MUNGO MACCALLUM. ScoMo , public relations, marketing and billboards

They say that if the only tool you have is  a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And perhaps if the only life experience you have 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 the Hillsong Church in Sydney or the Planetshakers in Melbourne.

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

For them it was simply in the natural order of things. There could be a buck in it, and there were precedents: the sails of the world heritage 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 horse race simply because it is desperate to gain recognition for more than the size of its prize money was a 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: people should just chill out, he chided, this was a great win for Sydney – and given the avalanche of publicity that  has eventuated, it was certainly a great win for the people who are seeking to boost the race. 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: the Hillsong church 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 is perfectly acceptable in the right cause – and what better cause can be there be than advertising a horse race on the side of our most revered public building 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.

 

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Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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