Politics

The Alan Jones Opera House Scandal Is Sydney At Its Absolute Worst

Why does anyone take this guy seriously?

The decision to turn the Sydney Opera House into a giant billboard for a racing event is, at its heart, a deeply Sydney story.

One of the ironclad rules of Australian politics is that the NSW branch of any political party will always be the worst one.

It was NSW Labor that gave us soulless apparatchiks like Graham Richardson and Sam Dastyari, and where the culture of tearing down leaders was first fomented by the faceless men of the NSW Right. The war for the soul of the Liberal party is currently being fought in NSW, with Tony Abbott and (until recently) Malcolm Turnbull flying the flag for their respective armies. Even the peace-loving Greens put down their baskets for a bit of internecine internal warfare in NSW.

So it should come as no surprise that a man like Alan Jones sits on the throne in a state that consistently rewards bullies and spivs, ruling like it’s his own personal fiefdom.

It’s often said that in the Trump White House, the various spokespeople and aides who appear on TV defending the administration’s policies are performing for an audience of one — Trump himself. In Sydney, the audience of one doesn’t sit behind the resolute desk. He sits behind a microphone in Pyrmont, wielding obscene-yet-hard-to-define power and demanding that politicians and business leaders kiss his ring. A prodigious letter writer known for his fierce loyalty, Jones can — and often does — make or break political careers.

Alan Jones Vs A Strong Woman

Never was that power more evident than on Friday, when NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian caved in to Jones and allowed one of Australia’s biggest cultural icons to be turned into a glorified gambling ad.

It started, as so many stories do, with Alan Jones hectoring a woman on air. The woman was Louise Herron, the chief executive of the Opera House, and she was resisting a push by Racing NSW to have the Opera House adorned with the logo and barrier draw of the upcoming $13 million Everest horse race.

Herron had agreed to put the jockeys’ colours on the Opera House’s famous sales, but drew the line at logos and trophies, pointing out that to do so would be in breach of the Opera House Charter, and the values of the building’s world heritage status.

That wasn’t enough for Jones, who doesn’t have a horse running in the Everest, but does have deep connections to the Australian racing industry.

Jones, who has taught at Australia’s most prestigious private schools, advised a Prime Minister, hosted a top rating radio show for decades and lives literally next door to the Opera House in one of Sydney’s most exclusive buildings, called Herron an elitist.

“Who the hell do you think … who do you think you are?” Jones blasted Herron in his typical style, before effectively threatening her job by saying that he would soon “pick up the phone” to Berejiklian, and warning Herron that she had “better come to the table”.

It was vintage Jones; Bluster, intimidation, and an unbelievable sense of entitlement that only comes with knowledge, that yes, in fact, he does actually run this town.

Sure enough, by Friday evening Berejiklian had stepped in and ordered Herron to do Jones and the racing industry’s bidding. It’s hard to blame the NSW Premier. Prime Ministers since John Howard and NSW Premiers since Bob Carr have all had to lick the broadcaster’s boots at some point.

And she wasn’t alone. Labor hero Anthony Albanese backed Racing NSW, as did state Labor leader Luke “white flight” Foley. The one leader who famously refused to bow before Jones was Malcolm Turnbull, and we all know how that turned out for him. Thankfully, Scott Morrison has resumed normal transmission with regular appearances on Jones’ program.

On Sunday, the PM backed Jones and Berejiklian. “This is one of the biggest events of the year. Why not put it on the biggest billboard Sydney has” he asked, ignoring the fact that the Opera House isn’t actually a billboard, it’s a world heritage listed, culturally significant landmark.

Berejiklian, Foley and Morrison all face elections in the first half of 2019, and have clearly decided that pissing off Jones just isn’t worth it.

Who Cares About Alan Jones?

But why does anyone take him seriously? This is a man who once incited a race riot, and very recently used the N-word on air with pride. Leaders in other states marvel at Jones’ ability to wield such influence with Jones has, at best, a few hundred thousand ageing listeners.

Perhaps one answer is that where Jones goes, so goes The Daily Telegraph. Their influence has never been more clear than in former NSW Premier Mike Baird’s failed attempt to ban greyhound racing in the state. Baird’s former media adviser, Imre Saluzinsky, has written at length about the power wielded by Jones and his stablemate Ray Hadley, who weren’t bound by the usual rules of journalism, and set about destroying Baird’s premiership over the issue.

“Tabloid media in NSW is collapsing,” Saluzinsky wrote. “Younger audiences have no interest in its agenda, and its power resides largely in the minds of the Coalition MPs it seeks periodically to intimidate and terrorise.”

That’s exactly what we saw last week. Only in Sydney.


Rob Stott is the Managing Editor Of Junkee Media. Yell at him about Alan Jones here.