Public First Program


Shane Elson


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Mar 2008 # 3

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Back to Editorials 2008

Chris Berg - On Yer Bike

I reckon that it must be pretty easy to get a job at the Institute for Public Affairs. But first, the grandiose title of the organisation needs some clarification. Firstly, the so-called “Institute” is not at all concerned with affairs of the public. In fact, and secondly, it has no real interest in the public, affairs or not! 

What leads me to sledge the IPA again, is that each time I read their little diatribes in The Age, I am, once more, appalled that the claims the writers make are given space in any public arena, let alone the ‘thinking person’s’ broadsheet. 

A couple of weeks ago a Mr. Chris Berg who holds the lofty title of “Research Fellow” at the IPA, penned a piece that extolled the supposed virtues of the car. To summarise his ramblings, Mr. Berg, Research Fellow at the IPA, argues that cars are even better inventions than sliced bread and that he likes the wide open spaces of his car. It would seem so because he obviously has an aversion to all forms of public transport and push bikes. According to him engaging in these forms of transport may mean he has to rub shoulders with the great unwashed. 

Now, I will be the first to admit I’m not the brightest bulb in the Christmas tree lights but at least I try and argue with myself, not against myself in the same breath. Unlike me, the esteemed Mr. Berg, Research Fellow at the IPA, can’t seem, at one point, to hold a thread of logic together through four sentences.

In the section I’m referring to I think he is trying to tell us that governments have responded to the increased use of bicycles by building more bike paths. He then says that more bikes than cars are sold each year. Then he says more bike lanes “may have had an influence on this”. He then caps of this part of his argument by stating, with all the gravity of Moses bringing down the stone tablets, “But cars continue to sell in increasing numbers”. 

Now, like I said, I don’t claim any great intellectual insight or ability but when I first read this bit of Mr. Berg’s argument I was stumped. It seems that Mr. Berg was making a claim that even though there is great demand for more (and safer) bike lanes and paths, we should abandon them for cars simply because “…cars continue to sell in increasing numbers.” Or did I miss his point? 

He goes even further by saying that a “responsible government” will build more roads regardless of the consequences. However, what Mr. Berg, fails to recognise – and I suggest he get around his office a little more – is that governments don’t build roads anymore.  

For the last ten to 15 years all the major road developments in the capital cities have been built by privateers who run them for profit. If Mr. Berg was to get around his office more, as I suggest, he would find that his employer is one of the cheerleaders for small government and larger private profits! The IPA is a champion of the adage, “privatise the profits, socialise the losses”. 

Mr. Berg, should, I think, re-image himself a little – to use that great marketing term. As a “Research Fellow” I would expect him to do a little research, something his argument is seriously lacking. 

Cars are safer than they used to be. OK, I concede he got that right. What he doesn’t tell us is that despite the advances in automobile technology passengers are now travelling faster than ever and the injuries they have in accidents are, overall, more serious. While advances like airbags do mitigate, to some extent, head traumas, they don’t protect the torso and legs of victims. Nor do they protect from side impacts, unless you have the cash to buy a more expensive model car. However, these don’t protect the pelvis either. So while there has been some reduction in head traumas (among the victims involved in low speed crashes in cars fitted with airbags) mobility problems resulting from accidents are, overall, not being reduced. 

In short, what Mr. Berg fails, miserably, to acknowledge is that the types of injuries occurring in newer model cars are no less serious than older cars and that the cost of treatment, rehabilitation and re-entry into the workforce (if ever) is borne by the public purse. When it comes to car accidents, there is even a class divide there. 

What the esteemed Mr. Berg, Research Fellow at the IPA, also fails to research is the cost to business and individuals who must now pay for the right to traverse cities cross cut by privately owned roads. Not only does he not factor this into the cost and inconvenience of motoring, he also fails to acknowledge the cost to the state (and therefore the tax paying public) of enforcing the fines imposed on those who don’t, won’t or can’t pay. 

You see, as I said, Mr. Berg works not for an institute concerned about the affairs of the public, he works for an organisation that is concerned about the inconvenience caused to the rich and ruling classes by such things as taxes, free public spaces, community obligations and the moral duty each of us has to be concerned about the welfare of our neighbours and future generations. 

While Mr. Berg is keen to promote sales of SUVs and other petrol guzzling vehicles perhaps he should engage that keen research mind of his and own up to the blinkered view of the world he has. Perhaps, even, maybe for one day, ride a bike or take a tram to work. But no. That won’t happen. 

For the Chris Bergs and IPAs of the world, the rest of us are a nuisance. We don’t consume enough, we cost too much to feed, clothe and medicate should we become homeless, sick or debilitated. Of course, in Mr. Berg’s world, the amenities he enjoys came fully formed out of history. After all, he doesn’t want to pay for the privilege of reducing greenhouse gasses or reducing the road toll. The wanna be ruling classes never do. 

As his argument falls to pieces around him, perhaps what Mr Berg needs to do is heed the closing words of his article. He writes that taxpayers should be heeded when governments make decisions. According to his argument more of us, who are both taxpayers and members of the public, are turning away from our cars when we can and taking to the humble treddly in an attempt to unclog our roads and improve our health. 

I think I will apply for a job at the IPA. It can’t be too hard to get a job there. It seems the only qualifications you need are an allegiance to the ruling class, ignorance of what “the public” – as communities - really can be and an unshakable belief in the infallibility of the market. Then again, perhaps I won’t. 

Chris Berg’s article was titled “Pedestal to the metal”, The Age, 09/03/08


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