Senator David Leyonhjelm confirms politics influenced bicycle helmet law inquiry

Australia's Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm instigated the Personal Choice And Community Impacts inquiry conducted in 2015/16 by the Senate's Economics References Committee which included an investigation into the economic and social impact of mandatory bicycle helmet laws.

After considering submissions and evidence presented to the inquiry, the committee recommended establishment of a comprehensive national data set of cyclist injuries and participation to form the basis of an assessment of the helmet laws (download committee interim report or read commentary on inquiry findings).

Senator Leyonhjelm, who chaired the inquiry, tabled additional comments and recommendations calling for adults aged 16+ to be exempt from helmet laws everywhere except roads with speed limits above 50kmh, including a two year assessment of the impact as well as eventual repeal of child helmet laws subject to the evaluation of adult exemption.

senator david leyonhjelm
Senator David Leyonhjelm

Below are Senator Leyonhjelm's views on the conduct, findings and recommendations of the Senate committee inquiry.

What is your view of the committee recommendations contained within the interim report from the inquiry into bicycle helmet laws?

They didn’t go far enough and ignored findings from the Queensland inquiry. (Queensland report)

Is it true that a few weeks before tabling in the Senate, the recommendations were for some sort of bike helmet law reform?

When I wrote the draft report, I included recommendations that were substantially similar to those made by the Queensland inquiry.

If so, can you detail the earlier draft recommendations?

They were the same as the recommendations that have gone out under my name in my ‘Additional Comments’. I simply wasn't able to persuade the rest of the Economics References Committee to agree.

Is it true that political pressure caused a change to the recommendations, namely from the Queensland branch of the ALP which didn’t want them to conflict with the state party’s policy on helmet laws?

Senator Chris Ketter, who is now chair of the committee, did not want to contradict Labor policy. He is from Queensland but other state Labor organisations also have the same policy.

In your opinion, did some committee members have a predetermined view of the helmet law issue, either personal or conforming with party policy, and have little interest in the evidence submitted?

Most were reluctant to contradict what they consider to be "perceived wisdom". They note the evidence but are disinclined to rock the boat and are particularly reluctant to do battle with Australia’s immensely powerful public health lobby.

On the assumption that you read all of the submissions and heard all of the evidence, do you believe the facts support either the pro or anti helmet law arguments and why is this your conclusion?

The evidence clearly supports the anti-MHL arguments. As I wrote in a piece for the Financial Review, I am concerned at the willingness of Australia’s public health lobby to ignore overseas evidence on MHL as well as other issues.

Do you believe the recommended national data set on injuries and participation will ever be established, how long will it take to be of suitable quality, and will it include data from before 1990-92 helmet law enforcement so that meaningful comparisons can be made?

I don’t know, to be frank. I suspect it is much more likely to happen if I am re-elected. It will need to be monitored closely to ensure it is, in fact, informative and useful.

In view of the 350% increase in helmet penalty to $319 and likely introduction of cyclists’ ID by the government in your home state of NSW, do you believe there should be urgent and more thorough surveys of cyclist numbers in that state to gauge whether those measures reduce participation?

Yes, but the focus shouldn’t just be on participation. The NSW laws are clearly an assault on civil liberties and a naked attempt to raise revenue.

Do you believe the inquiry into bike helmet laws and other issues of personal choice was a waste of time, particularly in view of media disinterest in publishing or broadcasting most of the evidence?

No, in part because if politicians like me do not fight against the nanny state and the police state by providing arguments and evidence against it, it will be accepted as the norm in Australian society.

In some respects this has already happened. I am the first parliamentarian to have a principled, consistent stance against nanny-statism. As chair of the inquiry, I was also able to win an important civil liberties point with respect to NSW police and the Football Federation of Australia’s treatment of football fans, particularly the Western Sydney Wanderers.

Among the inquiry terms of reference concerning tobacco and e-cigarettes, service of alcohol, use of marijuana, classification of publications and films, Western Sydney Wanderers supporters, and bicycle helmet laws, which garnered the most public submissions - i.e. which issue was the public most passionate about?

Bicycle helmets followed closely by e-cigarettes, although Wanderers fans managed to lockdown Parramatta City Council’s switchboard for a week and certainly let both Senator Dastyari and me know their predicament.

If you are re-elected, will you attempt to resurrect a committee of inquiry into the bike helmet issue?

I will continue to agitate this issue in whatever way seems most productive. If that takes the form of an inquiry, then I will pursue it diligently.

If you are not re-elected and if no other sitting Senate members have any interest in issues of personal choice, how do you believe there can be any progress on helmet law reform?

It will be difficult and may have to take place at the state level, rather than at the Commonwealth level.



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