News / Politics

Conlan to exit council, stage left

Brunswick-based councillor ends speculation about his future

James Conlan speaking at a pro-Palestine rally outside the Merri-bek Council offices in Coburg late last year.

Mark Phillips

OUTSPOKEN independent Brunswick-based councillor James Conlan will not seek re-election later this year, saying he has run out of energy to serve another four-year term. 

After several months of deliberation, Conlan announced on Tuesday that he would not pursue a second term on Merri-bek Council. 

His decision leaves long-serving former Mayor Lambros Tapinos as the only one of the three South Ward councillors who will seek re-election. 

Two-term councillor and former Mayor Mark Riley announced in May that he would be retiring from the council this year. 

First elected to the now-abolished South Ward in 2020 as a Greens councillor, Conlan would have had to stand as an independent in one of the four new Brunswick wards in the new council structure. 

During his term he has pursued a progressive agenda, approaching the role as a community activist, often locking horns with other councillors and taking on private property developers, while using his position to advocate on a range of social issues, including opposing Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

In a statement to Brunswick Voice and a 720 word post on social media, Conlan said he could no longer dedicate the time, effort and resources to do the job as he would like for another four years.  

At the next council meeting this Wednesday, he will apply for six weeks of leave until the start of September. 

Get more stories like this delivered to your inbox

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

HTML Button Generator

In his statement, Conlan took a parting shot at a local government system he said was structurally designed to limit the influence of councillors over decision-making. He said a part-time wage (the basic allowance for a Merri-bek councillor is $40,769 a year) and the lack of basic resources such as an office and staff were barriers to filling the role effectively. 

He elaborated on social media about a “group think mentality” in which councillors were captive to a full-time local government bureaucracy and the community was shut out of decision making. 

“Unless you treat the role as a ‘stepping stone’ towards state and federal elected positions, as most careerists from the political parties do, it’s a pretty long and hard slog,” he said. 

“The only way to stay active and highly engaged, as my local community deserves, is through significant personal sacrifice.  

“After four years of hard work and juggling other life commitments, I need a break and time to think about my next chapter of activism.” 

Conlan was first elected as part of the Greens cohort which won an historic four places on the council in 2020. But he resigned from the Greens in early 2023 in a dispute over the party’s stance on the Voice referendum. 

With a knack for grabbing headlines, Conlan most recently appeared in national media stories in June when he successfully moved for the council to investigate a differential rates structure that would double bills for residential property investors

He said his proudest achievements from his four years on the council included its strong support for Palestine, active transport initiatives, and “taking on developers” and advocating for public housing and public services. 

Along with Tapinos, other declared candidates for the four Brunswick wards so far are Mayor Adam Pulford and fellow Greens Liz Irvin, Ella Svensson and Jay Iwasaki. 

Council elections will be held in October, the first time under the new single councillor ward structure. 

Support independent local journalism

We are an independent hyperlocal news organisation owned and run by the people in your community. With your support, we can continue to produce unique and valuable local journalism for Brunswick and the inner north of Melbourne. 

Latest stories: