The backlash over the Sydney Opera House sails being used to advertise The Everest horse race had “surprised” the Racing NSW chief, who said they were unlikely to use it again for promotions.
In an interview with Channel 7, the racing chief executive officer Graeme Hinton said he did not expect the furious response to projecting the barrier draw results for Saturday’s race.
“We were surprised by a little bit of the backlash behind this,” Mr Hinton said.
“But I think, now that everyone’s seen what went to air last night, it’s a chance to put it behind us and move forward.
“With The Everest, we do want to be a bit disruptive. We want to make this an event on the world stage, so we’ve learnt some lessons in how to make that happen.”
The illumination of the sails – which included horse numbers and jockeys’ colours being displayed alongside The Everest trophy – had captured international attention, and criticism.
However, despite the determination to push forward with Tuesday night’s event, Mr Hinton said the Opera House sails were unlikely to be used again.
“I don’t think we’ll be going quite down this path again,” he said.
“But we’re certainly keen to continue this level of promotion.”
Light-based protest a success, say demonstrators
On Tuesday night, more than 1000 Sydneysiders used phones, torches and professional lighting equipment to spoil the projection of the Everest barrier draw after the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian overruled the Opera House chief Louise Herron, who claimed the promotion would breach its guideline.
Protesters said the evening was a success and celebrated what they saw as a large turnout and a strong display of unity.
Mike Woodcock, who created the Defend Our Opera House petition which ended with 311,320 signatures, said he wanted to “shine a light” on the commercial interests threatening the cultural integrity of the heritage building and after last night’s rally, he achieved that.
“Together,” Mr Woodcock wrote in an update, “we started a debate about how our public buildings should be used – even making it an election issue with opposition leader Bill Shorten saying it should never happen again and wouldn’t under a Labor government.
“We reminded the nation that some things aren’t for profit, and that money isn’t the final reason for everything.
“And if they ever try to pull this kind of thing again, we’ll all be right here.”
Greens ‘ready and primed’ for legal challenge
Greens MP David Shoebridge, who was present at last night’s display, labelled the light-based protests “enormously successful at delegitimising the government” position around using heritage buildings for commercial advertisements.
“It was a disaster for Racing NSW, a disaster for the gambling industry and a disaster for the Berejiklian government,” he said.
“I can’t imagine them ever wanting to revisit this again.
“A credit to Sydneysiders … thousands of people from across society in Sydney were expressing their love and support for the Opera House and the deep anger for the government.
“The community values its cultural icons more than [Ms Berejiklian] does and is willing to fight for them.”
Mr Shoebridge said the events, which unfolded over Responsible Gambling Awareness week, has allowed his office and the community to prepare a legal challenge for future disputes involving heritage sites.
He cited a provision in the Heritage Act of 1977, specifically section 57(1b), that prohibited actions that would “damage or despoil” a heritage site such as the Opera House.
This argument was distinct from a Stop Work Order that activists were pursuing to prevent the planned projections from going forward earlier in the week, which could only be issued in the instance of physical damage done to the site.
The Greens MP said the community were “ready and primed” with a “fairly firm legal position” to challenge the government in the future.
Racing NSW CEO says Alan Jones backlash was ‘unwarranted’
During the protest, crowds were heard chanting profanities at 2GB presenter Alan Jones, whose heated interview with the Opera House chief is at the epicentre of the controversy.
On his Sky News program that aired shortly after the sails were illuminated, Mr Jones labelled the light-based protest as “childish stuff” from a “latte-sipping mob”.
The Racing NSW chief said the criticism levelled at Mr Jones, who made an on-air apology on about his interview with Ms Herron, were “unwarranted”.
“There’s been a lot of backlash against Alan,” Mr Hinton said. “He’s come out and apologised and said, ‘look, I probably should have shown a bit more courtesy there’.
“We can’t control that and I think some of that backlash is a bit unwarranted. They just went quite hard against Alan because of that.”
He said before Mr Jones’ interview with Ms Herron had captured national attention, the agreement between Racing NSW and the Opera was already greenlit.
“Between ourselves and the Opera House CEO, we had agreed to have the silks on there. We had agreed to have the trophy on there,” Mr Hinton said.
“By the time Alan became involved, we were arguing over the nuances of the design. So it was a fait accompli by then.”
The Premier echoed Mr Hinton’s comments about the promotion proposal, saying the NSW government was “very close” securing an “amicable agreement behind closed doors” on how to the advertise The Everest race.
Ms Berejiklian on Wednesday said she was disappointed with the way the debate spilled into the public arena and aggravated residents.