‘Turn Left On Red’ – What Would It Mean For Cyclists?

Bike SA’s CEO Christian Haag examines at the recent proposal from the State Liberal Party to allowing motorists to turn left at red lights. 

If you’ve read today’s copy of The Advertiser, you would probably notice that Shadow Transport Minister David Pisoni has put forward an amendment to allow motorists to turn left at red lights.

(To be specific, his amendment to parliament would expand the network of intersections where motorists could enter a road on a red traffic light where the speed limit is 60km/h or lower.)

Why? To assist in the reduction of our ever-growing traffic congested roads.

Of course, not an issue for those of us who pedal our way through the gridlock, smiling happily with each and every turn of the crank.

There are already a small number of intersections in Adelaide that allow this and are signed accordingly. The Shadow Minister wants to bring SA in line with Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT, where these road rule changes have already taken effect.

Based on statements in The Advertiser’s story, neither the Transport Minister, RAA, or the Centre for Automotive Safety Research are particularly keen on this amendment, pointing out the increased risk of injury to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

So what would be the implications for bicycle riders?

Given the multitude of road treatments at our intersections, our concern is that “confusion and motorist inattention” could reign supreme – standard intersections, intersections with white paint bike lanes, green paint bike lanes, bike boxes and the like. It’s a busy world…

So, on the proposition to allow more Left Turn On Red? Our risk assessment is – Risk Increased…!

But lets go back to Shadow Minister Pisoni’s original intent, which is to reduce congestion.

Dedicate a strategic 4% of the government’s total transport infrastructure spend on safe separated cycling infrastructure across the metropolitan arterial network.

There are some political leaders around the world that are prepared to throw their leadership stake in the ground and say ‘enough is enough’.

Case in point – the Mayor of Houston. When he realised that his citizens spend 14% of their net incomes on their car-based transport, whereas Copenhagen citizens spend just 4%, he realised that something had to change.

By my quick calculation, Adelaideans spend around 14% on their net income on having to rely on their small car for transport – let alone the ‘trusty’ SUV.

Just think of the rewards for our small businesses if that level of additional discretionary spending was transferred away from our transport costs!

On a personal note, when it comes to personal mobility, I do not identify myself as a cyclist, a motorist nor a public transport user or pedestrian. I am simply someone who takes advantage of the multiple transport options available to me to go about my daily business in the most cost effective and convenient manner.

My gripe is that there is a deeply imbedded inequity in the choices available to our citizens for safe, active transport options. And that single fact impacts how we define “cost and convenience”.

It is a sad fact that today, transport is progressively expensive and inconvenient.

The stereotypical silo mentality of separating how people transport themselves is not a healthy narrative – it is in fact a narrative of a ‘city in decay’, where the easy ‘business as usual approach’ to transport policy will see Adelaide continue to grow as a grid-locked and increasingly unproductive city.

Become A Bike SA Member today help create a brighter future for cycling

Christian Haag

Christian Haag is the CEO of Bicycle SA and while he doesn't wear lycra - he does ride a Mountain Bike.

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48 Comments. Leave new

Damien Henderson
March 3, 2017 4:27 am

As a multiple mode user of our roads, I don’t think this is a good idea to alleviate congestion. Every accident that will occur as a result will produce a lot of congestion! Especially fatalities!
Direct money to good planning and bike way construction.

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As anyone who is typically on our roads around peak time will tell you – the majority of commuting cyclists already turn left on red lights, so why not let everyone do so

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Trevor Hill
March 3, 2017 7:19 pm

Exactly my thoughts and observations

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I really wish cyclists would stop breaking the law. This change is sensible as it recognises that it is often quite safe to do this which is why some cyclists and drivers break the law.

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Whenever there is a change to the road rules that benefits cyclists (e.g., passing distances) these are generally accompanied with other changes designed to appease drivers (e.g., increased penalties for cycling offences) – it wouldn’t do for cyclists to get everything their own way would it? I wonder, if turn left on red is implemented, what they might change to appease cyclists? Perhaps the introduction of presumed liability?

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I don’t own a car. I walk, ride or take public transportation everywhere – plus a taxi when needed. As I walk a lot, I observe car drivers with keen interest. I’m not anti-car but I point to a couple stop signed streets in my neighborhood as clear examples that we do NOT need to loosen driving rule. It sit and watch these two corners on occasion – cars stop much less than 50% of the time and they rarely stop for pedestrians. I realize that this is a highly unscientific study but my observations clearly point to car drivers having not “earned” the right to be trusted with looser rules. If bicycle riders did what car drivers do in my neighborhood, there would be calls for a cornonial inquest, demands to license all bikes and for police to start bookings.

While I sympathies with drivers that a moving car is not getting them anywhere. As a fellow road user, I also know that a stationary car is not going to kill be. I say, follow the existing rules first, then we’ll look at giving drivers more rights.

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As a cyclist I see a lot more cyclists ignoring well established road rules than I see cars doing the same. From my experience cyclists are their own worst enemy when it comes to sharing the road and following the rules.

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Wannarevolution
March 3, 2017 9:54 pm

that may be true, but somehow, given the lack of understanding of the usage of those 4 yellow light thingies at each corner of a vehicle (indicators) by a lot of motorists a lot of the time, I doubt it. Also, most vehicles weigh one tonne or more and are capable of 160kmh +, and occupy at least 6sq metres of road and therefore pose much more of a damage potential than say 100kg of cyclist occupying about 1/2 sq metre of road

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Coincidentally, as I waited on my bike in the hot sun for the light to go green so I could turn left this morning, I remembered someone telling me that cyclists are permitted to turn left on a red light when safe to do so. Can anyone tell me please, is that correct?

I agree it seems it would add to risks all round if cars were permitted to do so.

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Karin: no it is not allowed, under current SA laws.

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But then what if I just change the direction of my bike – then I’m on the other road. It’s a bit – one size doesn’t fit all and a lot of rules cyclists have to obey are really rules made for cars – if there were no cars the rule wouldn’t be there. Many things we get criticized for (turning left, not quite stopping at stop signs, turning on a red arrow when there’s not a vehicle on the road because sensors don’t see bikes) – I just say “when was the last time you crossed a road on a ‘dont walk’ sign”. I know 2 wrongs don’t make a right but if you’re the pot don’t call the kettle black either!!

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I agree with all of this; applying rules to cyclists that are meant specifically for motorists simply doesn’t work in a lot of situations.

Apart from anything, now that it’s legal to ride on footpaths here, if I’m stopped at a red light waiting to turn left, I’ll quite often just hop up onto the footpath and ride a few metres in the direction I wish to turn, and then drop it back onto the tarmac again.

Given that 99% of the transport infrastructure in SA is designed specifically for cars and trucks, I don’t see the sense in forcing cyclists to pretend they’re in a car all the time. After all, cyclists are dynamically far closer to being pedestrians than anything else.

Regarding motorists turning left on red lights – well… how much difference will it actually make? Drivers turning left on GREEN lights never, ever give way to cyclists coming up the left side of the traffic in the bike lanes anyway. Even the Police don’t check the left mirror when turning left across bike lanes, just ask the undercover officer whose boot lid has my faceprint on it.

If it will improve traffic flow, go for it, but I strongly doubt there’ll be any meaningful improvement. And there still needs to be provision in place to prioritise pedestrians crossing at intersections with crossings, where the filter light remains red. Presumably a red arrow still counts as a stop signal.

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ROBERT WELKE
March 3, 2017 4:44 am

This is a real no brainer.
As per Andrews comment, most already turn left on a red light and stop signs. And so they should, in the interests of traffic flow.
The issue of increased risk was similar to riding on the foot path, where at least common sense prevailed and we as cyclists were allowed to do so, with the premise of “lets see if there’s a problem” before we legislate against it. And there is no problem.
The problem is politicians.

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Piet Crosby
March 3, 2017 4:58 am

I lived in Denver for a year, and the rules there are that you can turn right on a red (which is like a turn left here as they drive on the right). No problems arose, and traffic flow was better. Adjusting to a change would be a temporary problem. This would improve traffic flow. A good idea.

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A problem I have encountered is some motorists do not indicate that they intend to turn left. At a red light have passed cars in a bike lane paying attention to those intending to turn left only to find some drivers suddenly indicate they intend to turn left after I have passed them.

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Agree. It seems to have become very common not to use indicators – especially when turning left – often when changing lanes and also when pulling out from a kerb. Something that need to be cracked down on. Cyclists can plan their route if they have some idea what the cars are planning to do!!

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Chris Brougham
March 3, 2017 5:01 am

For anything to change minority groups need to look at the big picture. Turning left on a red light when safe to do so is an absolute no brainer. Reducing time on the roads for motorists will in my opinion make cyclists safer. As both a cyclist and a motorist I say lets get SA moving. Let’s support this change!

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I’m with you

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I think it would be an excellent idea if cyclists could turn left on red. Mind you some do just by using the footpath now. Similarly for a cyclist to continue through a red light on a “T” junction that has a bike lane. (Mind the pedestrians though – that’s the only worry).

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Every morning on the way to work, I see cyclists ride through red lights (not just left, but also straight through intersections) resulting in lots of near misses and me wondering if they’ll make it to where they’re going. Riding home, I stop at 2 stop signs and get muttered comments from other cyclists who go straight through. If everyone, both riders and drivers, obeyed the road rules, everyone would be better off.
As an aside, have been to the US numerous times and turning right on red works really well and cyclists are catered for by having their own light sequence, like we have on Pirie /Pulteney St.

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In principle a good idea, but until a majority of Adelaide drivers change from it’s my given right not to give way to other road users
and instead learn courtesy to other road users and pedestrians the idea will not work.

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Chris Murray
March 3, 2017 5:54 am

Each year I spend about 1 month driving in the USA where this turn on the red is used. It works well, but the vehicle must stop before entering the junction and make the turn only when the road is clear. The only reason it may not work here is selfish aggressive driving (which is more common in Adelaide than the USA).

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Currently few intersections have clear bike lanes to the lights. Cyclists are squeezed to the curb by cars turning left. You have to take extra care. I do not believe the proposed change would make it any worse than present. Redesigning corners are the real answer.

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Since coming to Adelaide 8 years ago, and from what I’ve seen of South Australian drivers, the majority struggle to understand basic road rules, lack concentration and have no etiquette – all of which would help ease congestion. Having any sort of system(s) in South Australia which require drivers to engage their brains and use their judgement (the little that most have) is a recipe for disaster.

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keith viccars
March 3, 2017 9:41 am

Most cyclists are responsible people and look where at the traffic flow is going. So I see no problem with it. Unfortunately there are a few of idiotic car drivers that think that they are better than anyone else. If you are careful and read the traffic there should be no problem

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The situation that would concern me most is when the cyclist is stopped on the left edge of the lane, intending to go straight ahead when the lights change to green. You would now have cars that wish to turn left wanting to squeeze through and turn left on red in front of the cyclist, and many would inevitably get it wrong and potentially swipe the cyclist. This could be overcome by the cyclist taking a central position in the lane, which when combined with the 1m rule, stops the car from passing. But you can see easily some aggro. But on balance, I would support the change. It should not be permitted wherever there is a bike box though.

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Andy Griffiths
March 3, 2017 10:59 am

I call Adelaide the traffic light capital of the world. Classic examples are N Terrace W of King William where after the tramlines were replaced the traffic lights multiplied. If there is a traffic issue-put in a traffic light! Frustrating to all.
I personally don’t have a problem with it provided there is a mandatory STOP (as there is in the USA; not sure about other jurisdictions in Aus). As in some previous comments, just stand next to a stop sign and witness the majority of drivers who just don’t stop. I don’t think Adelaide drivers can be trusted.

Also clamp down on illegal cyclist running red lights etc.

Andy Griffiths

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Once upon a time in our fair city, we had signs saying “Turn Left Anytime With Care” at our busiest intersections, with an accompanying slip lane. This system worked beautifully and allowed traffic to flow nicely. Then the Federal Government held us to ransom, saying these things had to go, and we were forced to replace some of them with the practice of turning left on a red signal. They threatened to withhold Federal funding if we didn’t comply. This was to bring us into line with the eastern states.
Now another lot of politicians is trying to force us even further backwards, citing the eastern states practice as something to aspire to.
Re-introduce the “Turn Left Anytime With Care” system and watch the traffic flow pick up.

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Totally agree With G Dunn. Just got a new job in Modbury. I drive from Old Reynella to Modbury and back again 5 days a week and the traffic is horrendous. Sometimes I wait at traffic lights for minutes and that is going with peak hour traffic. Who ever is in charge of the traffic lights system hear needs to have a good hard look at themselves. I have lived in Adelaide for 46 years and believe having slip roads “Turn Left Anytime With Care” is definately the way to go. Safe for motorists and cyclist alike.

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Of course this change would increase risk. But I can accept that risk for the added efficiency. I lived most of my life in Canada, where these turns are permitted (after a full stop and only if not impeding the cross-traffic). The system works great. When I drive in Adelaide I find it very frustrating to have to wait to turn left when there is no traffic.

I agree that it could increase conflict between motorists turning left and cyclists continuing straight but the answer is for the cyclist to hold back a bit to provide space for cars turning left on the red.

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Sean Richter
March 4, 2017 12:04 am

Chris – if the light is red, the cyclists shouldn’t be moving straight ahead anyway. There is more of an issue with cars turning left at green lights across the path of cyclists moving straight ahead.

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Maybe motorists should be allowed to turn left ONLY on “turn left anytime with care” signage, or red lights, since turning left on green lights seems to be too difficult… ¬_¬

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Turning Left on Red provided there is a mandatory STOP is an acceptable compromise to keep traffic flowing. We cycling and pedestrian commuters already have to daily be watchful of left turning vehicles at all intersections.
G Dunn refers to yesterdays segregated Australian Road Rules – that is some of what is wrong, we need consistent Road Rules across all Australia. Comments above reflect that very confusion what is legal ‘here versus there’? That’s confusing when ‘here’ is Australia and ‘there’ is also Australia .
The General Manager of Bicycle SA claimed ” I do not identify myself as a cyclist” – I accept the context i.e. supporting multimodal transport without bias, BUT REALLY?

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Alister Sharp
March 3, 2017 8:25 pm

Only a few hundred meters from my home, in Sydney, there’s a ‘Left turn on red permitted after stopping’ intersection. I’ve been lobbying Council for years to have the sign removed for the reason that cars simply don’t stop before turning left on red. Many don’t even slow down! As a pedestrian, this sign ‘scares the willies’ out of me! Council says it would remove the sign, but it doesn’t have the jurisdiction as this is a Regional Road. And the police seem much too busy to enforce any such regulations.

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As a slightly facetious person, I’d be tempted to either remove the sign myself and send the relevant authority the bill, especially if its existence endangers life in order to make some people’s commute a few seconds quicker.

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Flip it around. In other places where they do this they have a no left/right turn on red sign for bike lanes etc. in other words use judgement except when there’s a clear priority. Similar to tram flows really.

Please don’t block it until you’ve had a good look at where it works well. Let’s fight to get the design right instead.

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This is a great idea, if properly executed. Turning against lights is common in the US where laws and custom mean that people must stop and look, and they do. It would work here too. Laws would have to be changed to require drivers to come to a complete stop, and look. Not just follow the last car. An education program would be needed, and the police could be asked to have a blitz on bad driving behaviour at lights. The revenue from the latter would pay for the former. Near my home are traffic lights where cars wait for ages at a minor road that intersects with a major road, so drivers avoid it via side streets. Such rat-running would be stopped.

As a cyclist it would make no difference to me: I already assume all drivers are dangerous, especially at intersections.

The Minister needs to wake up to what is happening interstate and overseas, and make sure that this proposal is executed. Properly.

It would benefit all road users.

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Sean Richter
March 4, 2017 12:01 am

I agree Peter, the best defence is to assume that all other road users will do stupid stuff!

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Sean Richter
March 3, 2017 11:59 pm

I ride (in Lycra) and I drive and ride a Vespa (250cc – yes, I’ve done a ‘rider safe’ course). Unless a cyclist is intending to move straight ahead at the red light, this should not present any issue at all. If cyclists are stopped at the red light the car turning left should go in front of them. There is much more danger when cars queue to turn left at a green light and bikes are moving to cross the intersection from a bike lane on the left.

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I was trying to say it, and you said it much better! Thanks!

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Paul Huxford
March 4, 2017 9:22 pm

My first though as a driver was sure, good idea. My second thought was, forget it. The average Adelaide motorist does not have the intelligence to make this work.

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Russell Lindner
March 5, 2017 8:33 pm

Sean Richter 3/3/17… Huh!?!?
If I’m sitting on my bike, waiting at a red light to turn left and a car pulls up beside me also to turn left – usually at the end of a bike lane… you want me to give way to it and let it pass? And what about the other 6 that arrived after me?

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Vincent Tremaine
March 5, 2017 9:18 pm

I’m not so sure about cars turning left on red lights but it would be a lot safer if bikes could get out of the way and turn left when the lights are red. If that is too extreme then what about turning left if turning into a bike lane. Either way, bikes keep tighly to the left so we shouldn’t be a hazard.

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Really, whether this will be truly hazardous or not depends upon the behaviour or the drivers. As it stands now, roughly 50 percent of drivers disobey the rules when executing a left turn into a sidestreet, or at a ‘turn left anythime with care’ – one only needs to walk around town with kids to see that although there are many good drivers there are also plenty of callous and careless ones who’s only concern is to maximised their speed. What I find incredible is the holier than thou attitude… A policeman could literally sit on any one of dozens of street corners in Adelaide and write $100,000 worth of tickets in a single shift (assuming they could write fast enough). Personally I would be happier with the change if we actually enforced give-way-on-turn-left in the first place.

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I think we are slightly missing the point… perhaps the conversation the shadow minister should be starting is how do we get more people safely riding a bike as a mode of transport (as opposed to recreation) instead of moving cars more quickly through intersections – which might just be a vote for me ploy???

We have the perfect city for riding bikes around the metro area – it’s flat, mostly warm, mostly dry with wide roads and by international standards low traffic congestion.

Minister Pisoni – Time to become bold and not just follow!!

btw – I don’t see any real issue with the proposal as long as cars stop before entering the junction and use their indicators.

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Amazing number of pro car commentators on here! Until we have stand alone bike lanes in Adelaide on all major routes into the CBD and across the Metro area we will never be a safe, environmentally conscious, global leader in anything. Adelaide drivers cannot observe the current road rules, and have one of the worst road etiquette, so it is obvious that the Liberal party is just making up for their lack of constructive policy for future sustainable development by grasping at straws,once again.

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It’s ridiculous that we do not have uniform road rules in all states, just for safety reasons. Why does every state has to have its own road rules experts?

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Mark Parnell MLC
March 15, 2017 4:35 am

Thanks Christian. It’s been good to read the responses of fellow cyclists. I think this proposal will probably pass in the Upper House of Parliament but the Government is opposed, so it is unlikely to pass the both Houses necessary to become law.

I don’t intend to vote for it unless and until there has been a lot more work to consider the implications. Like most of the posters to this thread, as a motorist, I can see the advantage of being allowed to undertake this manoeuvre, which can be done safely most of the time. But as a cyclist and pedestrian, I’m very nervous. I also happen to believe that we need to consider our most vulnerable road users, rather than simply crafting more laws to advantage motorists.

Here are three additional things that I am taking into accoun:

Firstly, the Libs have attached this measure to a Bill on a completely different topic – the removal of road work speed restriction signs when there isn’t actually any roadworks in progress. So, this means there hasn’t really been proper community debate on the amendment. If the Libs insist on this measure, then the stalemate could result in no change to the roadwork rules – which everyone agrees need fixing.

Secondly, when the RAA – the motorists’ lobby – says it has whiskers on it, we should pay attention. Ditto for the Centre for Automotive Safety Research. Apparently there were 11 such intersections approved in Adelaide some years ago and within a short space of time, 6 were removed because most motorists disobeyed the signs and failed to stop. Clearly, a lot of work is needed on education before we approve this measure.

Thirdly, the issue of pedestrians needs careful consideration. Most pedestrians assume that when the cars have a red light, pedestrians can safely cross. But under this law, pedestrians will have to watch out for cars turning left through the red light across their path. Vision impaired pedestrians would be particularly vulnerable.

I’m sure this issue will re-emerge, but I would like it to be done in a more considered fashion. Perhaps the Citizens’ Jury process that delivered the new cycling laws might be a place to start?

Mark Parnell MLC, Parliamentary Leader, Greens SA (and Bike SA member since 1990)

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