The NSW government has ordered the Sydney Opera House to display a racing trophy with the word Everest on it and jockey numbers and colours on its sails in contravention of a policy to prevent the commercialisation of the building.
The decision by premier Gladys Berejiklian came late on Friday afternoon after intense pressure from the Daily Telegraph and 2GB’s Alan Jones to accept a plan by Racing NSW to promote the Everest Cup on the iconic landmark.
Racing NSW applied to the Opera House to use it as a venue to promote a horse race on Saturday 13 October, but Sydney Opera House chief executive Louise Herron drew the line at projecting horses’ names, the name of the race and the numbers of the barriers onto the Opera House sails.
Jones then called for Herron to be sacked, in an extraordinarily aggressive interview after she refused to use the building’s sails as a billboard for Racing NSW, and said only the colours of the jockeys would be acceptable
The Sydney shock jock harangued Herron on his top-rating show on Friday morning, refusing to listen to her answers. He threatened to tell Berejiklian to sack her.
Berejiklian did not sack Herron but she did use her powers to overturn her decision, in what is seen as a major victory for Jones.
“People reading the Daily Telegraph this morning would be thinking ‘who the hell do you think you are, you don’t own the Opera House, we own it … you manage it,” Jones said.
“You don’t have a right to fence it off.
“If you can’t give the go ahead for this to happen, to an event that’s providing $100m to the economy, delivering a tourism boom to Sydney, to send Sydney around the world…
“If I were Gladys Berejiklian I’d pick up the phone and sack you today.”
"You should lose your job!"
— 2GB 873 (@2GB873) October 4, 2018
Herron stayed calm while Jones abused her. At one stage she said: “Do you want an answer or do you want to keep rowing at me?”
Herron told Guardian Australia before her decision was overturned by the government that she was disappointed she didn’t get a chance to explain the reasons behind her decision but she was used to managing conflict in her job.
“You can imagine this is a job in which I have to manage people with divergent views,” she said.
“My job is to reconcile these views and reach an agreement.”
Herron said she had received overwhelming support from members of the public and former politicians including former prime minister Paul Keating and former NSW premier Nathan Rees.
Jones was furious and took up the case for Racing NSW on his program. “Louise I’m sorry I think you’re out of your depth here,” he said. “You should put your resignation on the table today … if you can’t come to the party, Louise, you should lose your job.”
Herron had earlier agreed to display the jockeys’s colours on the sails, but drew the line at the commercial signs, images and text.
“We have no problem with that, what we won’t do is put text or videos of horses numbers or names, or the Everest logo, on the Opera House sails,” Herron said. “It’s not a billboard.”
Jones said the people of the state were in favour of the plan and she should bend to the will of the people.
“They’re saying out there, if this can’t be approved you should be sacked,” Jones said. “Because you don’t own the Opera House.”
Herron was ambushed by the chief executive of Racing NSW, Peter V’landys, joining the interview without warning.
“You can’t do a barrier draw without putting the horse’s name and the number and that’s the whole idea … beaming this around the world on a unique landmark in Sydney,” V’landys said.
Guardian Australia approached the chief executive of Macquarie Media, Adam Lang, for comment.
Last month Jones and two radio stations were ordered by the Brisbane supreme court to pay more than $3.4m in damages, plus interest estimated at about $300,000, for defaming John, Denis, Neill and Joe Wagner in a series of broadcasts.
The Jones interview was in response to a front page story in The Daily Telegraph in which Racing NSW Peter V’landys said the Opera House management was being elitist.
The Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph are paid by Racing NSW to publish a form guides for the racing industry.