Here's Why The Sydney Harbour Fireworks Should Happen
On the surface, it seems like a sober, responsible call.
With half the country on fire and emergency services stretched to breaking point trying to keep the other half from burning down, perhaps pumping the brakes on Sydney’s traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks display is the way to go.
After all, it’s seemingly unarguable that the money could be better spent equipping fireys with the tools needed to do their job or helping out the hundreds who have been left homeless, injured, or bereaved by 2019’s horrific bushfire season.
And then there’s the risk: several regional and local fireworks displays have been canceled across New South Wales, Queensland and ACT due to local conditions making their use extremely hazardous. But this is not the case in Sydney Harbour (as of the time of writing).
And one could argue that there’s something a bit tasteless, perhaps, about marking the end of what has been a real annus horribilis by shooting fire into the air when fire has wrought so much devastation across the country.
Take all that into consideration and it seems like a no-brainer, which is why over a quarter of a million people have signed an online petition calling for the event’s cancellation -- and that’s only one of several doing the rounds on social media.
But give it a moment’s thought and it’s clear that this call for cancellation is a knee jerk reaction -- a largely symbolic gesture that not only does little direct good, it actively harms Sydney as a city and a community.
First things first -- and this cannot be overstated -- the money is already spent, and the events professionals and pyrotechnics experts involved in putting on the display are under no obligation to offer refunds. Indeed, workers in the events industry are largely contractors -- losing out on one of the year’s big earners could be tantamount to fiscal suicide.
And they’re not alone there: New Year’s Eve is a key time for vast swathes of Sydney’s service and hospitality industries, with millions poured into the local economy as revelers make their way to the city and spend big. The much-ballyhooed $5.8 million price tag of the 2018/19 show pales in comparison to the $130 million pumped into the economy.
That money doesn’t all go into the City of Sydney’s coffers -- it’s spread across countless small and large businesses, employees, sole operators, and more. So, putting aside the idea that the fireworks budget should be diverted to fire relief (simply not feasible at this stage, remember), coordinating the bulk donation of profits is also untenable. Who ponies up -- and when, and how much -- when you’re talking about the economic life of several entire sectors of the city?
Which is not to say Sydney should not be funding fire relief, and so they are, with $620,000 donated by the Council so far, and further funding efforts planned. This is only right -- extraordinary crises call for extraordinary measures, and more relief efforts should not only be welcomed, but demanded.
Which is not what cancelling an already funded, hugely well-attended, economically vital cultural event that has run since 1976 will do. Whether you think a fireworks show is in good taste this year or not -- and that’s a largely subjective judgement, let’s face it -- calling off Sydney’s New Year’s Eve display would be of little pragmatic value to the people and communities already affected by the fires.
No, the actual work needed not only to address the current crisis but to mitigate future ones is much more difficult and long term: holding elected officials to account for the slashing of fire service budgets and resources, demanding our government acknowledge and plan for the devastation that continued climate change will bring, voting with an eye on the long term future and not short term advantage, and so on.
That’s a lot harder than signing a petition on your phone. Hope you’re up for it.
Enjoy New Year’s Eve -- the real work is ahead.