Brunswick to gain extra councillor after boundaries review
New wards would be first change in two decadesMark Phillips
BRUNSWICK would gain an extra councillor under a proposed redrawing of the City of Merri-bek’s electoral structure by the state government.
Under the plan, there would be four single council wards south of Moreland Road in an 11 councillor structure.
There are three councillors representing the South Ward under the current structure.
The changes are in the report from a review of the council’s electoral structure which was released on October 18.
Most Victorian municipalities are required to transition to single councillor ward electoral structures under changes to the Local Government Act in 2020. The new ward boundaries must be in place before the next council elections in 12 months time.
The three-person review panel chaired by retired Victorian Court of Appeals Justice Frank Vincent has proposed three models with differences in ward boundaries and names under each model.
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The electoral structure of Merri-bek – then known as the City of Moreland – was last changed under a previous review in 2004, which introduced the 11 councillor structure across three wards. That structure of three councillors from the south and four from each of the two northern wards was left unchanged following a 2010 review.
But population growth in the south of Merri-bek, particularly in Brunswick East, has now led to the area gaining extra representation.
About 36% of the city’s 130,481 voters live south of Moreland Road.
They have proposed three alternative models, with differences in the ward boundaries and names under each model. The northern boundary of the Brunswick wards would be shifted slightly further north from the border of the current South Ward, which is Albion Street. This has left small parts of Brunswick represented by councillors from the north part of Merri-bek.
Each model in the new structure has distinct wards for Brunswick West and Brunswick East, with differences in the boundaries for the two central Brunswick wards.
In each of the proposed models, the Brunswick East ward would be largest of the four in population with 12,233 voters and the smallest in area at 2.3 square kilometres.
Alternatively called Warrk-Warrk, its boundaries would be Moreland Road to the north and Lygon Street/Holmes Road to the west.
The Brunswick West ward, which could alternatively be called Dunstan, would encompass the area south of Moreland Road and west of Pearson and Grantham streets. It would have 11,557 voters and be 3.2 square kilometres in area.
The first two models would split central Brunswick into a north and south ward, with Victoria and Blyth streets as the dividing boundary, with the only difference being possible alternative names of Jewell (11,568 voters) for the section to the south and Bulleke-bek (11,288 voters) for the north.
But the third model would be radically different, by using Sydney Road as the dividing line for two wards that ran north-south between Moreland Road and Park Street. The western ward, with 11,350 voters and 2.8 square kilometres in area, would be called Bulleke-bek. The eastern ward, known as Randazzo, would have 11,506 voters and be 2.3 square kilometres in size.
In the north of the city, the review panel has recommended splitting the current North-East Ward, which has four councillors, into three single councillor wards, two of them representing Coburg and the third representing Fawkner. The North-West Ward, which also has four councillors, would be split into four new single councillor wards located around Pascoe Vale and Glenroy.
South Ward councillor Lambros Tapinos, who is preparing a submission to the review, said it was logical that Brunswick gained an extra councillor because of population growth.
Tapinos said the extra councillor would ensure better representation for Brunswick and spread the workload more evenly.
“Four councillors is the right amount in relation to the population, and in my view it should have been four in the South Ward up to Moreland Road 10 years ago,” he said.
“A lot of what we do as councillors, certainly in planning, has been in Brunswick and the workload as far as community activities and the vibrancy of Sydney Road and our activity centres, the amount of community groups that exist in the municipality, most are in Brunswick so certainly the Brunswick area should have more councillors.
“If you really think back to pre-amalgamation we had the Brunswick City Council with 10 councillors, so four is not too many.”
Tapinos said his preferred model was the one which used Sydney Road as a boundary to create two central wards because it would ensure the entire Brunswick shopping strip would be well represented.
But Nic Maclellan of the Brunswick Residents Network said the move to single ward councillors was a bad idea as it could place too much burden on a single councillor and leave residents without effective representation if a “dud candidate” was elected.
He said there was also a greater risk in a single councillor system that property developers could successfully bankroll candidates to represent their interests rather than residents.
“A feature of having three ward councillors is that each councillor may bring different strengths and experience and expertise on things like transport to the position, but if there is just a single councillor, you have to hope you get a good councillor because if you don’t your ward may be poorly represented,” he said.
When the new Local Government Act was introduced in 2020, concerns were also raised that single councillor wards would hand an advantage at inner city council elections to the Labor Party over the Greens or independents.
The review of Merri-bek’s electoral structure is open for public consultation until November 8. A public hearing is scheduled for November 14 and the panel will hand its final recommendation to the Minister for Local Government on December 13.
This story was amended on November 2 to clarify that the proposed new wards would have a northern boundary of Moreland Road, not Albion Street as is currently the case.