Opinion

The world is our billboard

By John Lewis

Now is the time to get your bets in.

What and where will be the next billboard?

We have so many to choose from — Uluru, Parliament House, the eight Apostles, the War Memorial, the MCG.

Given the digital project technology behind White Nights, there’s absolutely no reason the MacDonnell Ranges or the entire Great Barrier Reef could not be used to advertise World Wrestling Entertainment.

Personally I think a 200m image of Hulk Hogan performing a Smackdown on Stone Cold Steve Austin would be absolutely awesome displayed across the largest living organism on earth off the coast of Queensland.

On a local level — how about a tasteful picture of the latest SPC products displayed across the edifice of Eastbank?

This week’s illumination of jockey numbers, colours and an image of a branded horse race trophy on the sails of the Sydney Opera House was so crass it would have been laughable if it didn’t point to darker things like power, greed and bullying.

A straight debate between arts luvvies and race punters on what is a cultural icon would be entertaining, but never conclusive.

But the waters around the Opera House have been muddied by the megaphone of Alan Jones and the hypnotic power it seems to wield over politicians — particularly right-wing politicians.

Why are prime ministers, state premiers and former power-wielders falling over themselves to appease Jones?

The answer is they believe he commands a vast constituency of people who agree with everything he says.

But the Opera House furore has shone a light on Jones’ clay feet.

By Tuesday afternoon a change.org petition against the Opera House billboard promotion had more than 283000 signatures.

By that evening about 1000 torch-wielding chanting people turned up to express their disgust at the decision to turn the Opera House into a billboard fuelled by Jones’ shock jock braying.

Where was Jones’ army of supporters?

Politicians are terrified of the Jones army of angry battlers and disgruntled middle class voters.

Yet here was Jones promoting gambling interests through a $13million horse race run by, and for, the elite.

So much for being a voice for the everyman.

Of course the only people Jones and his fellow shock jocks speak for is themselves.

What the Opera House furore has shown in a powerful way is that politicians and megaphone powerbrokers like Jones are actually completely out of touch with ordinary people — their desires and their beliefs.

Some things can’t be bought. Some things are precious beyond money. World heritage icons are not cheap billboards.

Here on the street, we all know that.

But up there in the neon party rooms and towers of ideology, they’ve forgotten.

Once again millions of ordinary punters are making their own choices on climate change, sustainable energy, sexual orientation, healthy food and education funding — choices which are not reflected by the policies that politicians are pursuing.

At the moment I’m reading the book Rusted Off by Gabrielle Chan which talks about the divide between voters, particularly country voters, and politicians.

Here, Ms Chan eloquently describes the situation:

‘‘There is Australia. Then there is the land of Parliamentalia — a castle surrounded by a moat. In Parliamentalia, anybody can argue any stance and make it sound credible.

‘‘These skills, learned in school debating teams and university competitions on the road to a political career, have become the very things voters despise.’’

The Opera House debacle, although a particuarly Sydney affair, does illustrate a national plea.

We’re tired of trickle-down politics — we need trickle-up politics.

John Lewis is The News’ chief of staff.