A hugely contentious advertisement for a racing event has gone ahead on the sails of the Sydney Opera House but the decision to allow the promotion has been received with protests and outrage.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on October 10, 2018

More than 1,000 people were at the iconic site to protest the promotion, which involved the barrier draw for The Everest being projected onto the building’s sails.

The decision to allow the advertisement was first reported in the Sydney Morning Herald. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Minister for Racing Paul Toole were behind the move.

A politically charged debate over commercialising the Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House CEO Louise Herron initially rejected such use of the Opera House but was overruled by the Premier.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison even weighed in on the issue.

“I just don’t understand why we’re tying ourselves up in knots about this,” he told conservative talkback radio host Alan Jones.

“It’s not like they’re painting it up there.”

A petition opposing the advertisement has since gathered more than 250,000 signatures

Herron had said the promotion had no place on the world heritage listed building. ‘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 story gained new legs when broadcaster Alan Jones weighed in

An already heated debate became increasingly acrimonious after Jones angrily confronted Herron in an interview.

“Who do you think you are?,” Jones shouted. “Who the hell…I will be speaking to Gladys Berejlikian in about five minutes and if you can’t come to the party, Louise, you should lose your job.” Jones, a broadcaster never far from controversy, was accused of bullying and misogynist behaviour.

Jones has since apologised for the interview, saying he regretted “having heard” certain parts of what he said.

Satirical group The Chaser responded by projecting Jones’ mobile phone number and the words ‘Advertise here – call Alan’ onto Sydney landmarks including the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Parliament House before attempting to display the projection on the Sydney Opera House.

“Crass use of our greatest cultural icon”

The furore over the promotion was also largely about how public spaces should be used and whether commercial interests should be allowed to infringe on a site of such cultural importance.

The NSW chapter of the Australian Institute of Architects expressed its support for Herron’s stance.

“The management of the Opera House have a duty to the people of New South Wales to protect the Opera House from exploitation,” NSW Chapter President Andrew Nimmo said.

“We are disappointed that the NSW Government has intervened and instructed them, against their policy, to allow its sails to be lit up with commercially driven material.”

The Minister’s ability to override the building’s trust has been questioned, with Independent Member of Parliament Alex Greenwich proposing a motion which would remove the Minister’s discretion to reverse Trust decisions.

“If this crass use of our greatest cultural icon is allowed to go ahead – it should be the last time,” said Greenwich. “We must stop the culture of a minister picking up the phone on behalf of his mates in the racing industry and telling the Opera House what to do. I will begin work immediately to amend the act, the government will likely use their numbers to block it from even being debated, but the next parliament will be a very different place.

“Sydney is not Las Vegas, and our cultural icons should not be used to help the racing industry make a profit from problem gambling,” Mr Greenwich told reporters.