Flat White

The Opera House is not a billboard – for anyone or any cause

9 October 2018

1:04 PM

9 October 2018

1:04 PM

I have a reluctant confession to make. I sort of agree with Bill Shorten. Sort of.

The Sydney Opera House is not a billboard.

It is home for culture and the arts, certainly. But it is also the People’s House, bought and paid for by the people, through its own lottery. It is loved by the people for what it is, an architectural marvel and one of the great buildings of the world, a source of civic and national pride.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s overruling the Sydney Opera House management’s decision not to allow the promoters of this week’s Everest neddies race to project advertising and barrier draws for the event on the sails of the Opera House, was a ghastly and tasteless misjudgement. Whether or not she did it under pressure from 2GB broadcaster Alan Jones is irrelevant. She accepted the Opera House is, in the words of PM Scott Morrison, ‘Sydney’s biggest billboard’ and so it will be, in all its tacky crassness.

By Tuesday morning, with the Everest light show happening that night, an online petition by rabble-rouser change.org had attracted 230,000 signatures. Whatever the motivation of that petition (incidentally capturing a lot of email addresses for change.org mailing lists); it means a heck of a lot of angry Australians bothering to vent their feelings. Many more will be as angry, and millions more simply bemused by the latest Berejiklian government mess with a state election now just months away.

Some have said this is Berejiklian’s ‘Prince Philip’ moment, an absurd decision that crystallises and symbolises the bumbling and serial misjudgements of the government she leads. Maybe, maybe not. Morrison strongly defending her decision and dismissing the storm of criticism suggests, however, that he is always not as politically deft as he’s been looking since emerging from the Turnbull train wreck.


The Sydney Opera House is a thing of beauty, and when its sails are used as a unique son et lumiere backdrop its intrinsic architectural beauty is enhanced immeasurably. Just look at the stunning use of the sails for events such as the annual Vivid festival, giving pleasure to Sydneysiders and visitors alike, and sending dazzling images of Australia to the world.

But when it is used as a mere propaganda tool, as it will be on Tuesday night, it merely looks vulgar, crass and ugly.

So Shorten is right in saying the Opera House is not a billboard. But ever the opportunist with an eye to the public’s reaction, the Labor leader was merely joining the Everest promotion bandwagon, and not advocating a blanket ban on Opera House propaganda. In that’ he’s as blinkered as one of those Everest-running neddies.

For it’s not just rank commercial propaganda that is offensive. Too often the Opera House is made a platform for trendy virtue-signalling, a propaganda tool exploited by the luvvies and their political fellow travellers.

Last month the sails turned green because the Opera House management wanted to advertise its achieving carbon neutrality targets. Last year, they were turned into rainbow flags to celebrate the success of the Yes vote on the gay marriage referendum. They are used to promote NAIDOC week. And they are darkened each year for that pointless and confected greenie lovefest, Earth Hour. These blatant propaganda exercises are no less exploiting the Opera House as a billboard than any horse race or sporting event. Yet they are not only approved, but celebrated.

In his radio filleting of Opera House CEO Louise Herron last Friday, Alan Jones insisted the people own the Opera House and she is just its manager. Jones appallingly and unforgivably bullied Herron but on that he’s right: the contributions of the generation of punters who bought Opera House Lottery tickets, and taxpayers ever since who pay for the building’s upkeep, should be respected.

Giving that respect means governments, businesses and especially leftist virtue-signallers all should keep their grubby hands off the People’s House, and Shorten and other critics of the Everest fiasco shouldn’t be selective in their anger. They should insist it’s used only for its intended purpose as a place of public enjoyment, not a propaganda tool by anyone or any special interest.

Lighting up the Opera House sails to give visual pleasure to all Australians is one thing, but using them for propaganda – any propaganda – is anathema.

In condemning the Everest promotion but not the use of the Opera House to propagandise the left’s pet causes like gay marriage and Earth Hour, Shorten’s just another opportunistic hypocrite.

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