The view from Billinudgel

Promo ScoMo and commodifying public space
The crass commercialism of last week’s promotion on the Opera House was a step too far


They say that if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And perhaps if your main life experience is in PR, everything looks like a billboard.

Which is no doubt why Promo ScoMo regards desecrating the Sydney Opera House as a no-brainer: Sydney’s biggest billboard, screaming for advertising, the crasser the better.

Of course there are limits – some things are sacred. Even Morrison probably wouldn’t allow advertising on the Cenotaph, or the Shrine of Remembrance, and definitely not on Hillsong or Horizon church in Sydney, or Planetshakers in Melbourne.

But apart from that, it should be open slather – after all, isn’t that what free enterprise and freedom of speech are all about? This has been the neoliberal movement’s message for many years now, and it has obviously made an impression on some politicians. The vicious intervention of the permanently obnoxious Alan Jones brought the issue to prominence, but there is little sign that either Gladys Berejiklian or Morrison needed much persuading.

For them it was simply the natural order of things. There could be a buck in it, and there were precedents: the sails of the World Heritage–listed masterpiece had been illuminated before, without much serious protest. True, and some of the illuminations could be fairly described as tacky.

But the blatant commercialism of spruiking a horserace simply because it is desperate to gain recognition for more than the size of its prize money was step too far, even for the property-obsessed citizens of Sydney. There were protests, even vain attempts to prevent the light show going ahead at all. The Emerald City, or at least a section of it, struck back: it was all very well to be caught up in an arms race with Melbourne over whether ours is bigger than theirs, but we prefer our Opera House without the electronic graffiti, thanks all the same.

Berejiklian appeared somewhat chastened, but Morrison remains totally unrepentant: he couldn’t understand why people were being so “precious” about it; in his view, this was a great win for Sydney. Given the avalanche of publicity that has eventuated, it was certainly a great win for the race’s promoters. However, whether that should be the complete and final justification for what some maintain is an outrage remains arguable: the economic value may be regarded as unquestioned, but what about other values? Isn’t our evangelical prime minister concerned with these?

Well, yes, but strictly on his own terms. Happily his religion is not a problem: it has been able to reconcile God and mammon in a way that relieves its parishioners of any anxiety about squeezing camels through the eyes of needles. Greed may not be an unalloyed good, but making money for the right cause is perfectly acceptable – and what better cause can be there be than advertising a horserace on the side of one of our most revered public buildings in the name of tourism?

Morrison can sing along with a clear conscience next Sunday:

I’ve found the answer to socialism

In fiscal Pentacostalism.

This is the lesson that my gospel has taught:

It doesn’t exist if it can’t be bought.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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