Background to our effort in the Federal election 2007
Even though, as of today (Thursday 1 November), we have not received a bike riding commitment from either the major parties, we thought it appropriate at this stage of the election campaign to brief you on our efforts so far. We don’t normally do this for a number of reasons.
First we do not conduct political negotiations and explorations in public. That would compromise any negotiations.
Our preferred approach is to report on the achievement of definite commitments and actual construction or commencement of a project. In other words we report on the score, not the ebb and flow of the game. This is because many times we get close to a commitment and still don’t quite make it. In fact we get close a lot more often than we get a definite result. Sometimes the gap between ‘the Minister is going to say yes’ and the Minister actually saying yes can be a year or more. Sometimes in that period the Minister is reassigned or resigns.
We do ask for your involvement, however, when support from the membership is likely to help us secure a specific commitment – usually money or legislation change – or when it is appropriate to express thanks for a commitment.
None of these conditions have been met so far at this election.
An overview of our effort
Nonetheless, as this is the first Federal election at which Bicycle Network Victoria has participated in a sustained manner, we thought that members would like to an overview of our effort.
In general, state and local governments across most of Australia make funding commitments that increase bike riding.
Over the years in Victoria both sides of politics have invested millions in bike riding and we are now seeing the benefit of that. Members in Hobart have seen some bike facilities begin to appear and we are working to grow the level of investment in Tasmania. Bicycle Network Victoria members in WA, Queensland, South Australia and the ACT are riding on the results of a number of years of investment by their state and local governments.
Funding for bike riding from the Commonwealth is another matter. You will hear some elected representatives and officials in Canberra express the view that ‘bike riding is a State or Local Government matter’. Members will be familiar with the categorisation of responsibility by governments. Sometimes it’s clear. Areas of responsibility such as policing are clearly State matters; things like rubbish and street sweeping are clearly local matters. Defence is for the national government. Other matters, such as health and education, are clearly shared by both State and Federal governments.
Our big challenge in getting a commitment out of the national government is get the Commonwealth to see that they have a legitimate and necessary involvement in increasing bike riding.
We have been successful in some areas already. There is already substantial national investment in rail trails in Victoria for example. In the previous term of government the Commonwealth committed around $650 000 into rail trails in Victoria. In this term the government has committed over $2m including support for the Ballarat to Skipton Rail Trail. The Commonwealth has a role in tourism and regional development and we have made this type of bike riding relevant to that role.
In another example National Ride to Work Day received support in 2007 from the Department of the Environment and Water.
For this election and in the long term we are seeking to deepen these commitments and widen the scope, gaining commitments from Commonwealth responsibilities such as health and education.
In a sense our decision to be strongly involved in the lead up to the election was also the beginning of this long term effort. It might be some time before we see success. There are of course significant factors external to bike riding that are in our favour. These include the rising rates of obesity and low-exercise disease such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and depression. The relevance and attractiveness of bike riding to all ages is in our favour. We are therefore confident that through persistence and other qualities, we will succeed.
Twelve months preparation
We began work on the election about twelve months ago, just after the Victorian election in October 2006. Our specific aim has been to get the Australian Government to make a multi-year financial commitment to our two key behaviour change programs: Ride to Work and Ride2School.
We have had the backing in this effort of the member-based bike riding groups around Australia for more than two years. One of the dividends of the year’s work has been the formation of the Bicycle Coalition with the three other large member based groups.
The first target of our efforts was the Federal budget early in 2007. We pitched the programs to the appropriate Ministers. For Ride to Work we focused on Ian Campbell and then Malcolm Turnbull in the environment portfolio. A change of Minister increased the difficulty. For Ride2School we started with Julie Bishop in Education. She had experienced Ride to Work Day on one of her morning runs and was a keen investor in schools. She brought the project to the attention of the Obesity Taskforce which included Ministers with responsibilities including agriculture, communications, sport and health.
Neither of these efforts bore fruit in the 2007 Budget.
After the Budget and during the pre-election campaign we approached both sides of politics with the same proposals.
So far there have been no national commitments to bike riding. There have been some spot commitments: the Ballarat example mentioned above and a financial commitment to a bike path in inner west Sydney.
Last week we wrote to the leaders of the two parties and asked them what we could tell you about their party’s bike riding policies. We explained to them that – as a bi-partisan community organisation – we never recommend a vote for any political party. We do however believe it is our role to keep our members informed on the policies of the parties so you can make an informed decision about your vote.
So far we haven’t had a reply to our letter.
We will update you in a fortnight, ten days before the election. We hope to be reporting on the scoreboard.