Fringe parties vie for the kooky vote ...

Cycle-advocate-turned-politician pledges $250m for Oz cycling infra

Senator Janet Rice, a former cycle advocate and now the transport lead for the Australian Green Party, has pledged to plough £125m into sustainable transport, should the Greens have influence in the next Government. A federal election is to take place in July. 

Senator Rice worked for Bicycle Victoria in the mid-1990s. She developed the Ride to Work Day programme, which is now a national event.

The announcement of the largest ever commitment for cycling and walking has been welcomed by cycle advocacy groups.

“An investment of this size in missing infrastructure for walking and cycling would address the multiple issues of physical inactivity, de-clogging our roads, quality of life in our communities and regional development through investment in regional tourism,” said Stephen Hodge, government relations manager for the industry-funded Cycling Promotion Fund.

He added: “The Greens have recognised the fact that around four million Australians choose to ride a bike in any given week but millions more are just waiting for better paths with more separation before they take to two wheels.”

In joint press release with other cycle advocacy organisations Bicycle Network’s CEO, Craig Richards, said: “Our inactivity crisis is killing more than 14,000 Australians each year and putting many more at risk – by make bike riding easy for everyone, the Greens are making a bold commitment to the future health of the economy and all Australians.”

Six other organisations on the press release included Cycling Australia, the governing body for cycle sport, and Mountain Bike Australia.

However, when even the Greens can only pledge £125m it’s clear that generous funding for sustainable transport is not high on political agenda in Australia. In fact, such pledges are seen as downright subversive by many in the political mainstream.

Anything that smacks of “environmentalism” can be derided by influential commentators. In 2011, a shadow cabinet frontbencher said that the Greens were anti-Australian because they were pushing for a “radical transformation of the culture that underpins Western civilisation” and that their agenda would threaten the “Judeo-Christian/Enlightenment synthesis that upholds the individual" as well as "the economic system that has resulted in the creation of wealth and prosperity for the most people in human history." 

Because building anything other than roads for motorists is seen as decidedly kooky by many Australian politicians, and cycle advocacy organisations often feel they cannot be too critical of the powers-that-be for fear of getting even less funding for infrastructure, a group of cycle advocates in 2014 formed the Australian Cyclists Party. Led by Omar Khalifa, a former CEO of Bicycle New South Wales, the party’s slogan is “I cycle, I vote.” In the 2015 New South Wales state election the ACP joined other fringe parties including the No Parking Meters Party, the Australian Motorist Party, and the Voluntary Euthanasia Party. It came 14th of 24 on quota and 10th last on primary vote, excluding independents.

(Noel McFarlane, the ACP’s vice-president, has been in the bike industry for 35 years working for such brands as Mongoose and Cervelo – he also helped set up the the Cycling Promotion Fund.)

In order to boost its vote in the forthcoming federal election the ACP has now formed a working coalition with the Science Party of Australia to “press for changes in priorities across issues that other parties are ignoring or failing to address adequately”. 

A joint statement said: “By working as a coalition both parties seek to increase their appeal to more voters and to extend their base of support at the upcoming election.”

The Science Party and the Australian Cyclists Party will put forward Senate candidates in New South Wales and Victoria under the Science Party Cyclists Party Coalition. Each party will also contest independently for House of Representative seats in other states.

The NSW Senate candidate and president of the Science Party, James Jansson, said: “The Science Party and the Cyclists Party have common goals that make this coalition a natural one. We both care about health and happiness and we believe that we can use infrastructure to solve some of our problems."

Khalifa added: “Our parties have similar beliefs and values that underpin our respective policy priorities. We believe that they complement each other very well and will resonate with many people who are looking for a fresh alternative from today’s major parties.”

Welcoming the pledge for AU$250m Khalifa told BikeBiz: "Do you think the Greens would be even putting this much out on cycling if we were not in the election?"

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