It's Not Just The ALP Who Parties In Sydney


Like so much else associated with NSW’s ALP Government, plans to hold a Sting concert on Sydney Harbour this New Year’s Eve have collapsed. A few days ago, under pressure from many sides, the new Minister for Major Events, Kevin Greene, decided that there was "enough going on in Sydney on New Year’s Eve for everyone" — and canned the event.

One of those pleased with this outcome is Sydney’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, who did as much as anyone to advocate against the gig. Moore is all for a good New Year’s Eve party on the harbour — provided it’s the own private one that she holds every year for Sydney’s hardworking politicians and associated stakeholders.

Of course there are the big fireworks on the bridge itself, but even Betty Blacktown can park a picnic rug somewhere and enjoy that. Moore’s 2009 function was held at the Sydney Opera House so that, in addition to the fireworks extravaganza, the Lord Mayor could say "thanks" to everyone who had helped organise the other party — the one to which the whole city was invited. That’s right, the Opera House New Year’s Eve party was held to thank the people who had organised New Year’s Eve events for the rest of the city.

And since there is nothing more liberating than filing a Freedom of Information request, I now know the cost for the 2009 Mayor’s party was $533,800.61 and that it did indeed take place to "acknowledge the nearly $1.5 million in support that is contributed to the City of Sydney’s production of the event".

There were 1200 guests (so about $444.83 per person), and you’ll be relieved to know that the guest list included community representatives, sponsors, journalists, and "government partners". By all reports, you and I missed out on a great night.

To start with, the food was acclaimed not only for its abundance but also its lavishness. The alcohol served was more than acceptable. (Food and beverage costs for the night: $176,021.26)

But that’s just the basics. There was a light show. That’s right, Clover Moore the champion of Earth Hour and solar panels on the Town Hall roof organised her very own light show — right next to the harbour and a New Year’s Eve fireworks display.

Other highlights you missed were the three separate entertainment stages. Of course there’s nothing worse than having to wait for a band to bump out before you watch the next juggling act.

What really set this function apart were the little things, like the $16,499.45 spent on special staff uniforms and costumes, and the additional staff member given the task of trimming the excess wrist band guests received as they passed through security. Goodness knows, when you are stuck at the Opera House looking out on Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve, a little bit of excess wrist band can totally ruin your evening.

The Lord Mayor’s NYE party isn’t new but regular attendees declare that under her supervision the council seems to be moving closer to getting the ostentation level just about right.

Those who pay rates in the Sydney City Council area, and indeed anyone who lives in Sydney, might feel they are entitled to ask how a local council manages to put this on each year. And more importantly, how do we get an invite?

Clover Moore has been the Lord Mayor of Sydney since 2004. She is also a state MP, representing the seat of Sydney (formerly Bligh) as an Independent since 1988. She has become a champion of those opposed to the major parties and the Cult of Clover insists that she’s busy "keeping everyone else honest". Her profile first lifted significantly in the early 1990s when she and two other Independents held the balance of power in the state lower house. Her popularity has grown ever since.

Currently six of the 10 people on Sydney Council are members of the Clover Moore Independent Team. Of course in politics, "independent team" is a term for political expediency but it goes a long way to getting things done.

Despite losing on some investments on the stock market last year, the City of Sydney Council’s total cash and investments as at November 2009 was $457 million. The May 2010 Council meeting declared an operating budget surplus (pdf) for 2009/10 of $90.5 million.

There’s no denying that a prominent city like Sydney should represent significant financial and political clout and Clover Moore has done well transforming the city with a significant public works program and the sustainable development program known as Sustainable Sydney 2030

Clover Moore even attended the Copenhagen COP 15 climate summit. And while His Excellency Foua Toloa of Tokelau participated at COP 15 with one assistant, the Lord Mayor of Sydney headed north for the failed climate talks with five advisers in tow.

Perhaps the two leaders crossed paths in downtown Copenhagen. I hope so as Clover has always had a fond affinity with village life. She has endeavoured to turn most of Sydney’s inner-city back to cosy villages. Which is all fine but for the fact that one million plus people live in these villages. Bike lanes where roads used to be, cul de sacs, dog only parks: all of these are part of the Clover Moore vision for Sydney.

And as the Keneally Government self-destructs, there’s never been a better time to be anyone other than Labor in NSW, since however much you dither or waste money, you’ll be outdone by the ALP. But you’d have to forgive the average Sydneysider if they didn’t think that was enough reason to blithely let the Moore off the hook.

That NYE party last year may have cost a pretty penny but you must remember that the wider event "delivers $156 million in economic revenue, annually" according to the response to my FOI request. Of course, deriving an "economic benefit" is a very popular art, sometimes known as "psychic income".

Interestingly, this is the same sort of accounting that the NSW ALP loves so much. Under Kristina Keneally, the World Youth Day event in 2008 was predicted to bring in revenue of somewhere around $231 million — but despite assurances that taxpayers wouldn’t face any unexpected costs for World Youth Day, it turned out that hosting the event came in $64 million over budget.

This inability to manage event budgets is not altogether uncommon in NSW. Ian Macdonald (aka Sir Lunchalot) had promised his Left faction that he would retire — and then obviously realised how self-defeating that would be. So he stayed on, re-aligned with the Right and participated in the overthrow of former Premier Nathan Rees. He found himself to be Minister for Major Events, Mineral and Forest Resources, State and Regional Development and Central Coast in the new Keneally Government.

As Minister, Ian Macdonald managed to spend $10 million above a $35 million cap to fund an unwanted V8 Supercars race over the next five years. He also managed to give the National Rugby League $50 million to ensure the rugby league grand final remains in Sydney — $20 million more than "Queensland was willing to pay and before it even made an official offer".

Best of all, Ian Macdonald’s 22 years as a parliamentarian entitles him to an annual superannuation payment of $150,000.

The fact that Moore’s profligacy seems minor by comparison condemns the State Government but it shouldn’t excuse her.

So, now that the pollies have canned the Sting concert that quite a few people were looking forward to, why not give Clover a call and see if she’ll pop a couple of tickets to her NYE party in the mail for you? If you need to, remind her that you’ve paid for it.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.