Addressing the Senate Inquiry

March 4, 2016 at 17:17 | Posted in bicycles | 1 Comment
Tags: , , , , , ,

parliamentWell, goodness, hasn’t it taken a long time to get around to writing this. For whatever reason, life seems to have been getting in the way of blogging recently, and whilst I carry around with me umpteen ideas for interesting items (using ‘interesting’ in the loosest terms there), I’ve struggled to actually put fingers to keyboard to make them real.

If you cast your mind back, you will recall I was asked to give evidence to the Senate inquiry into ‘nanny state laws’, following my submission to the same. The date unfortunately fell during the Chillikebab annual holiday, and initially I said I wasn’t available. However, Mrs Chillikebab, being a rather good sort, told me that I should go even if it meant interrupting our holiday. I guess she was worried that if I didn’t go I’d feel forever bitter and twisted that I missed my opportunity to actually do something vaguely useful in the field of cycling advocacy.

So I booked a ticket, and duly left the rest of the Chillikebabs lounging around the pool at our holiday home on the Sunshine Coast and flew to Melbourne for the day.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, and when I got to the parliament building and explained I was there to give evidence to the committee they seemed rather nonplussed and didn’t know what to do with me.  Luckily I made contact with a fellow free-cyclist, and he kindly showed me to the committee room.

I was just in time to hear the evidence from the medico-safely lobby. A whole bunch of worthy doctors, professors and road safety experts all intent on ensuring Australia remains one of the very few places on earth where it is illegal to pedal along a cyclepath with the breeze in your hair.

They started predictably enough, with little speeches emphasizing how well helmet laws were working to reduce injury, and how Australia led the world in such safety initiatives, and how many lives were saved every minute of every day due to these wonderful laws.

Then the Senators started to question them. There were just two senators – the maverick David Leyonhjelm (the only elected representative of the tiny Liberal Democrat party), and Mattheew Canavan, from the governing LNP alliance, and a member of the smaller National party.

I have to say, the Senators were superb. They were across all the material, all the science, understood all the shonky arguments put forward by the medico-safety lobby and grilled them very effectively – pulling apart their arguments and reveling the lack of substance in their submissions. It’s rare the medico-safety lobby are ever held to account, as they avoid public debate, and tend to shut down any attempts at dialogue with high-handed appeals to authority. In this forum, however they couldn’t hide, couldn’t bluster, and couldn’t walk away. They had to admit that the evidence for the effectiveness of MHL was ‘mixed and contradictory’, they had to take endless questions on notice because they were not really across the material, they floundered badly on many very basic points and got extremely rattled and aggressive.

It was terrific. I enjoyed every moment of it.

senateThen, after a short break, I was on. I shared my slot with Nic Dow, of the Australian Cyclists Party, a cycling freedom campaigner I have corresponded with online, but never met. Indeed, one of the nice things about going to the inquiry was meeting up with so many people I have either emailed or corresponded with online but never met.

We made our opening addresses; I had some illustrations of motoring helmets that have variously been proposed, and I used them both to highlight some of the contradictions in the medico-safety folks comments, and also to show the inquity of forcing helmets only on cyclists.

Nic was all over the science, and outlined some of the most recent research that directly contradicted the ‘expert’ evidence from the doctors.

Then we had some questions from the committee. I outlined some of my experiences with going to court and so on, and spoke about bicycle hire schemes. Nic spoke more about different types of cycling, noting that a (helmeted) Neurosurgeon out for his high-speed Sunday morning bunch ride was at far higher risk of head injury than an unhelmeted cyclists on an upright bike pootling along a cycleway.

A few points I mentioned that they seemed interested in; one was my proposal to decriminalize helmetless riding by making the penalty $0, but maintaining it as an ‘advisory’ law. Thre was quite a bit of discussion about this; both Nic and I made points about the political nature of the debate – however much we might want to, a full repeal of the whole helmet law is unlikely to happen, so we explored various options for staged withdrawals and compromises.

Finally I spoke about my framework for assessing helmet laws (and similar nanny state legislation), making further points about  the inequity of MHL.

It was sort of fun, although I felt I didn’t really express myself the way I would have liked. It’s a bit hard to do when you are being questioned, rather than following your own agenda. But I’m very glad I did it.

It was also noteworthy that not one of the ‘pro helmet’ lobby stayed to listen to any of the other evidence. They all trooped in prior to their session, and then all trooped out again immediately afterwards. Symptomatic of their closed minds and unwillingness to engage in any debate, I think.

We will see what comes from this inquiry; whilst the final report is not due for a while I think it will be quite critical of MHL. What impact that has, of course, remains to be seem. But perhaps, just perhaps, in ten years or so when MHL are finally banished and we look back at the fight, my small contribution to this small process might just have played some part in that achievement.


If you want to read the Hansard transcript (yes, I am now in Hansard!), it’s here.

Create a free website or blog at
Entries and comments feeds.