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This week, we saw the people stand against the commercialisation of the Opera House. But one must believe that was a battle, in a war that still rages.
Damaging cultural icons for narrow partisan gain is a dangerous new tactic of the political right. Whether it is destroying the Powerhouse for a property deal or trashing the Opera House for a horse race, much-loved institutions are finding themselves collateral damage in a switch and bait game played by their political masters.
It’s pretty hard to make a political case to shut the Powerhouse Museum and sell off its inner-city site to your developer mates. It’s also hard to sell the idea of turning the Opera House into a giant commercial billboard for a horse race to deliver bucketloads of cash for your friends in the gambling industry. So if you want to do these things, how do you go about it?
The answer the Coalition has come up with is simple. Don’t make it about gambling, or property development. Make it all about an apparently out-of-touch cultural elite who put Beethoven before horse-racing and the inner-city before the western suburbs. Their plan is to make standing up for the Powerhouse and the Opera House politically damaging, putting those who defend these landmarks on the side of a cultural elite and against the interests of the many.
The public are proud of the iconic status of the Sydney Opera House. They expect those they elect to also care and to do all they can to protect it, not exploit it.
It’s a pretty extraordinary, but brutally familiar, tactic. A bald-faced plan to make dealing with ultra-rich property developers and the backers of the “richest horse race in the world” as somehow sticking up for the common people.
But what if those millions of Sydneysiders who love the Opera House and fondly remember their trip to the Powerhouse with their parents or their school and then later with their kids aren’t buying it? What might have worked a decade ago has run headlong into an increasingly cynical electorate who have begun to look beyond the spin of the political class. They see an ad as an ad. They see a property deal as a property deal. In short, the constituents are now very keen to call bullshit when they see it.
The people of Sydney and NSW know the Opera House and the Powerhouse are the people’s houses. Places we take our children, places to go to enjoy views of Sydney’s beautiful harbour. They are not rarefied places of high culture, but places where there are rock concerts and children’s shows, school excursions and day trips, opera and theatre, comedy, dance and everything in between.
The Coalition make it about an out-of-touch cultural elite who put Beethoven before horse-racing and the inner-city before the western suburbs.
The public care about cultural heritage, they are proud of the iconic status of the Sydney Opera House, one of the most globally recognised icons of our country. For many commuters and others, it is a regular part of our day, and it always brings a smile. They expect those they elect to also care and to do all they can to protect it, not exploit it.
This was proven when, within hours of being put up, a publicly-started petition to defend the Opera House gathered over 300,000 signatures. Then thousands of Sydneysiders headed down to Opera Quay with flashlights, placards and Opera-House-shaped-hats to stand up directly for this beloved institution. Now a public survey has shown that more than 80% of NSW residents are opposed to the ads.
The House and the people won.
There’s a lesson here for the political class. Clever backroom deals with disingenuous public spin might have worked before but not now. The voter’s cynicism is real and it’s well founded. This is why they don’t buy the argument we have to destroy the Powerhouse for Western Sydney or we have to debase the Opera House for the good of the state.
So rather than keep on as business as usual, maybe it’s time to make simple, principled decisions without the benefit of a focus group and without benefiting a special interest. What the last week has proven is that politicians are well out of step with the community. It’s time to listen to the public and not big business mates.
It’s time to leave these beloved institutions alone.