It’s only been four short months since the Victoria state election, but the results from last weekend’s NSW election make the two states seem worlds apart.
The 900km drive down the Hume from Sydney to Melbourne suddenly seems like a massive cultural divide, when one considers how much more conservative Sydney has become both socially and politically compared to Melbourne, its hip and happening southern neighbour.
In 2019, the Australia’s two biggest capital cities have never drifted so far apart.
In NSW we’ve just witnessed the re-election of a conservative leader in Gladys Berejiklian — a Premier whose record of culture-wrecking over-regulation and climate change inaction should have already provided enough evidence to Sydneysiders of what was to come. And yet the people of NSW have decided she is still the best person for the job. Not that they were spoiled for choice.
But the weekend’s election outcome only promises to increase the divide between old rivals Sydney and Melbourne.
Because despite being the first woman elected Premier in NSW, Gladys Berejiklian has overseen a government that has only hastened the slide toward commercialism of culture that has been happening in Sydney for years.
This is the Premier that allowed the Sydney Opera House to be turned into a massive billboard for gambling advertising, and whose heavy-handed laws over the city’s bars, clubs and festivals has left Sydney feeling like a kind of over-regulated cultural backwater.
In stark contrast Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, now the most progressive Premier in the the country, was elected on a platform of policies including supporting serious action on climate change, supporting a Treaty with Indigenous people, maintaining and expanding the Safe Schools program, massive investment in public transport, maintaining a trial on safe injecting rooms and assisted dying legislation.
In other words — despite his faults — the Victorian Premier has implemented modern policies for a modern state that at least keep up with global political trends. Victoria has also refused to implement the kind of culture-wrecking policies like lockout laws or to legislate NSW-style laws around festivals so prohibitive that many festival organisers have threatened to leave the state.
Sure — there is nothing new about the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. That rivalrygoes back to Federation and is now typified by Melbourne being (until recently) named the world’s most liveable city by the Economist, but Sydney winning the crown for the world’s best city by Conde Nast in 2007.
It is a rivalry that most of us never wish to buy into because of its triteness — but in recent years it has become impossible to ignore.
But as someone who divides my time between my home in Melbourne and cities like Berlin and New York, I really can’t imagine living in any other Australian city than Melbourne these days. Every time I revisit these global cities I reflect on how over-regulated Australian cities have become — and Sydney is by far the worst.
In Berlin, for better or worse depending on your perspective, you can still smoke in bars, ride a bicycle in the streets without a helmet and the parties start on Friday night and kick on until Monday morning.
Compare that to Sydney — a city where the corporatisation of fun and culture has taken over every bar, venue and park.
It has become the kind of city where it’s hard to find real connections to community outside expensive hipster coffee shops where you can pay $6 for a cashew milk dandelion latte and feel like you’re living on the edge. And on top of that you’ll struggle to even get a drink after midnight (unless you’re in the Casino).
Once upon a time Sydney was a bold, progressive city where culture flourished — but today it seems to have become politically conservative and a culturally backward looking.
Give me Melbourne with its progressive laws and all night parties any day. See you on the dance floor.