How Oprah could salvage Sydney’s pride
This week, we have seen two incredible women on television who have both made us feel proud to be Australian.
One is Anna Bligh, with her outpouring of emotion, reminding Queenslanders and the rest of the nation that people from the sunshine state are “the people they breed tough, north of the border.” The other is Oprah.Yes, Oprah.
In Sydney, we are struggling to harness a sense of pride.
It has taken the importation of an American talk show host showcasing the beauty of the harbour and the Opera House to give us something to get us talking about how great Sydney is. Oprah’s visit has enabled Sydney to capture the same level of excitement and energy not seen since the 2000 Olympics – over 11 years ago.
If we think back, the 2000 Olympics was the last time we saw a major infrastructure project happen in Sydney. It was the last time we had a major event and it was the last time the people of this city had occasion to come together to celebrate something they could be proud of.
Sydneysiders are, for all intents and purposes, fairly apathetic about where we live. We’re so apathetic that we keep leaving. Of the 62 per cent of our state’s population that lives in Sydney, around 10,500 of us are thinking of living somewhere else. That’s how many people NSW lost last year, making it the only state aside from South Australia to experience an interstate migration loss.
Victoria, by comparison, experienced interstate migration increase of over 2,600, and Western Australia 2,000. Figures from the West are not a particularly accurate portrayal, as fly-in-fly-out workers to that state’s North West can live in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane and fly directly to WA for work. This means that the people that aren’t moving there are certainly still contributing to the growth of the Western Australian economy.
These are two challenges for the likely-to-be-incoming O’Farrell Government, who are going to the polls with a slogan to ‘make NSW number one again’. The secondary issue of arresting the population drift and competing with the mineral resources-rich states of Queensland and Western Australia for opportunity crosses a number of policy platforms - not in the least planning and infrastructure.
But, the first challenge is to put a stop to this city’s apathetic, defeatist attitude and try to restore some pride.
It’s been done before.
Jeff Kennett is perhaps the best known ambassador of state pride in Australia. He set about reforming rustbucket Victoria (as it was known) into a state that was ‘on the move.’ Love him or hate him, you probably won’t find a Sydney-sider that wouldn’t agree that Melbourne is a transport utopia.
To ensure that this utopian transport system was used by as many people as possible, Kennett harnessed the Joan Kirner-established Victorian Major Events Company and turned Melbourne into a city where things happened. Things like major events. Things like the Grand Prix.
He was so determined to make Melbourne a place where things happen that he outright stole this event from Adelaide. He was instrumental in ensuring Crown Casino became a world-class international venue for business and cultural events. Civic pride in Melbourne ensued.
That story began in 1991, and a recent audit of the Victorian Major Events Company has put the direct benefits of the Melbourne events calendar at $730 million. Twenty years later, the Baillieu Government is unlikely to drop the ball, appointing Deputy Leader Louise Asher to the portfolio of Tourism and Major Events.
In NSW, these two portfolios are currently separated and overseen by two Ministers. O’Farrell has taken the first step towards replicating the Victorian model and has appointed a Shadow Cabinet Minister who has both Tourism and Major Events under the one banner. He has also pledged a new convention centre estimated to cost around $700 million, and driving home economic benefits of over $270 million a year.
As Morris Iemma would say, all of these things are a step in the right direction, but there is certainly more to do. In the meantime, we can watch Oprah be excited about our city…even if we’re not.
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