Bartlett's Blog

Andrew Bartlett has been active in politics for over 20 years, including as a Queensland Senator from 1997-2008. This blog started in 2004 and reflects his own views, independent of any political party or organisation.

$700 million to fix the Opera House -what should Sydneysiders have to do in return?

There are reports today that 700 million dollars is needed to restore and refurbish the Sydney Opera House.

This makes me wonder whether there should be a so-called Shared Responsibility Agreement with the people of Sydney before any government money is provided to fix the Opera House. This is currently a favourite approach of the federal government for needy aboriginal communities, where the government only agrees to provide some money for a pressing community need if the community agrees to do something positive like improve school attendance rates.

What social improvement should the public of Sydney be required to perform before their Opera House gets the megabucks?

In exchange for federal funding, Premier Morris Iemma could be required to make a statement to Parliament acknowledging that there are as many talented musicians, writers, thinkers, entrepreneurs, politicians, sportspeople, scientists, artists and cooks in the rest of Australia as there is in New South Wales.

Maybe the media could announce a “we will listen to what the rest of the country outside Sydney thinks” month.

Or perhaps at next years New Years’ Eve fireworks, they could spell out “we admit Sydney is not the centre of the universe” in big letters on the bridge.

They could require their taxi drivers to actually know where they are going (my favourite anecdote is jumping in a cab in the middle of the city, and on finding out that the driver didn’t know the suburb I was heading to, saying to him “just go over the Harbour Bridge and I’ll direct you from there”. “Where’s that?” came the reply from the driver.)

Or maybe they should have to fix up the shambles of their water infrastructure first. They could start by getting rid of Frank Sartor as a Minister, who dismisses viable solutions like recycled drinking water because “the public won’t accept it.”

Or their politicians could stop the endless exaggerated law and order auction which has led to record numbers of people in NSW prisons. This alone could save enough money to pay for a big chunk of their Opera House renovations. Perhaps as part of this, their talkback radio jocks could also promise not to inflame community anxieties for the sake of ratings.

I know the Opera House is a striking, iconic building from the outside, and its roof may well be an engineering marvel. However, as an actual building for opera, it sounds like a dud. The acoustics are bad, one quarter of the seats have obstructed or poor sightlines, the orchestra pit is too small and has bad sound and the wings of the stage are too small for dancers. In short, Sydney has an Opera House which is crap for opera – and pretty much all other musical performances. Sounds like a real wonder of the world to me! Well worth another $700 million.

Maybe they should build a new building that is actually good for opera and orchestral performances, and use the current “Opera” House for something more suitable – such as an aboriginal culture and history centre. There could hardly be a more appropriate location than Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour, where the dispossession of aboriginal Australians first spread from.

UPDATES: Now I’m in trouble – an MP in Wales has seen what I’ve written and is suggesting superiority for their Millenium Centre over our Opera House. I’m in the “un-Australian” camp now for sure.

Also, today’s Sydney Morning Herald reports on a study that says “Sydney’s reliance on cars is costing more than $18 billion a year through congestion, accidents and air pollution.” Plenty of room for mutual obligation style savings there, by the look of it.


27 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Geoff

    Well I’ve seen Phil Collins there and Art Garfunkel there and the sound was great.

  2. Just quoting from the Sydney Morning Herald piece Geoff (although I didn’t think the sound was overly flash at the Leonard Cohen tribute show, which is the one show I’ve seen there, but it wasn’t intolerable either.)

  3. Geoff

    Do you think that perhaps that has more to do with the people doing the sound?

  4. Geoff

    i would have though “dispossession” would have spread from Kurnell Andrew. But then that’s another topic isn’t it.

    I like the Opera House. Externally it’s brilliant, compromised but brilliant. Internally it was even more compromised… any reconstruction etc to bring it into full fruition as it was originally planned should be welcome.

    It was funded in part by the Opera House Lottery… I think perhaps that’s the way it should be done again. I think Sydney would get behind that 100%.

  5. Chris

    I think they should build a new building and use the Opera House for a British-Australian culture and history museum.

  6. Marilyn Shepherd

    A British Australian culture would be good – plenty of bbq’s, shrimps, slouch hats, racist banners, prison guards and criminals.

    That should be good – and we can keep out any reference to pesky brown people, yellow people, people who don’t speak English and all other comers.

    Sounds like a deadset winner to me.

  7. Geoff

    Ah Marilyn have you forgotten that until Federation in 1901 we were British and until the Australia Act in 1986 the states were still considered British colonies. Is that some sort of discrimination you’re exhibiting there? Seems to me the stereotyping is rife.

    Would it pain you if I suggested that YOU were in fact one of the pesky people? You might like being a revisionist, but it’s not factual.

    To deny our history and the fact that our culture (and still dominant culture) in Australia is Western and has its roots in British culture, which itself is 1000s of years old, is silly. To say the least. It seems to me you are the only one who has been exclusionist so far.

    Are you aware thet English is a requisite for citizenship? Or at least it was last time I looked.

  8. Marilyn Shepherd

    So what Geoff? Most of Australia has never been British and even if it was so what again? I am German/British/Welsh/Irish/French and Cornish. What on earth is supposed to be my dominant culture when the Germans arrived in 1844 and worked with the Afghan camel drivers to build the country, when the Welsh, Cornish and Irish came in the 1880’s escaping the closure of the tin mines and the English didn’t arrive here until 1920.

    How can I claim that my own dominant culture is British when it certainly isn’t? As for the culture of the British – what has survived? The transportation to foreign countries of people we don’t like certainly has. Most of the restaurants are Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and other Asians, Lebanese, Italian and I have yet to see a British restaurant specialising in stodge.

    Most of our music still comes from the US and I love that, some of the good stuff still comes from England but not much anymore, the best is Irish or Scottish like U2 and the Waterboys these days.

    The opera for this ugly house is mostly Italian and of the thousands of people I know not one of them wants to live in England ever. And they are mongrel hybrids like me and I suspect you.

    So tell me what on earth is the British culture we are supposed to laud and celebrate in a house designed by a Dutchman for Italian and German singing.

    Me thinks you are a trifle out of date mate.

  9. Geoff

    Are you an anglophobe by any chance Marilyn?

    So what???? Nice rebuttal, lots of evidence of understanding there.

    To deny the influence of Britain on Australia’s culture is just beyond belief. Then to qualify it with another… so what?… shows how ill conceived and childish the original thought was.

    What language do we speak? Our official language as Australians Marilyn? Is it English perhaps? Who discovered and colonised Australia? Where have our laws and system of government come from? Does the word Westminster mean anything to you? Ever notice that heritage buildings look a great deal like period architecture from Britain? What are our main National sports? Our farming methods originally came from where Marilyn? ABC drama etc largely come from where? The BBC perhaps? Etc, etc, etc….

    Most of my life I have had baked vegetables and lamb dinners, or bangers and mash Marilyn, fish and chips… I remember when the choice of cuisine broadened last century. Did it cross your mind we don’t have a “British” restaurant boom because most people eat that cuisine at home. yet we do have restaurants that serve exactly the food I already mentioned. I usually go out to restaurants for something different. Where’s the emoticon with the rolling eyes when you need it?

    Hey careful you slipped there mentioning U2 etc… even though they are Irish.

    You don’t know much about the Opera House do you? Utzon isn’t Dutch. Much more happens in the Opera House than just German and Italian Opera.

    If you want to talk trifles marilyn, we could start with your wealth of knowledge.

  10. I’d like to add my comments on the issue of funding for the Opera House refurbsihment, as opposed to the possible uses for the building.

    From figures available from NSW lotteries and the Department of the Environment & Heritage about $176 million was collected for the Opera House between the first lottery in 1958 and the last one in 1986. The cost of the Opera House was about $101 million, so there should be $70million sitting in Government coffers accruing interest. Coincidentally, $70million is the amount the State Government said it would provide for the project.

    If the Opera House lottery had not been closed, it would have generated further revenue in excess of $126million. None of these calculations have taken into account inflation, population growth leading to increased sales, or any other factor that would impact on revenue. It seems to me that closing the lottery was a very poor, short-sighted action on the part of the NSW Government.

    The Opera House Trust, Knowing that the main form of revenue for refurbishment was cut-off in 1986, should have had the fore-sight to begin implementing another revenue stream. Perhaps a “user pays” system such as an addition to the cost of a ticket, much like our 3×3 fuel levies, medicare levy, airport noise levy etc, etc, etc

  11. Chris

    Why is it that if you substitute ‘Aboriginal’ for ‘British-Australian’ some people (like Marilyn) become hysterical?

    Andrew wrote ‘…and use the current “Opera” House for something more suitable – such as an aboriginal culture and history centre.’

    If British culture is distant for many Australians then surely so is Aboriginal culture.

    I guess Marilyn also proves that multicultural tolerance doesn’t extend to those Australians who descend from the British Isles.

  12. I think Iemma and his cronies should be required to eliminate the problem of endemic bashings by racist Lebanese youth gangs in return for the Opera House funding.

  13. That doesn’t sound like you EP :-)

    Still, I’m glad someone has put up a suggestion for a Shared Responsiblity Agreement – albeit not one I’d agree with. More suggestions welcome.

  14. Eleri

    Gee Andrew, I think you are setting your sights too low with your suggestions of what Sydneysiders should do in return for federal $$ for the Opera House.

    What about a ‘triple bottom line’ renegotiation of the Commonwealth Grants Commission funding model that already sees Qld (for example) getting a higher per-capita grant than NSW? You could argue add new criteria related to contribution to the Arts, Sport and Culture. Of course, that means states like Qld (for example) might have to invest more in the Arts to keep artists viably employed. Might be risky, I agree, if you don’t actually have more artists, sports people etc on a per capita basis.

    Or maybe you could argue to get a State and Territory produced 7.30 Report back on ABC TV in return for the Opera House funding. Now wouldn’t that be a fine thing.

    PS Sydney isn’t all of NSW you know – there’s a whole lot more to the State.

  15. Matt

    I think the Federal Government should give them nothing. If the people of Sydney want an Opera House, then they can pay for an Opera House.

    Who’ll stand up for federalism?

  16. about time for a bit of Shared Responsibility and Mutual Obligation up in Tinsel Town.

    For $700M for the Opera House we should ask them to stop running the ABC, especially radio, from Sydney, and from refering to Australia = Sydney = Australia. In addition they must promise to keep ALL their commercial shock jocks up in Sydney and not be allowed to network them to other states. As a special favour to Melbourne I would insist they keep Virginia “Breathless” Trioli up there forever.This would win Howard votes in Melb.

    As humanitarian service I would be prepared, for only twice my normal fee, to gather a group of Melbournians together and take and expedition up to Sydeny and endeavour to teach them how to dress properly with shoes, long pants, and other stuff.

    Issuing Sydneysiders with Internal ID/ Visa cards and require health and criminal checks before allowing them to cross any state border to the south.

  17. If the people of Sydney want an Opera House, then they can pay for an Opera House.

    Actually, that’s exactly what we did.

  18. Geoff

    Who’ll stand up for federalism?
    Sydney should pay for it’s Opera House?

    Then perhaps you could see that NSW get’s it’s full share of funding from the federal government instead of having to prop up other states.

  19. Sydneyrefugee

    What social improvement?

    Close down all interstate and international migration to Sydney.

    This will improve Sydney because it has too much cultural change and not enough water and help other areas in Australia that are badly in need of some cultural change and have too much water. Far North Queensland is the best place for growth. Loads of water, international airport and loads of land heaving under crops of non profitable sugar cane.

  20. Chris

    No, Geoff, NSW should get nothing from the Federal Government. If they want to spend money on something then they can collect their own taxes and pay for it themselves.

  21. Geoff

    Been over that Chris as have others… did you miss the point?

  22. Sorry Eleri, I was just paying as much attention to regional NSW as the Sydney-based NSW media does.

    If you consider all the artists, sportspeople, etc in Sydney who had to go there from Queensland and other states just to get the attention they deserved, I think NSW should have even less of a share of the Grants Commission funding. From what I recall, your former Premier was often complaining about too many people moving to Sydney anyway.

    While I think of it, (as mentioned above in an update to this post), some MP from Wales has latched on to my posting ……. isn’t Eleri a Welsh name?? You wouldn’t be trying to get me called un-Australian would you, just cos a Queenslander has the temerity to have a go at Sydney?

  23. Hissiera Khan

    You could just check up on them every week to make sure they wash and feed their kids every day, and make sure the kids attend school. Get their neighbours to dob them in. Let’s see how they like being patronised.

  24. Marilyn Shepherd

    Bulldoze the ugly thing and use the money for something useful like decent Aboriginal housing.

    As for denying all things Anglo – I am a blue eyed blonde with very white skin who is a mongrel bitsa.

    Why don’t Geoff and co read what I actually said? I don’t eat bangers and mash but grew up eating the revolting mess. And Cornish pasties, Welsh food, German food, and so on.

    Love it. Hate British food – for god’s sake every one hates them when they win the ashes don’t they?

  25. Geoff

    For a start… it’s not ugly. not from any angle, not from close up and not from far away.
    Secondly lots of money is spent on Aboriginal housing… (why you choose just this group is obvious considering who you are) yet even more money is spent on rebuilding and repairs after the buildings have been “vandalised”.

    You could be a pit-bull for all I cared marilyn.

    I don’t belive you mentioned what you ate before marilyn.

    BTW, they deserved to win the ashes… they played better.

    Just what relevance that little diatribe had was beyond me. We did read what you said. Unfortunately.

  26. Rob

    > they could spell out “we admit Sydney is not the centre of the universe” in big letters on the bridge.

    I don’t think encouraging Sydney-siders to lie is at all responsible. *ducks*

  27. Aron Paul

    Sydneysiders should be required to wash and to brush their teeth at least once a day. And to refrain from rioting.

Mini Posts

  • Rhetoric vs reality

    I’ve had a break from writing for a variety of reasons, but the reckless approach the new Queensland government is taking to their spending decisions – and the straightout nonsensicality of some of their claims – roused me enough to pen a piece for New Matilda. Time will tell whether the Newman government will start trying to ensure their statements have some connection with reality – I suggest the way they respond next year to the findings of the inquiry into child safety which they’ve established will be a significant test.

  • End of LP the end of a blogging era

    Back in October, I wrote here about the decline or re-defining of blogs, at least in the Australian political arena.  The relatively few posts I’ve done on this blog since then shows how much less useful I find it to do my own blog than I used to, and as I mentioned back then, a big reason why I don’t read many of the blogs I used to is because the valuable links to many interesting stories, ideas and pieces of information can be found more easily through Twitter or Facebook, sometimes with comment threads which are also at least as good.

    The recent announcement by the Larvatus Prodeo blog that they are ceasing to operate is quite a significant one. (more…)

  • A final comment on Labor’s leadership laments

    Fundamentally, I don’t greatly care about the outcome of Labor’s leadership travails. As my previous post indicates, the bigger issue is that the ALP is being fundamentally damaged by the toxicity of this brawl, and the fact that the brawl is happening in this way is a sign of some much greater problems within Labor. Whatever the immediate outcome, I think those problems are likely to continue.  The outcome of the leadership contest (including the size of what will surely be a Gillard victory) will shape how those problems play out, but they will still be there.

    Not surprisingly, I see this as presenting an opportunity for the Greens to build some support, but more importantly it presets extra responsibility and obligation for the Greens to be a stronger counter to what is a seriously reactionary Coalition.

    But seeing we’re all pundits now, and despite having little inside knowledge, my prediction is that there will be no ‘third candidate’ in tomorrow’s leadership ballot.  Julia Gillard will win comfortably. The instability will not disappear. It’s quite possible there will be another leadership ballot before the election but Kevin Rudd will not become leader then either. No matter how good Kevin Rudd looks in the polls, that polling lead would disappear very quickly if he was back in the PM’s job.

  • The Ups & Downs of Ups & Downs – interview with Greg Atkinson

    I’ve mentioned before my liking for the 80s Brisbane band Ups and Downs. I got a chance to interview their lead singer Greg Atkinson on 4ZzZ FM a few weeks ago. They’ve released a compilation CD of 20 of their best tunes and played a gig in Brisbane earlier this month to promote and celebrate it.

    It was a fairly long interview, but I found it very interesting to hear the views of someone who has been active in the independent sphere of the music industry for so long about what has changed and what is the same.

    You can listen to the interview at this link.

  • Speeches to refugee rally + SIEV-X exhibition

    A local activist helpfully recorded speeches given by myself and by Julian Burnside at a refugee rights rally held in Brisbane last Saturday.  You can listen to them here and here. The rally was held to mark the tenth anniversary of the sinking of the SIEV-X.  353 refugees drowned when that refugee boat sank on the way to Australia on 19 October 2001.  There is a beautiful exhibition at The Studio on the ground level at the State Library of Qld this week, commemorating that anniversary. It finishes this weekend – I strongly recommend you try to get along for a look if you have a chance. The Library also has a screening of the documentary Hope on Friday October 28 – this film tell the story of Amal Basry, one of the few survivors of that tragedy.