Controversial Decision To Use Sydney Opera House As A ‘Billboard’ Sparks Massive Debate Amid A Day Of Political & Media Battles

It has been a long day but it ends with the sudden & controversial decision to use the Sydney Opera House essentially as a ‘billboard’ to promote the upcoming The Everest horse race, a horse race that, whilst being the richest turf horse race in the world, has only been held once.

This is, without a doubt, the most controversial decision in the history of ‘Spectaculars’ in Sydney.

Firstly, apologies to all the Sydney Spectaculars followers for not posting any stories and responding to queries received. In the upcoming month, a post will be made about the future of the blog as the past 9 months, we’ve been weighing up what to do with the blog. We will then also respond to the queries received. In any case, this story is too big not to post about.

So prepare for the most controversial decision regarding a Sydney Spectacular EVER.

The story has only erupted in the past 24 hours but as we follow stories about what we call as ‘Sydney Spectaculars’, we can actually say it begun just under a year ago but let’s begin 7 months prior to that to get the full timeline:

2 February 2017

Racing New South Wales (NSW) & The Australian Turf Club announce a new horse race, The Everest, which is to be the richest turf horse race in the world with AUD$10,000,000 prize money, which is funded by “subscribers” & the event’s revenue. It is to be run under weight-for-age conditions over 1200 metres on the Royal Randwick Racecourse on the 2nd Saturday of each October.

To enter the race, it costs $600,000 depending the result of an expressions of interest process. There are 12 spots available, which can be traded with other horse owners.

As referred by the Australian Turf Club Chairman, Laurie Macri:

…Racing NSW and the Australian Turf Club…share a vision to see more Sydney racing on the world stage

Australian Turf Club Chief Executive Officer, Darren Pearce, said:

The Everest furthers our goal to attract a global audience…

These 2 quotes emphasise why The Everest was created.

Australia’s most iconic race is the Melbourne Cup, first held just under 160 years ago and whilst is one of the richest turf horse races in the world, it’s prize money is $7,300,000. Sydney and Melbourne, the capital cities of the states of NSW & Victoria and the largest and 2nd largest cities in Australia respectively have long held a sporting rivalry.

10 October 2017

The barrier draw for the 1st edition of The Everest is held on a boat in Sydney Harbour’s Farm Cove.

14 October 2017

The Everest is held for the 1st time won by Redzel. 33,000 people attended compared to the Melbourne Cup‘s attendance of approximately 90,000, which was held just under a month later.

17 October 2017

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the parliamentary leader of the NSW Labor Party said that, if his political party wins next year’s (2019) state election (to be held on the 23rd of March), they will allow on the Sunday prior to the race, the Sydney Harbour Bridge to be closed and used for the barrier draw for The Everest, which would have formed part of new week-long festival centred around The Everest.

The article also mentioned that The Everest from 2019 might be held on a Friday night instead.

Closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, home of one of Australia’s busiest and critical motorways, for an event like a barrier draw would have been unjustifiably disruptive. After all, the barrier draw held a week prior to the article’s publication was held on a boat on Sydney Harbour’s Farm Cove, which is in front of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. It was also televised globally. That was in an iconic location with the benefits outweighing the costs. Closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge would’ve undoubtedly have the costs outweigh the benefits.

Closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge has been done before but for more realistic events like protest marches, fireworks displays, Formula 1 car driving and historic commemorations but nothing that is nearly equivalent to a simple lottery draw that can be held in a smaller location with an equally iconic view.

At the time, the leader of the NSW Parliamentary Labor Party, Luke Foley, said:

If the government is focused on sitting down with Racing NSW and the Australian Turf Club this could grow and grow and grow into just the greatest promotion for Sydney on the global stage

It is likely this is what has sparked the current situation particularly due to the state election to be held in just under 6 months.

21-24 August 2018

Friction in the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party leads to Prime Minister (at the time) Malcolm Turnbull (Leader of that parliamentary political party) to call a spill at a party meeting, which he subsequently wins but upon receipt of a petition containing a majority of signatures of party members, another extraordinary meeting was held where he resigned the parliamentary political party leadership. He later resigned as Prime Minister. Scott Morrison subsequently got elected by the party and appointed by the Governor-General to each of those positions respectively.

27 August 2018

Alan Jones, a radio broadcaster, revealed to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s 7:30 program that he contacted 2 Members Of Parliament (MP) during the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party leadership spills that occurred earlier that month.

Though one of the MPs is a friend of Alan Jones, the other likely isn’t particularly as he refused to name who that MP was. Access to MPs from their electors is extremely hard to get due to their busy schedule and to have such direct access during such extraordinary times questions how much influence he has over the current Coalition Government & in particular, the Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party.

5 October 2018

Approximately 1:00am

The Daily Telegraph reports that NSW government officials rejected a pitch by Racing NSW to host the barrier draw on the side of Sydney Harbour Bridge without disrupting traffic sometime ago.

Clearly, from that, at some point, the NSW Labor Party’s plan (if it was initially their plan) was heard about by Racing NSW who proposed it to the NSW Government for the 2018 edition of The Everest. However, it was inevitably realised that closing the Sydney Harbour Bridge was never going to be an option so a projection show on the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons became the newer option.

However, for some unknown reason, that more logical idea was rejected by NSW Government officials but, as compensation, offered Racing NSW to use the Sydney Opera House instead.

Negotiations then begun (sometime before mid-August as per the Sydney Opera House’s Sail Illumination Policy) between the NSW Government, Racing NSW & the Sydney Opera House Trust, which were still going at this point, to hold an hour long projection show on the Sydney Opera House next Tuesday (9th of October 2018) as part of the barrier draw.

It was to be “designed alongside the company behind the renowned Vivid festival”. Vivid Sydney has always been organised by Destination NSW, the NSW Government’s tourism agency. The Lighting Of The Sails, though, has been designed by numerous companies over the event’s history.

The projection show would coincide with the barrier draw, which lasts 5 minutes and show the names and colours of the 12 horses. For  55 minutes after the projection show, the horses’ colours would be shown. The Everest logo would also be shown the projection show, which would be recorded and used in promotional material all around the world.

The negotiations were mediated by the Sports Minister, Stuart Ayres, but the Sydney Opera House Trust kept refusing to allow the projection show.

The night prior to the article’s publication saw Racing NSW agreed to remove The Everest logo from the images to be used and instead replace it with a trophy.

Approximately 9:00am

Invited by Alan Jones, a radio broadcaster, the CEO of Racing NSW and the Sydney Opera House Trust go on The Alan Jones Breakfast Show via telephone, a program on the radio station 2GB. Listen to the full interview here (We upload the full interview so you can listen to it here in a day or so)

Alan Jones refers to ‘rugby’ in the interview. He is referring to the usage of the Sydney Opera House for the Wallabies logo during the 2015 Rugby World Cup, which wasn’t held in Australia. However, it was held at the time of the projection, which lasted a few nights. This isn’t promotion for a future event though as the event was occurring at the time of the projection. According to Stuart Ayres at the time, it was used “to cheer the team on” and “to celebrate the Wallabies”.

Image credit: Destination NSW / James Morgan

Approximately 5:00pm

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the chief executive of the Sydney Opera House, Louise Herron, said she has received an “outpouring of support” in response to the earlier interview which showed the Sydney Opera House Trust’s resistance to the proposal. Ms Herron told the Herald:

The community regards the Opera House as its asset to be treated with respect, to be treated as the treasure it is. The accusation that this is in any way elitist is just so wrong, because the response is from the community. The racing community is a small part of the community… but does it get to dictate something to the rest of the community … when the rest of the community is saying ‘we absolutely don’t want this?’

Referring to the Sydney Opera House’s official Sail Illumination Policy, she said to the Herald that it was important to maintain such a policy:

What that means is when people come along and say ‘I want to advertise Chicken Tonight on the sails,’ we can hold firm because we never approve that.

If we said yes to this, ‘we’re fine put the Everest logo on there’ our policy is worthless to us, we’re just going to allow whoever comes along to use the Opera House as a billboard,’ we would lose our World Heritage status.

We would be seen in the global community as not respecting this jewel, this masterpiece of human creative genius that is the greatest building of the 20th Century.

The government wants something to happen. Something will happen, I have no doubt. At the very least the colours will go up. And that’s fine. We will support the government’s position… as we always do

When asked by the Herald what she thought of the proposal, she laughed and said:

Well what can you say? Just so inappropriate.

In response to the interview with Alan Jones, she said to the Herald:

I feel very supported by the board, I feel very supported by the government, and I feel very supported by the community. I wouldn’t feel that supported by Alan Jones, but by the rest I certainly do.

The Sydney Morning Herald claims Luke Foley, the parliamentary leader of the NSW Labor Party, supports the proposal.

Approximately 6:00pm – THE DECISION

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the NSW Government will instruct the Sydney Opera House Trust to agree with the proposal (including the trophy amendment). However, some more amendments are to be made, the word ‘Everest’ will be added but not the list of the participating horses.

The chief executive of Racing NSW, Peter V’landys, said to the Herald:

We are very grateful to the NSW Government and Sydney Opera House for their support. We look forward to promoting Sydney internationally via the world’s richest race on turf – The Everest.

The instruction will come from the NSW Arts Minister, Don Harwin, who the Herald understands to be disappointed with the decision.

To the Herald, a spokesman for the NSW Premier said “of course” Ms Herron had her support, but would not answer whether the Premier had spoken to Alan Jones that day.

During the interview, Alan Jones said he will be speaking with the NSW Premier in “5, 3 minutes”, which was after when his show concluded.

Main Analysis

The Sydney Opera House’s official Sail Illumination Policy states:

Requests for illumination of the Sails may come from time to time from Government to promote special events or encourage tourism. These requests will be responded to positively while maintaining the Trust’s policy of non-exploitation of the Sails.

It is the last 10 words of that policy section that is currently contentious – “while maintaining the Trust’s policy of non-exploitation of the Sails”.

The Everest is a ‘special event’ though and does ‘encourage tourism’ and based on that quote above, the Government can request but not instruct the Sydney Opera House CEO to accept this proposal. The Sydney Opera House CEO will respond positively but only if it doesn’t exploit the Sails. This has all been done.

The policy linked to this article is from 2012. It went under review in 2014 so we can’t be certain if it is the same but it is very likely the same.

So who is in the right? The Sydney Opera House Trust or The Everest organisers? You can be the judge.

In the end however, the Arts Minister can instruct the Trust to accept the proposal due to the Sydney Opera Trust Act 1961:

In the exercise and discharge of its powers, authorities, duties and functions the Trust shall, notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, be subject to the control and direction of the Minister.

The bigger story out of this is the influence of media figures in politics particularly in light of the recent Liberal Party leadership spill, which saw a change in Prime Minister (and several other ministers – well nearly all ministers) as well as the resignation from the Australian Parliament of Malcolm Turnbull.

This post updates…(as we’re still writing the post)

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