A chat with Richard Bowen, Australian Cyclists Party candidate at the Victorian State Election

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Victorians head to the polls tomorrow to vote in the state election. One of the smaller parties vying for seats in the upper house (the Legislative Council) is the Australian Cyclists Party. CyclingTips editor Matt de Neef caught up with candidate Richard Bowen to learn more about the Australian Cyclists Party, how he views the Party’s chances tomorrow and what the Party would do if it wins a seat (or seats).

For people that mightn’t have heard of it, what is the Australian Cyclists Party and what’s it all about?

The party’s around 12 months old. We’re registered Federally, in Victoria and in New South Wales at this stage, to contest elections. The Party grew out of a feeling that the major parties were not really looking after cyclists and that [while] we have some great advocacy groups in Australia — such as Amy Gillett Foundation, Bicycle Network, Cycle and the bicycle user groups of course — they can only do so much. We really feel that the government’s let down cyclists and we need cyclists in parliament so that we can get the political will for progress to be made.

The question people might ask is maybe “why do we need a cycling party in Australia. Why doesn’t this happen anywhere else in the world?” It’s because our governments have been paying lip service to cyclists. If the major parties were at all serious about cycling we wouldn’t need to exist. It’s only because they’re not that we do exist.

People might say “There’s no cycling party in The Netherlands!”. No, there’s not. There’s no need for it because there’s wonderful cycling infrastructure in place.

What’s your background? How did you get involved in the Party?

I’m an ex-lawyer who works as a management consultant. I have clients all over the place and whenever I can I try to ride to my client work. I’ve always been someone that’s cycled to work. Probably 25 years ago I was riding what would now be known as a fixie. I was riding down Nicholson Street and down Bourke Street to work in town in my suit and to me that was just the best way to get to work. I know that people thought I was a little bit weird — it’s not quite so weird for people to be riding to work in suits now, but it’s probably not as safe [as it was].

I also have a son who races at Carnegie-Caulfield so I’ve had a little bit to do with track and road events and Cycling Victoria, Cycling Australia and I see how great that is to see kids participating in things like that. And I guess I want more kids to have the opportunity to do stuff like that so we don’t lose the next generation of cyclists. I’d hate to think that the next Simon Gerrans is out there being driven to school by his parents when he could be riding his bike to school.

How would you describe yourself as cyclist?

Most of my riding is commuting. I live in Hampton so I do do a bit of Beach Road and I have a shelf full of lycra and have certainly done lots of mass-participation rides. I’ve embarrassed myself twice trying to race and I’ll probably do that again at some stage.

There’s a total of 17 Australian Cyclists Party candidates running for seats in the upper house in this election (two candidates in each of the eight Regions, except three in the Southern Metropolitan Region). How do you rate the Australian Cyclists Party’s chances of getting a seat, or seats?

We think we’ll be successful if cyclists, and people who would like to cycle more, vote for us. The Southern Metropolitan Region [ed. where Richard is a candidate] includes some of Melbourne’s best cycling: Beach Road, Kew Boulevard, St. Kilda Road, a number of cycling clubs such as Carnegie-Caulfield, Hawthorn, St Kilda. There’s really good cycling culture in this Region so we’re certainly hoping that people who do different types of cycling in that region vote for us.

We have been quite open and transparent that we have done preference deals with other parties with a view to winning Southern Metropolitan. So we have preferences coming to us from a number of other parties who we’re hoping will also boost our vote and get us enough to get the quota [and win a seat].

The Coalition currently holds the balance of power in the Legislative Council with 21 of the 40 seats. What needs to happen in order for the Australian Cyclists Party to get a seat or seats? Where are they going to come from?

If we just focus on Southern Metropolitan Region — because that’s where our best chance is of winning a seat — there are currently three Liberals, one ALP [Australian Labor Party] member and one Green member. The third Liberal [seat] was previously held by Labor — we think there’ll be a swing away from the Liberals and the third Liberal is the seat we’re hoping to win.

Aside from anything else that would happen around Victoria, it would reduce the Liberal numbers by one and put us in there. We think the Greens are also a chance to pick up some other seats and there’s other parties that are a chance.

We think that the balance of power [in the upper house] will be held by a small group of centre progressive parties, including the Australian Cyclists Party, and we’ll then be well positioned to promote cycling-friendly policies and make the government, whoever that is, honour their commitments.

If the Australian Cyclists Party does get a seat, what are the cycling-friendly policies you’d be championing? What would the Party be pushing for?

The first thing is that we want the government to set a cycling participation rate target. We talk about doubling the cycling participation rate over the next three years. Setting a target like that, and having the auditor general audit it each year, means the government then has to allocate the funds and put the effort into other cycling-related programs so that more people are riding.

In particular we want to see the bike budget reinstated [ed. $20 million was controversially cut from the bike budget by the Bailleu Coalition government in 2012]. We want to see VicRoads funded so they have people who are experienced cycling planners who can work on both new roads and maintenance and upgrades of existing roads so that cycling is at the forefront of their thinking, not just an afterthought.

The latest figures say that [Victoria] spends around $700 per person per annum on roads. And of that only $4.60 goes to cycling infrastructure. That’s nothing, and that $4.60 includes money spent by local councils. We think that figure should be up closer to $20 per person.

If you speak to the average person; would they pay $20 to make something like this better? We think that lots of people would. And $20 per person, at the current population, equates to around $100 million which is nothing when you think of East West Link [ed. which has a projected cost of $6.8 billion]. So going from $4.60 to $20 is not outrageous, but it would make a huge difference in terms of safety, cycling infrastructure and getting more people riding.

As you mention, the East West Link is obviously a big topic at the moment. What’s the Australian Cyclists Party’s position on the project and on the cycling infrastructure promises that have been made in conjunction with that?

East West Link is obviously the big issue of this election. We are pro-infrastructure; we are certainly in favour of reducing congestion and we want to get freight moving — we think it’s incredibly important. However, we don’t think East West Link is the way to do that. It came out of the Eddington Report — it was one of 21 recommendations made by Sir Rod Eddington. Unfortunately it is the one of those 21 recommendations that gets all the attention and is getting all the funding.

By building more roads like that we are dividing the community and we are creating more congestion. Roads give people the opportunity to drive more which means you get more congestion down the track — it’s a cycle that keeps perpetuating.

In Victoria we need to reduce our dependence on roads by giving people a choice by improving our planning so that people can perhaps live closer to where they work and don’t have as far to commute; so that we have public transport options and cycling to get to work, and not making us even more dependant on cars because that’s just not going to solve the problem. So we are against East West Link.

In terms of the cycling [promises] that are tied to that: if you’re going to spend money on cycling infrastructure, don’t tie it to a toll road. The Liberals have promised $70 million tied to East West Link, tied to the North East Bike Corridor — [the Australian Cyclists Party is] all in favour of the North East Bike Corridor — and other things around East West Link. But if you really want to do something for cyclists, just do it. Don’t tie it to a toll road.

[Meanwhile] The ALP has promised $100 million over either five or six years — it’s a piddly amount of money and they get this headline figure of $100 million but over the time they’re talking it’s just ridiculous. If I wanted to play that game I’d say “over the next 10 years we want to spend $1 billion” based on our $20 per head.

And so for cyclists that are going to the polls on Saturday that might be considering voting for the Australian Cyclists Party but haven’t yet made up their mind, what would you say to them?

I would say we are hoping to win a seat in the upper house; the house of review. By all means vote for someone else in the lower house to form the government, but put cyclists in the upper house so that we can be there to represent cyclists’ interests.

I’d say that we’ll work with whichever party forms government. We are proud Victorians and proud Australians and we want to see improvements — it’s not our intention to be recalcitrant about this. We want to do the best for the state and the country.

And we’d say please vote for us. We do need your vote.

The feature image shows the three Australian Cyclists Party candidates vying for a seat in the Southern Metropolitan Region. From left to right: Richard Bowen, Kathryn Siddle and Marcus Barber. You can read more about the candidates here.