Sydney Opera House ads may break National Heritage Law

The repeated nature of the use of the Opera House sails to project night-time images that are potentially inconsistent with the design of the building or its values requires the matter to be referred to the Federal Environment Department under s68 of the EPBC Act, according to analysis by The Australia Institute.

The Australia Institute has written to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price asking that all legal requirements under Commonwealth environmental law are met before any future visual promotion, including for The Everest horse race, are displayed on the Opera House sails.

The Sydney Opera House was included on the National Heritage List on 6th July 2005, on the basis of satisfying six of the listing criteria, which relevantly includes:

  • The place’s importance in exhibiting particular aesthetic characteristics valued by a community or cultural group – where the listing statement remarks: ‘the sculptural, billowing sail-like roof shells provide a visual link to and artistic representation of the yacht scattered harbour waters. The ceramic white tiles of the roof further add to this relationship and provide a dramatic contrast with the blue waters of the harbour. The building with its strongly curved design emphasis is juxtaposed with the nearby Sydney Harbour Bridge which itself has a strongly emphasized curvature, and this visual relationship is a further element of the place’s aesthetic appeal. The place’s dramatic aesthetic appeal is enhanced by subtle floodlighting on the white roof shells at night
  • The place’s strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group.

“Heritage listing exists for a reason – to constrain what activities can be taken that might effect a Heritage site’s values. The NSW Premier and the Federal Environment Minister should be ensuring that the law is upheld,” said Ben Oquist, executive director of The Australia Institute.

“The Federal Government’s own State of the Environment report found that since 2011, the public-sector resources allocated for heritage conservation and management have remained steady or declined, and that resources for assessing heritage protection have fallen particularly in proportion to the number of listed places.

“Our national heritage is not being treated with the respect it deserves. From the Burrup Peninsula rock art to the Sydney Opera House we need better funding and stronger law enforcement.”

Related documents

Letter to Hon Melissa Price MP

Letter to Hon Gladys Berejiklian MP

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