The controversial plan to build bike lanes on Sydney’s Castlereagh Street has found a reliable and eloquent media opponent in the Save our Streets campaign, fronted by Jai Martinkovits.
In the past fortnight, Martinkovits has been on Alan Jones’ 2GB radio program twice. He’s also been featured in the op-ed pages of The Daily Telegraph and in a Miranda Devine opinion piece in the same paper.
But is this really a grassroots campaign spurred by the fears of local residents and business owners about who the bike lanes will impact their community and livelihoods, or is it something more co-ordinated? The Save Our Streets campaign has a slick website but only 15 Twitter followers, despite coverage in some of Sydney’s most popular media forums. On Facebook, arguably a far more a popular medium for political organisation, it has 39 followers. When the campaign launched, rival community group “I [heart] Sydney Bike Lanes and Cycle Ways” urged its 9000 members to protest against Save our Streets by using the hashtag #saveourstreets on Twitter, thus flooding the group’s website with pro-cycling messages.
Speaking to Crikey, I [heart] Sydney Bike Lanes and Cycle Ways spokesman Simeon King, a CBD businessman, said he hadn’t heard anything about the Save our Streets campaign before it made an appearance on Jones’ program. “It seems pretty [astro-turfed] to us,” he said, referring to the practice of political interests setting up groups that appear community-based to secure positive coverage for a position. “The thing that sets off alarm bells for us is that it seems to target Clover Moore. That plays to the anti-Clover crowd — Alan Jones and The Daily Telegraph and the like. But the plan to put cycling lanes on Castlereagh Street has more to do with the state government.”
Save our Streets’ Martinkovits was introduced on Alan Jones’ program as a young person taking an interest in his community. In The Daily Telegraph op-ed, he’s described as the spokesman of Save our Streets.
But 26-year-old Martinkovits is, despite his youth, no political neophyte — and not unknown to Jones. He’s the executive director of CanDo, a conservative answer to GetUp that was started in 2010 by Cory Bernardi (though the group now claims to have no political affiliation). CanDo boasts Jones as one of its patrons. And that’s not Martinkovits’ only affiliation. Earlier this year, he was introduced on the ABC as a member of the Liberals, when he was one of four young political hacks who joined Joe Hildebrand on his reality TV show, Welcome to Shitsville. He’s also the executive director of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy.
Crikey asked him if, given his numerous affiliations, the Save our Streets campaign could really be considered a grassroots one. In a fiery response, he assured us it was. “Just look at the videos. Just ask the people.”
“The campaign is grassroots. It has nothing to do with the Liberal Party — which you would realise if you looked at the state government’s access strategy … And are you really suggesting that a person’s race, religion, politics, sex, sexual orientation and affiliations etc must be announced whenever they speak?” Martinkovits suggested it’s the equivalent of asking Crikey’s writers and owners to disclose their political affiliations.
The Save our Streets campaign’s slick website was produced by a high-end digital agency. Asked by Crikey where the funding for this came from, Martinkovits said concerned businesses along Castlereagh Street had contributed funding towards the campaign, which paid for the website.
Crikey also asked Alan Jones for comment, but was told he was on holiday until next Monday. A City of Sydney spokesperson said the council took issue with Save our Streets’ claim that businesses were not consulted about the laneways:
“The line that businesses don’t support or weren’t consulted about the bike network is simply not true. The Castlereagh Street cycleway is being built by the NSW Government who supported the City’s plans for a safe bike network in their Transport Plan released last year. The project is still in the consultation phase. CBD cycleways have improved traffic flow by putting the majority of bike riders on a dedicated path, particularly newer bike riders who travel more slowly. Following, consultation, the NSW Government will build cycleways in the city centre, including Castlereagh, Liverpool and Park Streets.”