its retention, which was secured in 1995 (Campaign image at right).

How times change – nearly 30 years on, the State Government is about to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to elevate the rail line!

In the late 1990s, Public Transport Victoria and the Railways Historical Society made a short film about the history of the Upfield line, which will be screened on Saturday 1 April. After the screening, former Brunswick mayor and MLC Glenyys Romanes will talk about past battles to save the line from closure.

WHAT: Film and discussion of the history of the Upfield Rail Line
WHERE: Kirrip-Djerring Meeting Room, Brunswick Town Hall (First floor above the Counihan Gallery)
WHEN: Saturday 1 April 2023, 1pm – 2pm
INFO: Brunswick Community History Group:

Super fund buys Upfield corridor site

One feature of the elevated rail project is that it may increase land banking and property speculation along the Upfield corridor.

AustralianSuper has tipped in $364 million for the acquisitions of three new sites, including one in Brunswick and another in Coburg, for construction of projects by Assemble Futures. The super fund holds a 25 per cent stake in Assemble, which is planning a series of “Rent to Buy” projects (see our October 2021 newsletter for background on the company).

The three new locations, with planning approvals already in place, include a 7,246 square metre site at 370 Victoria Street, Brunswick, located near the Upfield rail line.

In 2021, Assemble sold out the first release of Rent-to-Buy apartments at 4 Ballarat Street, Brunswick, a narrow street that runs from Sydney Road to the Upfield rail line, just north of Sparta Place. It’s one of three industrial sites in this small street that are scheduled to be transformed into multi-storey apartment towers.



More on transport and traffic

NSW Active Transport strategy

Our brothers and sisters north of the border have a NSW State Government minister with portfolio responsibilities for Active Transport – a contrast to Victoria where the nearest equivalent is the Minister for Concrete and Tunnels.

Last December, the Department of Transport issued its first ever Active Transport Strategy, stating: “The NSW Government wants walking and bike riding, known as active transport, to be the preferred way to make short trips and a viable, safe and efficient option for longer trips.  We estimate that more than 1.5 billion walking and bike riding trips are taken per year across New South Wales. We want to double this number in 20 years. The Strategy provides a plan to guide planning, investment and priority actions for active transport across NSW.”

Active transport campaigners like WalkSydney have welcomed the core elements of the strategy, but criticised the lack of resources to implement it, arguing “its long-term targets and implied funding investment show a lack of real commitment.”

With the Perrottet government losing ground in the polls, let’s hope this work on active transport survives any change of government in the NSW state elections on Saturday 25 March.

Victorian parliament looks at vulnerable road users

On 9 March 2023, the Victorian Legislative Assembly established a parliamentary inquiry into changes to road safety behaviours during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The inquiry will focus on impacts affecting vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists, motorcycle riders, children aged seven and under, older people and mobility device users.

The Legislative Assembly’s Economy and Infrastructure Standing Committee will call for public submissions, and will report no later than 31 March 2024:

Upgrade to Brunswick velodrome

The Brunswick Cycling Club has received a Recreation Design Grant for the planning and design of a Pump Track, using the infield of the Brunswick Velodrome on Harrison Street.

Merri-bek Council has prepared concept designs showing what the Brunswick Velodrome Pump Track might include, such as a cyclocross and mountain bike skills area, a pump track and bike lines. The inner area would be accessed by a bridge over the cycling track, so that it can be used simultaneously with Brunswick Cycling Club activities.

The pump track, like the existing velodrome and infield, is a community asset open for all to use. The velodrome is on the Merri Creek path near the new bike and foot bridge, and it’s good to see there is no extra provision for car parking.

(According to our Google research, a pump track runs around a loop of mounds and bends. Riders move using a pumping motion of the body, rather than pedalling).

You can check out the draft plans and send in your comments by Friday 14 April, through the Conversations Merri-bek page:



Feature article:
Time to fix Sydney Road

During the design and construction of the Brunswick elevated rail in 2023-27, the disruption and partial closure of the Upfield rail line and the Upfield shared path will have major impacts on nearby Sydney Road.

We think it’s time for Merri-bek City Council, the State Government and the Department of Transport and Planning to bite the bullet and fix Sydney Road, in the interest of all road users.

For many years, Merri-bek City Council has encouraged bike riding in the municipality and has improved cycling infrastructure in parts of Brunswick. Council’s Brunswick Elevated Rail Issues and Opportunities discussion paper states “there are on-road bike lanes on Sydney Road” (p10). What? BRN thinks this is an essentially dishonest description of this cycling infrastructure. The painted bike lanes in Sydney Road only operate for two hours during peak time, with the space allocated to car parking for the remaining 22 hours. This statement also ignores the long and contested debate over the need for separated, safe bike lanes on this major arterial road.

In 2015, bike rider Alberto Paulon was killed in Sydney Road, when a car door was opened in his path. Following 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, in the interest of safety and mobility for all road users. A lot of the re-design work has already been done, with a range of options prepared to implement. Since then, however, this initiative has foundered, with ongoing differences over the allocation of space for parking and separated bike lanes.

Despite this, under the latest amendment to the Merri-Bek Planning Scheme in February, Council has committed to “reallocating road space and existing car parking to…support improvements to cycling infrastructure, including access to public transport” (Merri-bek Planning Scheme Amendment C225more, 18.02-2L, 14 February 2023).

Despite this commitment, there’s a danger that the repeated closure of the Upfield shared path throughout LXRP’s construction period may lead to a drop-off of cycling numbers, with some cyclists reluctant to use Sydney Road or relocate to other major north-south routes.

Over more than a decade, through repeated bike counts, surveys and transport studies conducted by Brunswick Residents Network, it’s clear that many people prefer to ride on the Upfield shared path instead of Sydney Road. There is a distinct gender and age difference, with some groups more reluctant to brave Sydney Road traffic. Bike counts over many years have shown that women are more likely to use the shared path than Sydney Road, and safer access on the path is important for schoolchildren and families with cargo bikes. Recent bike counts confirm an increasing number of riders are using the busy Upfield path.

There are also crucial issues for pedestrian amenity. In 2021, Brunswick Residents Network conducted a survey of local residents and businesses about walking in Brunswick. With more than 920 responses, the survey report “Walking in Brunswick” included several comments that highlight the need for more resources to improve this crucial north-south transport route.

One survey respondent noted: “Sydney Road Brunswick is horrible to walk along, with its unwashed, black tar, multi-patched footpaths, service holes every 2-3 metres, odd grades. I stumbled along Sydney Road as a teenager and now I am middle aged I am still stumbling, and picking up the elderly and the small as I go. Will I be elderly before walkers are considered as cars are in Sydney Road?” Others stated: “Sydney Road is really bad for prams! No space and uneven footpaths” and “The Sydney Road precinct – it’s just not safe enough for a woman walking alone outside of business hours in my opinion.” 

Transport on Sydney Road already has many constraints for less mobile residents, including the elderly and people living with disabilities. 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 date, but the State Government has failed to address its legal responsibility to construct disability accessible tram stops on Sydney Road.

This problem will only get worse when the LXRP begins the removal of eight road/rail intersections. Some people living with disabilities have told BRN they use the Upfield rail line because it accessible with wheelchairs and mobility scooters, but this service will be closed regularly during the construction phase. Without disability accessible tram stops on Sydney Road, how will people cope? Will all bus services replacing the trains be accessible to all members of the community? Will LXRP pay all the costs for suitable alternatives, like disability access taxis?

We think that there’s some practical steps that Merri-bek City Council (MCC) can take now, without waiting for LXRP to present designs for the elevated rail. 

  • MCC must engage immediately with the State Government and Department of Transport and Planning to resolve long-standing issues of mobility and safety in Sydney Road, before the looming disruption caused by closures in the Upfield corridor. 
  • MCC should create a co-design committee with Merri-bek Bicycle Users Group and relevant cycling networks to plan and coordinate alternative cycling routes, including new seperated lanes and pop up infrastructure on key routes. 
  • MCC must engage now with Yarra Trams and Public Transport Victoria to increase the frequency of Route 19 tram services along Sydney Road, and Route 6 from Moreland along Lygon Street, especially at night. With the looming disruption of the train line, better tram frequency will help ensure people keep using public transport.



Merri-bek Council news

Former councillor to face trial

After a committal hearing on 6–7 March, former Merri-bek ALP councillor Milad El-Halabi, his wife and daughter have been committed to trial.

Victoria Police allege Mr. El-Halabi, his wife Dianna and daughter Tania stole, forged and interfered with postal ballots in the lead up to the 2020 local government election, that saw him take office as a Moreland (now Merri-bek) councillor. At the two-day committal hearing, Magistrate Stephen Ballek determined there was sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial. The three members of the El-Halabi family plead not guilty to the charges and were released on bail.

VCAT upholds 2020 election result

As reported in last month’s BRN newsletter, the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) has held a series of hearings since 2021, to determine whether the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) should re-run the October 2020 elections for Merri-bek’s North-West Ward.

After years of delay, VCAT has finally ruled that voter fraud affected the election of former councillor El-Halabi and that he was not duly elected (VCAT did not make findings about who was responsible for any voter fraud, and Mr. El-Halabi has plead not guilty to criminal charges laid by Victoria Police).

VCAT however will not throw out the election result for North-West Ward, finding the current councillors represent the wishes of voters, after El-Halabi resigned from Council a year ago and was replaced in a count back by Councillor Monica Harte.

VCAT has now published its ruling on the case, which includes a detailed history of the whole saga, and an explanation of why it took so long to confirm the validity of the election. As Merri-bek Council moves to single-member wards for the next local government elections, BRN believes there’s an urgent need for reform to avoid similar long delays in determining whether a Council election is valid.

Victorian Electoral Commission v Yildiz (Review and Regulation) [2023] VCAT 242 (9 March 2023)

Avoid scammers

Brunswick Library is hosting a free live streamed presentation where you can learn how to protect your personal information, safely make friends online and where to go for help. It’s hosted by the eSafety Commissioner. If you have an elderly neighbour or a family member who struggles with computer skills, they may want some advice on how to resist the lure of scammers.

WHAT: Presentation on cyber safety hosted by the eSafety Commissioner.
WHEN: 3pm, Tuesday 21 March
WHERE: Online
INFO: Brunswick Library

Music and booze maps out now

To support local businesses, Council has produced two “trail maps”, encouraging you to walk, cycle or tram to local stores.

For music lovers, the first map gives locations for record stores and live music venues. For boozers, there’s also a list of breweries, wineries and distilleries to wet your whistle. You can download the maps at:

And good to see that both these maps follow Council policy and tell punters how to walk, ride or take PT to their destinations.

Free rapid antigen tests

Need a RAT? Merri-bek Council is distributing free rapid antigen tests for COVID-19, which are available from all Merri-bek libraries, Brunswick Neighbourhood House and the Brunswick Baths.

You don’t have to be a local. All Victorians can now collect two free RAT packs (or four if you have a disability or act as the carer of a person with a disability). You won’t need a Concession or Medicare card, so come on down to Brunswick Library, grab a book and a RAT!



History Corner

John Curtin rolls in his grave

Curtin plaque in Fallon StCan you hear the sound of our former Prime Minister rolling in his grave? John Curtin’s humble abode in Fallon Street is on the market for a couple of million.

The Age reports: “A Melbourne property that was home to wartime PM John Curtin in the early 1900s has been listed for sale, the latest in a string of homes with prime ministerial pedigree to be offered for sale in the past two years. The four-bedroom house at 2 Fallon Street, Brunswick, features a plaque on the footpath outside marking its historical significance, and has a price guide of $2.1 million to $2.3 million.” (Plaque pictured right)

As a Brunswick resident, John Curtin was a leading agitator during the anti-conscription debates in 1916-17, when Brunswick voted against conscription. At the time there was a large Irish Catholic community in our suburb, with Saint Ambrose Church in Sydney Road providing the headquarters for the anti-conscription campaign.

As a member of the Victorian Socialist Party, Curtin was jailed in 1916 at the Bluestone College in Coburg for refusing to be conscripted in the First World War.

On the centenary of the referendums, the late, great historian Stuart McIntyre explained: “The trade unions opposed conscription and chose as the secretary of their anti-conscription organisation John Curtin, a young union official who lived in Fallon Street, Brunswick. He and his friend Frank Hyett, another union official, had met in the labour movement, played football for Brunswick, and spearheaded the campaign. Curtin – elected as Prime Minister of Australia during the Second World War – was arrested and briefly imprisoned.”

Our neighbour Phillipstown

In early colonial days, Phillipstown was the name given to a small part of south west Brunswick, bounded roughly by Union Street, Grantham Street, Brunswick Road and McKay Street.

Margaret Fleming of the Brunswick Community History Group has been researching the history of Phillipstown. For some time, the land between Phillipstown and the main Brunswick settlement around Sydney Road was unoccupied, so the area had its own identity. From the 1860s, however, the land in between was gradually settled and the name dropped out of use.

Sydney Road History Walks sell out again!

Popular history walks along Sydney Road start again in coming weeks, conducted by the Brunswick Community History Group (in cooperation with the Sydney Road Brunswick Association). Local community historians will help you explore the heritage of buildings along Sydney Road and introduce slices of Brunswick social history. The first set of walks cover the area between Brunswick Road and Dawson Street.

However the walks scheduled for Saturday March 25, Sunday 2 April and Saturday 15 are currently showing as “sold out” so we encourage you to use the “Bookings” link to contact the organisers and ask for additional dates!

WHAT: Sydney Road History Walks



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:

  • 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




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