Candidates square off at transport forum
Accessible trams, skyrail and the future of Sydney Road come under the spotlight
Wednesday, October 5 2022
BRUNSWICK MP Tim Read and his Labor challenger, Mike Williams, have come face to face in public for the first time at a candidates’ forum on Tuesday night.
Dr Read and Mr Williams took part in the debate organised by the Metropolitan Transport Forum and Merri-bek Council at Brunswick Town Hall along with Liberal Upper House candidate Evan Mulholland and the Reason Party’s candidate for Brunswick, Shea Evans, who stood in for the party’s leader, Fiona Patten, who is recovering from cancer surgery.
Mr Williams, who is seeking to win back the seat that was lost to the Greens in 2018, used the forum to argue that by electing an MP who would be a potential member of the governing party, he could advance policies that have stalled for the past four years.
But Dr Read accused the Andrews Government of not doing enough to improve transport in the northern suburbs, and argued that it was only Brunswick’s status as a marginal seat that had secured the multi-billion level crossing removal project announced two weeks ago.
The 90-minute forum, attended by about 50 people, canvassed a range of issues, including accessible tram stops, improving Sydney Road, making Brunswick more cycle friendly, and how to reduce the number of cars on the road.
“If you have a Labor MP in Brunswick, you will see that this issue is progressed.”
“For the cost of one level crossing removal, we could do around 100 tram stops.”
One of the most vexed issues in Brunswick’s public transport network is the lack of accessible tram stops, particularly in Sydney Road which only has two wheelchair and pram friendly stops at its southern and northern ends.
Dr Read said at the current rate of progress, Melbourne won’t have a network of accessible tram stops until 2066.
“We believe that could be done much faster,” he said.
“In fact, for the cost of one level crossing removal, we could do around 100 tram stops… for a much lower cost than the grander public transport projects have been announced, we could do all of Sydney Road.
“Sydney Road needs this kind of investment. And while we’re jackhammering and digging up Sydney Road to put in accessible tram stops, let’s put in some safe bike lanes as well.”
Mr Mulholland said the state government could technically be in breach of disability legislation by the end of this year because of the lack of progress.
Mr Evans said no issue was raised with Reason Party leader Fiona Patten more than the lack of accessible tram stops on Sydney Road and it made no sense to have low floor trams if people in wheelchairs or with prams could not get onto them. But he said more work also had to be done to improve linkages to the tram network.
“It’s not just enough to do them [accessible stops]. You’ve got to have infrastructure around that for people to actually get to and from their houses or their place to work on to those accessible stops.”
But Mr Williams said the lack of action on accessible tram stops was in large part due to not having a government MP in Brunswick.
“If you have a Labor MP in Brunswick, you will see that this issue is progressed,” he said. “It hasn’t been over the last four years, I will be able to advocate for it and I will be able to progress it if I’m elected.”
The lack of progress on redesigning Sydney Road to improve bike and pedestrian access after years of consultation also came up in questions from the floor.
Dr Read said Sydney Road should be one of Melbourne’s major destinations and needed a full revitalisation. He said work should start soon on a pop-up separated bike lane in Sydney Road because the Upfield bike path would be closed for at least a year when work started on the Brunswick skyrail.
“We could have it up and running in a month,” he said. “We’ve costed a couple of million bucks and you could get as far as Blyth Street and a couple of million more we could get it to Albion.”
Mr Williams pointed to the example of High Street in Northcote as what Sydney Road could become as a cultural hub.
“What I would do if I were elected as the Labor MP is I would get everyone around the table, I would meet with the bureaucrats, I would meet with the ministers, I would meet with local government, I would meet with all the stakeholders, and I would drive that process. And I would ask people to hold me to that at the end of the four years after my election.”
On questions about consultation – or lack of it – on the design and development of the proposed Brunswick skyrail, Mr Williams said he would adopt a process similar to that used for the Caulfield to Dandenong skyrail, where the local MP was the community’s representative.
“That way, you have the local member being held to account for all the things that the community raises,” he said.
“If you look at that consultation, it was a meaningful one and the outcome the community got there, which involves skyrail, was an absolutely outstanding outcome.”
Dr Read said there was very little genuine consultation about the Moreland to Coburg skyrail, and the key would be to advocate directly to the relevant ministers and departments much earlier.
Brunswick candidates will meet for another election forum hosted by the Brunswick Residents Network at the Sydney Road Uniting Church on October 20.