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Senator Rice on the National Cycling Strategy

Estimates & Committees
Janet Rice 24 May 2017

Senator RICE:  The National Cycling Strategy went from 2011 to 2016, so it has now ended. Is that correct?

Ms Zielke : That is correct.

Senator RICE:  Although it has been extended to 2017.

Mr Mrdak : Yes, it has been extended till the end of this year.

Senator RICE:  The National Cycling Participation Survey is also going to be carried out this year. Is that the case?

Ms Power : The National Cycling Participation Survey is conducted by the Australian Bicycle Council. The results are likely to be publicly available by the end of June.

Senator RICE:  That sounds good. The latest implementation report on the National Cycling Strategy says that the future national approach to Cycling and walking will be determined in 2017. What work on that is going on now and when will that future approach be determined?

Ms Power : The states and territories have considered an independent review of the effectiveness of the strategy and of the Australian Bicycle Council, and there is a state and territory working group developing options for the next steps for cycling cooperation between the jurisdictions.

Senator RICE:  Over what period of time is that work occurring? When will we have those options?

Mr Mrdak : I think the intention is that that work would be provided to transport and infrastructure ministers ahead of their next meeting in November.

Senator RICE:  So we have the strategy, which has finished but has been extended for this year, and future directions will go to ministers in November. Is there an expectation that there will be another strategy to continue?

Mr Mrdak : That is a decision to be taken. We are awaiting the evaluation report. States and territories and the Commonwealth will have a look at that in determining the next steps on the strategy.

Senator RICE:  What work with regard to cycling is going on at a federal level at the moment?

Mr Mrdak : The Australian government is funding its contribution to the Australian Bicycle Council, which is continuing its work this year. Additionally, as we have discussed previously, in our Infrastructure Investment Program we do fund a range of projects which involve providing active transport options, including bikepaths and footpaths.

Senator RICE:  As we have discussed in previous years, I think I have asked you whether you are able to articulate what money is spent on cycling infrastructure at a federal level.

Mr Mrdak : We certainly have provided answers in relation to where, as part of land transport infrastructure projects, we have provided funding for active travel options. I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator RICE:  Would you take on notice as to what is currently planned that has been spent in the last financial year and what is planned to be spent.

Ms Zielke : As we have discussed previously, too, I would like to note that, of course, one of our key findings has been that the states and territories now have significant planning work going on in relation to urban amenity. Cycling has been a key take-up in that regard, and there is substantial work going on amongst the states and territories also, without influence from the Commonwealth, in that regard.

Senator RICE:  Indeed. The 2016 implementation report said that last year state and territory governments spent $121.8 million on cycling networks. You do not have the figures for what the Australian government has spent in the last year and you would have to take it on notice.

Mr Mrdak : No, I do not. As you know, under the legislation, our investment has to be tied to a land transport investment project.

Senator RICE:  It has to be?

Mr Mrdak : Yes, to qualify. It has to be part of that project to be approved.

Ms Zielke : We don't do cyclists or cycle paths.

Mr Mrdak : We do not have a dedicated program for cyclepaths or footpaths.

Senator RICE:  You could have a dedicated fund, but there currently isn't one.

Mr Mrdak : If the government was to establish a new program, but funding under the Infrastructure Investment Program under the Land Transport Act means that the project has to be part of a larger surface transport project.

Senator RICE:  A cycling project does not count as a surface transport project in its own right.

Mr Mrdak : Not of itself.

Senator RICE:  The report also noted that the United Nations recommends that at least 20 per cent of the total transport budget be set aside to fund non-motorised transport programs. What is the Australian government's total transport budget?

Mr Mrdak : This year?

Senator RICE:  Yes.

Mr Mrdak : The portfolio is managing this year something of the order of $10.5 billion in programs, which is a mix of infrastructure investment, transport programs ranging from safety to security and support programs for communities. It is of the order of $10½ billion to $11 billion. I will give you an accurate figure of our total administered program spend.

Senator RICE:  So 20 per cent of that $10 billion would be $2 billion, wouldn't it? We are laughably short of that UN recommendation.

Mr Mrdak : I would be interested to see whether any nation was adhering to the UN recommendation.

Senator RICE:  Yes, that may be the case, but there must be some justification in that UN program as to why 20 per cent has been recommended.

Mr Mrdak : Not in my experience of the United Nations, no.

Senator RICE:  Does the federal government have any views as to whether the proportion of the transport budget to be spent on active transport is an appropriate measure to use?

Mr Mrdak : I am not familiar with the United Nations' work.

Senator RICE:  I have heard there have been a range of different programs. For example, I note the Bicycle Network for many years ran a program of documenting what local governments are spending—and for a certain proportion of their transport funding to be spent on cycling . Is that an approach that the federal government has considered as setting a target for a proportion of its budget to be spent on cycling ?

Mr Mrdak : Not that I am aware of, no. In the past there was a dedicated program for a period, but that is no longer in place. I am not aware of any—in my time in this role—proposal to set targets of overall spend in relation to bicycles or active travel.

Senator RICE:  The implementation report shows a sharp drop in the number of bike imports in the last year, which has been bucking a longstanding trend of increasing numbers of bikes being taken up. It does not correlate that to participation data; it just says that the 2017 survey will perhaps elicit some information there. But don't we know from past participation surveys that the numbers of riders is actually flatlining? Is there any relevance in the fact that the number of bike imports has decreased?

Mr Mrdak : I am sorry, I do not think we can give you a—

Ms Zielke : There was a question that we took on notice from if not the last estimates the estimates before that. I apologise because I do not recall the answer that we gave at the time. I do not think that 'flatlining' was actually correct. The figure was still slightly increasing, but I am happy to come back to you with that detail.

Senator RICE:  But the strategy over its five years had an overarching goal of doubling cycling participation, so we have had very small increases. We now know that the number of bikes being imported has decreased, so we have not come anywhere near doubling participation, have we?

Ms Zielke : Not that I am aware of, but again I am happy to take those figures on notice.

Senator RICE:  Is there any assessment in the evaluation of the cycling strategy as to what went wrong and why we have not doubled participation?

Mr Mrdak : I think we are awaiting the evaluation of results, which would be able to at least give us some information with which we can have a conversation.

Senator RICE:  Do we have any preliminary assessments, given that we have had a strategy in place for five years and it has come nowhere near to achieving that doubling of participation?

Ms Zielke : The Australian Bicycle Council has been funded and supported by the various governments, but it set the strategy in relation to what it was trying to achieve itself. It was not us in that regard.

Senator RICE:  But the federal government has a role. Do you acknowledge that?

Ms Zielke : We were supporting that work. Again, I am happy to come back to you with more information in relation to your question, but I am not familiar enough with the subject to be able to answer it now.

Senator RICE:  Have you done any review or evaluation of what needs to change at a federal level for the federal government to play its part in doubling cycling participation?

Ms Zielke : No, I am not aware of any work in that regard.

Senator RICE:  Do you still think that is an appropriate goal that we should have had during that five years?

Senator STERLE:  That is asking for an opinion.

Ms Zielke : I am sorry, but I cannot comment.

Senator RICE:  Is that goal still being considered in the future federal approach to cycling ?

Ms Zielke : Again, I would note that the strategy was not actually set by government. But I am happy to come back to you in relation to your questions. I am sorry, but I am not familiar enough with the subject.

Senator RICE:  Have you got any knowledge at all about what we are going to do at a federal level to reorient our plans to actually get us anywhere close to achieving the goals that were set out in 2011?

Ms Power : At the high level we do know that there has been—as you have already pointed out—difficulties in achieving the objectives of the original strategy. But I think, as Mr Mrdak has already said, that is the work that states and territories are going through at the moment as they think about the next steps in relation to their active transport strategies. And that is the work that is yet to come back for consideration by the Transport and Infrastructure Council. I think what Ms Zielke is saying is that it is too early for us to give you that advice.

Ms Zielke : My colleague has found the answer to the question we took from you previously. It does actually show that the results of the third biennial National Cycling Participation Survey, which was managed by the Australian Bicycle Council, indicated that cycling participation had neither decreased nor increased significantly over the life of the National Cycling Strategy from 2011 to 2016. It actually provided percentage figures of people who cycled in the past week. In 2011, it was 17.8 per cent; in 2013, it was 16.6 per cent; and in 2015, it was back up to 17.4 per cent.

Senator RICE:  So 'flatlined' was fairly accurate there!

Ms Zielke : My apologies.

Senator RICE:  My understanding is one of the biggest limitations on people cycling is a lack of infrastructure so that people both are safe and feel safe when they are riding. My understanding also is that, at both local government and state government levels, budget limitations is the critical factor in why there is not more investment in cycling , particularly at a local government level—there are a lot of cycling plans at local government level that local governments do not have the money to implement. Given that, would you accept that there is a role for the federal government to fund cycling infrastructure on its own—not necessarily as part of the other big road projects—in order to encourage people to cycle and to increase the rate of cycling participation?

Mr Mrdak : I think that is a matter for government. I do not think we can express an opinion on that.

Senator RICE:  Are you saying it is too early at the moment to review the learnings from the cycling strategy? I am sure that any evaluation of the cycling strategy will show that that is the biggest gap, and why we have not been successful in doubling our rates of  «cycling  .

Mr Mrdak : Once we have had a chance to look at the evaluation, then we can perhaps reach a judgement as to the value or otherwise of the Commonwealth's engagement in this matter, or whether it is best handled by state and local government with some degree of support as required. As I said, ministers will consider it later in the year.

Senator RICE:  Thank you.

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