An artist’s impression of the 2018 Barrier draw being projected onto the Sydney Opera House.
An artist’s impression of the 2018 Barrier draw being projected onto the Sydney Opera House.

PM warns Opera House critics against being ‘so precious’

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has strongly backed a plan to promote Australia's richest horse race on the sails of the Opera House, declaring it is "common sense" to use "the biggest billboard Sydney has".

As critics bemoaned the use of the Opera House to promote The Everest, Mr Morrison, who ran Tourism Australia before entering Parliament, launched a forceful defence of the proposal.

He said the state government was right to push one of its biggest tourism events in whatever way it can.

"This is one of the biggest events of the year, why not put it on the biggest billboard Sydney has?" Mr Morrison said. "I come from a tourism background and these events generate massive economic opportunities for the state.

"It's just common sense. And I don't know why people are getting so precious about it," he said, adding, "This isn't about advertising a packet of chips," and urging critics to "have a bit of a lie down".

The Prime Minister (pictured) pointed to jobs and money injected into the state by the $13 million event - the world's richest horse race on turf - which officials envisage one day competing with the Melbourne Cup on a global scale.

The idea has strong bipartisan support, and has been vocally backed by NSW Labor leader Luke Foley and federal Labor shadow tourism minister Anthony Albanese. However Premier Gladys Berejiklian has had to fend off criticism after supporting Racing NSW in negotiations with Opera House boss Louise Herron, who resisted showing the horses' barrier numbers and the Everest trophy as part of the display. The Premier has been accused of bowing to radio talkback king Alan Jones, who called for Ms Herron's sacking on Friday.

 

The Sydney Opera House was lit up by Samsung for a promotion in 2013.
The Sydney Opera House was lit up by Samsung for a promotion in 2013.

 

However, The Daily Telegraph understands the government was pushing for the light show for weeks and Ms Herron had actually agreed to the idea that there could be some form of promotion on the Opera House the day before the controversy blew up last week. By then, the parties were haggling over the inclusion of the horses' names, barrier numbers and the Everest trophy.

Racing NSW boss Peter V'landys was offered the Opera House by the government as a platform to promote the major event after his own pitch to conduct the barrier draw on the Sydney Harbour Bridge without disrupting traffic was rejected.

In a two-page statement yesterday, Mr V'landys said there were numerous instances of The Opera House sails being used to promote other events such as the World Cup and the Ashes. The sails have even been used to promote mobile phone brand Samsung in a commercial deal in the past.

 

The Sydney Opera House was illuminated in Green and Gold ahead of the Rugby World Cup final in 2015. Picture: Don Arnold
The Sydney Opera House was illuminated in Green and Gold ahead of the Rugby World Cup final in 2015. Picture: Don Arnold

 

In Melbourne, images of champion mare Winx were beamed onto heritage-listed Flinders Street Station as recently as Friday without a murmur of opposition. Senior government sources pointed yesterday to this as evidence that Melbourne is far ahead of Sydney when it comes to promoting its own events.

 

Flinders Street Station in Melbourne was promoting Winx last week.
Flinders Street Station in Melbourne was promoting Winx last week.

 

Ms Berejiklian launched her own defence of her intervention, saying she'd made the best decision for the community. "Last year images of (The Everest) were broadcast to 60 million people in the world … so we know it's a drawcard for NSW. We know it's an important event for NSW and that's why the decision was taken," she said.

Mr V'landys said yesterday he was seeking to "promote an event - The Everest - not gambling". "Racing has been a part of Australia's fabric of society since colonisation. It was first conducted to lift the morale of Australia's workforce. The Opera House sails have been used to promote other events. Gambling is also conducted on these events," he said.

 

Premier Gladys Berejiklian launched her own defence of the decision on Sunday. Picture: Ben Rushton
Premier Gladys Berejiklian launched her own defence of the decision on Sunday. Picture: Ben Rushton

 

Racing NSW had made numerous concessions in the negotiations, Mr V'landys said, adding that "the vast majority of negotiations had occurred with the government and Opera House before the Jones interview with Ms Herron. "In fact from our perspective, Alan Jones has absolutely nothing to do with the final decision."

Sports Minister Stuart Ayres said last night that horse racing was part of Australian culture and should not be dismissed.

"From a verse by Banjo Paterson to Phar Lap and now the wonder mare Winx, horse racing has been embedded in Australian culture for over 200 years," he said. "The Everest is Sydney's race. Our moment to shine, to show off our city to the world."

The race will be run at Royal Randwick on Saturday.



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