Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Bicycle helmet laws are a classic sign of the nanny state. When people decide to ride without a helmet, they risk their own lives, not the lives of others. They don't hurt anyone else with their naked heads. They shouldn't be threatened with fines for doing this. Government exists to prevent harm to others, not to prevent harm to ourselves. Governments should serve the people, not vice versa.
The people of Australia include our Sikh community. One in every 200 Australians is Sikh. The principles of the Sikh faith are to treat all as equals, work hard to make a living and do good in the community. That's why you're more likely to come across a Sikh Australian as your Uber driver than as a welfare recipient. You will recognise male Sikh Australians by the turban they wear to protect their uncut but prodigiously clean hair. This is a practice dictated by their faith. It's not a fashion to be cast aside on a whim. That is why our compulsory helmet laws are particularly oppressive for male Sikh Australians. Because of the helmet laws, Sikh boys are effectively banned from riding their bicycles to and from their school and around their suburb with their non-Sikh friends. How is this helping integration? Sikh men—even Sikh farmers taking a short trip between their adjacent farms—are prevented from riding their motorbikes on public roads. Four of the eight states and territories exempt Sikh Australians from bicycle helmet laws: Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. In my home state of New South Wales, a Sikh Australian can be fined up to $2,200 for not wearing a helmet on a bicycle. No state or territory exempts Sikh Australians from motorcycle helmet laws, which can involve fines in excess of $2,200.
Australia's approach is out of step with the rest of the world. Almost no other countries in the world make the wearing of helmets compulsory when riding a bicycle, so no discrimination against their Sikh communities arises in this regard. While other countries have compulsory motorbike helmet laws, a number of countries provide exemptions for their Sikh community. For example, the United Kingdom has a blanket exemption. New Zealand has an exemption for riding a motorbike at under 50 kilometres an hour if you carry an exemption certificate, or for riding a motorbike at under 30 kilometres an hour between adjacent farms. The province of Alberta in Canada has an exemption for off-highway travel.
I am both a bicycle rider and a motorbike rider, and I would choose to wear a helmet regardless of the law when riding my motorbike. I confess I wouldn't when riding my bicycle. But it would be extreme arrogance for me to assert that others must wear a helmet, irrespective of my view. Penalising a Sikh Australian for wearing a turban instead of a helmet represents unwarranted and petty religious discrimination. Given that religious freedom is the one freedom guaranteed in our Constitution, it is even possible that compulsory helmet laws as they apply to Sikh Australians are unconstitutional.
I call on the government to amend the Australian Road Rules to exempt Sikh Australians from helmet laws, and I call on each state and territory government to adopt such an amendment in their legislation.
Senate adjourned at 19:37