Controversy over planned use of Opera House as billboard to promote horse race

Controversy over planned use of Opera House as billboard to promote horse race

The New South Wales Government’s plan to use the Sydney Opera House as a digital billboard to promote the $13 million Everest Cup horse race has proved controversial, despite being backed by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Late last week the Premier intervened after broadcaster Alan Jones publicly criticised Opera House executive Louise Herron, who said that words or branding promoting the Everest Cup should not be projected onto the Opera House because “it’s not a billboard”.

The intervention means the Sydney Opera House management will be forced to promote the horse race.

Ms Berejiklian said she was “incredibly comfortable” with her intervention.

“We would never do anything that wouldn’t support the iconic stature of the Opera House, but it is also extremely important for us to promote those events that bring jobs and economic activity to NSW,” she said.

In response former Opera House chief executive Michael Lynch said that using the landmark to promote Tuesday night’s barrier draw for the Saturday race is a “crass, inappropriate, and offensive use of the Opera House sails.”

Although in the past the Opera House has been used to celebrate victories of the Australian rugby and cricket teams, Mr Lynch told ABC radio: “I don’t think the general public feels any similar feelings toward a horse race where you have to pay $600,000 to enter.”

National Trust NSW conservation director Graham Quint echoed those sentiments, calling the plan “crass commercialism”.

“The World Heritage listing requires not only that the building be preserved in its fabric, but also that it be presented properly,” Mr Quint told ABC TV. “In no way under the current conservation management plan should this be allowed. This is private commercialism as opposed to Australia supporting the Wallabies or the Olympics.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and federal opposition leader Bill Shorten also clashed over the decision.

Mr Morrison described the Opera House as “the biggest billboard Sydney has”, and said it should be utilised along with the Harbour Bridge.

“It’s not like they’re painting [the promotion] on there,” he said.

But Mr Shorten responded, telling reporters in Melbourne: “The Opera House is not a billboard, it’s a thing of great beauty. It’s part of our national treasure and deserves the respect that comes with that.”

Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys told Sky News that the sporting body had been in negotiations with the NSW Government for more than a year and initially wanted to use the Harbour Bridge to promote the event, but the Opera House had been put forward as an alternative venue.

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