On March 28, eligible voters in New South Wales will head for the voting booths for the State Election and the Australian Cyclists Party want your vote. But what are they doing to win your vote and is their political approach of create a strong minor party the right approach for cyclists? Bicycles Network Australia (BNA) asked the party founder and president, Omar Khalifa (ACP) about the participation in the recent Victorian State Elections and their approach in the up-coming NSW elections.
BNA – The Australian Cyclists Party first contested in the Victorian state elections, what experience and lessons learnt will you now apply in the NSW elections?
ACP – Only a year from our first member signing up we were amazed that we even registered in time, never mind standing 17 candidates and attracting over 20,000 votes! Indeed we out-polled half of the other minor parties and not so far behind the larger minor parties that have been at it for quite some time – with significantly more resources. We certainly could have used a much broader network of supporters and time to get ourselves better known. More coverage at polling places would have also helped but with early voting and postal ballots the ability for minor parties to use polling day to get publicity and sway voters is diminishing.
BNA – Is winning votes as a smaller party about getting attention prior to the election or is it a spontaneous and sympathy vote on election day?
ACP – It is both. We need to be familiar to more people beforehand. While some people would have jumped at the chance to support a cycling party, many would be circumspect about whether we were legitimate or not and would need time to figure that out and socialise it with others.
Omar Khalifa promoting the Australian Cyclists Party at the Sydney Bike Show
BNA – While Australian federal election spending for the big parties is counted in the millions (and not billions such as in the USA), it is reported that Liberal and Labor outspend the minor parties 19 : 1, while the vote distribution is 4 : 1 (source). Would higher funding and pre-election spending be effective for the Australian Cyclists Party?
We raised just $5k specifically for the Victorian election. We don’t think it should take millions as it only creates the atmosphere of influence buying and public cynicism too. The irony is of course that the smaller parties need the exposure more than the larger ones who already dominate the headlines daily. And yet even our public broadcaster won’t provide free advertising unless you are already a significant party. A bit of chicken and egg…
The ACP unlike the major parties and some of the minor ones has no paid staff. Our overheads are low by design and we aim to stay that way but it does not mean we have no costs for election fees, web sites, software licenses, hosting services, posters, travel, etc.
So, yes, we could use more funding just to help raise our profile and pay for the basic electioneering tools and we hope to raise double the $5k figure for the NSW election.
BNA – What is the core message of the ACP heading into the NSW election, and is there any appeal to non-cyclists?
ACP – We are approaching the election with our focus to create a bicycle friendly NSW. We build that by addressing the key government areas of responsibility – transport, planning and health. Ours is a message that cycling can be part of the solution to some of today’s complex and expensive challenges. Cycling can also reflect the priorities of a community. A place that is cycling friendly is likely to have healthier people, better community interaction and be a great place to live. Just think of some of the best places in the world to visit and see how integrated cycling is into everyday life.
Pip Vice (previously Bicycle NSW) is running as a NSW candidate for the Australian Cyclists Party
BNA – Can you explain preference votes and with whom the ACP have a preference arrangement?
ACP – Curiously little is understood about one of the key pillars of our way of voting. Preferences are a way for a party or voter to ensure the “next best” party or candidate gets a chance to win. Preferences can be complex arrangements when there are multiple parties involved as the flow of the votes accumulates to those that are still in the race as the votes are tallied. Parties of course use these flows to bargain to their best advantage – perhaps in a swap even – we preference this candidate in this district if your preference ours there. Not every party will preference in every seat they contest.
In NSW, Lower House preferences are the ones that are most highly sought. While we promise to publish our preferences ahead of the election, not all parties do so. So it is incumbent on every voter to know that they can choose their own preference flow by indicating that on the ballot “below the line” by numbering the order the vote should flow.
BNA – Can you explain the role and connection of the politically orientated ACP in the increasingly busy domain of Australian Cycling Advocacy. It appears that many different groups operate in competition whereas most can easily complement one another and unite to achieve a common goal.
ACP – Cycling advocacy is not an easy thing to describe – there are official advocacy organisations such as Bicycle NSW and Bicycle Network and then there are Bicycle User Groups, Sports bodies, charities like Amy Gillett Foundation, various Facebook sites and even the BNA itself! With so many different roles, it is not difficult to see how groups may not always sound like they are coordinating or indeed have all of of the same goals. Ultimately, however, they all support increasing participation in cycling – it’s a unifying mission.
The ACP sees ourselves as a political arm of the greater advocacy effort. Arguably, much like the Labor Party was once the political arm of the union movement. We see our goals aligned in increasing participation but our unique offering is to roll up our sleeves and become political about delivering it. After decades of slow progress and some recent threat to reversals by those in government, we think it is time to get people in government that are committed to our goals and our approach to many of the associated community issues. Standing on the sidelines and wishing for better just isn’t enough. Look at the cities that have progressed and it is only because there is a leader in government that has pushed it along.
We also believe that the ACP can act as an independent party able to work across traditional ideological barriers and to offer up superior candidates that reflect values that most Australians will relate to. Our membership covers a broad range as well. We are a party of the times when people are turning away from the poor performance of those who feel entitled to rule just because they have been a major party – times are changing as we can see from recent elections.
In a way we are helping to turn back the clock on how Parliaments first functioned – to solve problems and help communities do better. One day I hope we won’t need a cyclists party, today thousands think we do.
Bicycles Network Australia would like to thank Omar and the Australian Cyclists Party and wish all candidates success. On January 24, the Australian Cyclists Party announced that they will be running 15 candidates for the Legislative Council (Upper House) and contesting for a further 7 in the following Legislative Assembly (Lower House) seats: Balmain, Newtown, Newcastle, Manly, Willoughby, North Shore and Goulburn.
Further information about the Australian Cyclists Party is available on their website:
Disclaimer: Christopher Jones is a (non-active and private) member of the Australian Cyclists Party. This interview was conducted by Bicycles Network Australia which is not aligned with any Australian political party. The intention is to publish cycling relevant advocacy news following their media release. Political parties are invited to submit cycling specific news and media releases for editorial consideration.
Title Photo: © Australian Cyclists Party