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Here’s what cyclists are being offered at the Australian federal election

Still a swing voter? There are bike things to mull over while eating your democracy sausage.

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The last three years have been a lot. There has been fire and flood, pestilence and pandemic, lockdowns and lives lost. Political discourse has become increasingly polarised. The far-right is on the rise. The healthcare system is collapsing. Last year there was a riot and an earthquake on the same day. So as we near the end of a very long, often grubby federal election campaign, you’d be forgiven for having switched off. 

Maybe you haven’t considered the spectrum of policies for climate change, asylum seekers, healthcare, gender equality, housing affordability, and indigenous reconciliation. Maybe you haven’t yet been swayed one way or another by the cruelty, dishonesty, corruption, and incompetence of our elected officials. Maybe you are a single-issue voter, or you can’t decide which of the major parties is the lesser evil.

If that’s you – and no judgment if it is – maybe you want to know what the major parties are doing to woo the bike vote. In which case, this is the article for you this election day! 

(Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Some background

First things first: 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.

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 the rise of independents this election – teal ones or otherwise – that can have some sway on an electorate-by-electorate level. 

But when we sway out to the big picture, here’s what’s been promised (which is not the same thing as what will actually get built, of course, but it’s a start). 

The Coalition

Australia’s incumbent government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, is bigger on road infrastructure (and cars/trucks/fossil fuels) than its competitor, Labor. And while that doesn’t sound like an obvious match for bike riders, it could counterintuitively have some benefits – think bike paths built along the side of a freeway. 

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce(‘s chief of staff), in a letter to bicycle advocacy body Bicycle Network, highlighted “four kilometres of new and improved shared pathways” as part of Sydney’s NorthConnex project, and $25 million to improved paths on the Western Causeway bridge in WA. He also said that the government is “giving consideration” to a plan from Infrastructure Australia to increase active travel – i.e. walking or cycling – and said that the government had “identified a range of vehicle technologies to protect vulnerable road users to be prioritised for implementation”. 

Other Coalition commitments include:

Image: Yuyeung Lau / Unsplash.

Labor

Labor seems likely to exceed the Coalition’s commitments, with much more positive language around active transport and bike infrastructure. In a response to Bicycle Network from the national secretary of the Australian Labor Party, Paul Erickson, the party pledged to “look to include positive provision where appropriate through our infrastructure projects. This would include cycling paths alongside road upgrades, train lines or any other major projects” and also “fund specific cycling projects on a case-by-case basis.”

“The fact is too many cities, particularly regional cities, are being left behind by the Morrison Government. Good urban design and better functioning cities are critical to not only the economy, but also the general welfare of society,” he wrote.

Labor’s shadow minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development, Catherine King, also provided a response, acknowledging that more bike infrastructure would overcome barriers to participation for 80% of bike riders. She also noted other benefits of bikes – such as reduced congestion, improved health outcomes, and financial windfalls for regional tourism. 

Other Labor commitments include: 

Steel Webb footbridge in Docklands district of Melbourne, Australia. (Photo: Iain Masterton/Construction Photography/Avalon/Getty Images)

The Greens

It’s probably unsurprising that the Greens are the most enthusiastic when it comes to bike infrastructure. And although they have zero hope of forming majority government, they may apply pressure to improve Labor outcomes if a coalition is formed. 

Their sights are bigger than just bikes, though. A policy document provided by the Greens shows that the party’s biggest target is in public transportation – high speed rail, electrifying buses and trains, and the creation of a dedicated public transportation fund of $25 billion to reduce a reliance on roads. 

Outside of that, “The Greens will establish an Active Transport Fund worth $5 billion over the next ten years to invest in cycling and walking infrastructure in Australia. This will include constructing and upgrading off-road paths and dedicated Copenhagen-style lanes. By funding bike and walking infrastructure properly, our plan will reduce pollution, unclog our roads, and encourage physical activity that makes us all healthier and happier.”

Individual candidates have provided responses acknowledging the personal impact of deaths of cyclists in their electorates, and pledging action on driver behaviour and “the accelerated construction of the Principal Bike Network”. 

Other Greens commitments include: 

Conclusion

At the pointy end of the race for parliamentary seats – especially in an election as close and divisive as this one is likely to be – 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. At the end of a challenging few years, that seems to have forced some parties more to the centre, and some parties further to the right.

In the grand scheme of things, the commitments a political party might make for bike riders aren’t likely to make or break their chances in an election. It’s also true to say that just because a party might have bike-friendly policies in one area, doesn’t mean they aren’t actively making the country worse in another.

Electoral promises are a fickle thing, too, with a sometimes unfilled void between ‘saying’ and ‘doing’. But while we’d probably suggest taking each party’s promises with a grain of salt, at least they’re all on record saying they’ll do something.

Speaking of “doing something”, there’s an important task for us all to do this weekend: participate in a democratic election that might make the country better, and hopefully won’t tear it apart.

At the very least, you’ll get a democracy sausage out of it.

Thanks to Bicycle Network who inspired this article with their policy tracker – a handy, centralised run-down of the policies and initiatives outlined above, with links through to further detail on specific projects.

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