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whup the puppet

Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 05-Mar-2008

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 11

Wordcount: 875

Disney on our shores: are they taking the Mickey?

Elizabeth Farrelly

Disney’s choice of Sydney for a harbourside theme park is exquisitely timed. Rides already planned include the loud and brassy Spank the Weasel, where you whang the collection plate and, if your tokens fly high enough up the greasy pole, they hit the big red bellybutton and shower you with money.

There’s Whup the Puppet, where in shades and a shiny suit you pay vast sums to eat bad food in a glitzy room with a lot of other shiny-suiters competing to pull the strings of the Ministerial Marionettes that dance, in suits much better than yours, to the same old tune. There’s the Hall of Smoke and Mirrors, where a couple of avuncular types – one silver-haired and sleepy-eyed, the other looking a lot like old Abe Lincoln – tell charming fairytales while the goths and vandals systematically rape and pillage down below. And there’s the wet’n’wild Bronco Beth, where you dress like a nice planning officer and lie back on what looks like a feather bed, only to find yourself whizzing naked down a slippery slope and landing in the shit.

In the fabled Animal Kingdom, participants get intimate with a range of truly savage and extraordinary creatures, from the creepy-crawly Scimone-bug, always ravenous but never able to get off its back, to a range of giant reptiles including the lumbering, small-eyed Costasaur, the priapic crocodilian Tripodidon and the lightning-fast, predatory Sartoryx Sartoryx that devours its victims while screaming abuse down its car phone.

These are hunted in turn by gangs of hairless paleo-simians known, ironically, as the Opposition, who are always breaking spears and losing loincloths moments before they’re caught, tied to a tree and devoured by their own tribespersons.

Then, for the truly brave-hearted, there’s the much-loved Loot Chute, the deceptively snug Cosy Nostra, the heart-stopping Summit Plummet and, last ride of all, Goon Lagoon where you swim with the sharks, then sleep with the fishes.

You think I joke? You think the Government would never approve such a monster, not on our harbour? Look around. NSW has always tolerated a remarkable level of bullyboy behaviour from its governors, developers and tone-setting shock jocks. This is partly because we figured there was nothing much worth protecting here, and partly because, with no sense of being watched by the rest of the world, we are easily cowed.

Now, though, the culture of bullying has reached new and dizzying heights. Beth Morgan, of breasts-for-buildings fame, deserves a prize. A big one. Think of the sacrifice. For years she has rogered some of the slimiest, most charmless and testosterone-soaked critters in the park – and for what? Not for personal gain. Certainly not for money, most of which she had to return to those friendly ICAC imposters. As she wrote to her lover, developer Frank Vellar, “I have given up everything: my home, my husband, my job, my investments, my money, my friends … And for what …?”

For the greater good of planning, that’s what. No smaller sacrifice, she realised, would be sufficient to thrust planning from sleepy backwater into front page territory. The downside, though, is the extra ammunition thus provided for those, including the minister, who would see local democracy removed from planning altogether. Just as there’s no anti-smoker like the former smoker, there’s no enemy of local government so passionate, so focused as a former lord mayor with a long memory.

From directors-general and government architects down, all those state government bureaucrats who used to give lord mayor Sartor heaps, as (his words) a “local government puissant”, now lick Minister Sartor’s, well, boots. The rich and powerful who once excluded him from their parties now pay to attend his.

This must be satisfying. But to complete the transformation, the origins themselves must be razed. So we have Wollongong blamed on local government, when the standout characteristic is in fact the breadth and depth of its ALP connections. We have elected and accountable people replaced across the state by the unaccountable, state-paid yet supposedly independent panels that always comprise the same old names and faces.

With a public sector now so cowed and politicised by private calls and public abuse that it daren’t offer honest advice, a profession so next-job needy it daren’t criticise what is widely recognised as a debased and debilitated system, and an Opposition that can’t keep its loincloth up, there seems no end to this petty tyranny.

We have a system that habitually rewards obedience with sinecures (remember how Terry Metherell got fried for favours much more microscopic than that? Remember, for that matter, Greiner?) And we have a minister who, having suspended almost all statutory and professional constraints on his discretion, will happily approve huge developments against the advice of his own independent panel. Even developers now insist they expect nothing in return (we believe ya) and would prefer political donations to be outlawed. It’s a system only the Government still wants.

So, what next? Will Disney get planning permission to grin back at Luna Park from White Bay? What should they offer? Naming rights, perhaps? But then, we’re already living in Iemmaland.


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