Don’t miss out on the latest CyclingTips updates.
Australia heads to the polls this weekend, electing a new prime minister for the next three years (or one year, or six months, or who the hell knows – it’s Australian politics). With your vote, you’re making a decision about which party best aligns with what’s important to you, on any number of issues, from climate to immigration to trade. But as cyclists, we’ve got something else to consider.
In the lead-up to the big dance on Saturday, we’re taking a quick look at what the major parties are offering for bikes. Consider this article a small step in your election journey; a journey that ends, of course, with a post-ballot democracy sausage.
Before we get into it, it’s worth noting that cycling infrastructure often sits in a murky space between local, state and federal responsibilities. Some cycling initiatives are entirely the purview of local councils, while others are tied to state funding or laws (which explains the inconsistent application of overtaking legislation across Australia, for instance).
Major federal bike spending tends to be bundled into infrastructure projects of national significance, although prospective MPs may lobby for specific projects of a more limited scope.
With that in mind, here’s what the major parties are promising at the 2019 Australian federal election:
The Coalition’s 2019-20 Federal Budget incorporates record funding of $100 billion over 10 years for transport infrastructure, but as Bicycle Queensland points out, “not one dollar has been given specifically to improvements for principal cycling networks.”
With that background, it’s perhaps unsurprising that in the lead-up to the election, the coalition’s electoral promises related to cycling are a real mixed bag. There are some bright spots though.
The marquee promise that will impact riders is the Coalition’s undertaking to introduce an Office of Road Safety. According to Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Minister Michael McCormack, this would “provide a national point for collaboration and leadership on key road safety priorities, working closely with states, territories, local government, and key road safety stakeholders.”
It would also include $12 million of funding into the research and development of initiatives looking into “regional road safety, driver distraction from mobile devices, protecting vulnerable road users and reducing drug driving”, along with a program looking at the safety of heavy vehicles – a major risk factor for cyclists.
Outside of this, Coalition funding has also been announced for a rail trail in northern NSW, and the development of two mountain bike areas in Tasmania – both with potential to drive regional tourism. In Melbourne’s tightly contested inner-eastern seat of Kooyong, Yarra Boulevard would get $5 million toward CCTV, lighting and speed inhibitors, and the nearby Walmer St bridge would also score an upgrade.
Elsewhere, hope exists for bike riders in the incorporation of cycling paths into new road infrastructure, although that’s more of a byproduct rather than a goal in itself.
Labor’s major push for cyclists is centred around its pledge of a $260 million National Bike Paths Strategy – essentially a fund to build new bike paths, with a focus on bike tourism and “strategic projects that target missing links”, according to a media release from Anthony Albanese.
This project would also incorporate the development of infrastructure guidelines to ensure that paths are developed in line with international best practice.
Among the projects that would be incorporated in this broader strategy are new bike paths from Greensborough to Montmorency (northern Melbourne), shared paths in Wollongong and links in Parramatta (NSW), connecting a gap on the Upfield bike path (Melbourne) and funding for Tasmanian mountain bike parks.
In contrast to the Coalition, Labor has formally stated a position on cycling in its national platform (see page 58), including comments that:
– Labor encourages walking and cycling as forms of transport.
– Labor will require active transport be considered in land transport projects.
– Labor will support road safety initiatives for cyclists and pedestrians and higher cycling and walking rates.
– Labor will implement and build upon active transport initiatives.
For what it’s worth, Labor gets a tick of approval from Australia’s largest cycling advocacy organisation, Bicycle Network. CEO Craig Richards says that Labor’s proposed strategy represents “a strong commitment for bike riding” even though its promise falls short of the $492 million annual bike fund that the organisation was advocating for.
That figure is “based on a spend of $20 per Australian, which is similar to what is spent on bike riding in Denmark, London and the Netherlands” – optimistic thinking considering the higher rates of cycling in those locations, but hey, swing for the fences.
Considering the strong anti-climate change stance the Greens have adopted this election, it’s perhaps unsurprising that they’ve come out strongly in support of cyclists.
The party’s bike policy promises $1 billion in funding for bike riders, which includes plans to:
1. Create a network of safe and continuous bicycle routes.
2. Develop end-of-trip facilities (such as showers and lockers) that encourage cycling.
3. Invest in safe and secure bicycle storage at train stations and major hubs.
4. Make cycling safer by creating separated bicycle lanes, prioritising high risk corridors.
5. Boost bike tourism by building regional bike trails and facilities.
Like both the Coalition and Labor, the Greens have pledged funding for Tasmanian cycling infrastructure. Given the transformative role mountain biking has played in the economy of regional towns like Derby, it’s little wonder.
The Greens aren’t going to win majority government, but they are in contention for a handful of seats – including Kooyong – and may play an important role in a Labor-led coalition, depending on where the votes fall.
At the pointy end of the race for parliamentary seats, parties aren’t campaigning on single issues. Their stances are often a consensus of what will appeal to a range of voters from all over an enormous country, motivated by a full spectrum of sometimes irrational fears and desires.
Which is to say – just because a party has bike-friendly policies in one area, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not totally shitting the bed on asylum seekers or climate change or also pushing car-centric policies.
So whilst we’d suggest taking each party’s promises with a grain of salt, at least they’re all on record saying they’ll do something. Whether they actually stick to those promises, or dither over them until the next election, remains to be seen.