Sydney NYE2019 had their media launch just in time.
2 days later, numerous bushfires broke out immediately north-west of Sydney, adding more sparks to the already large & deadly fires along the Great Dividing Range.
Within 48 hours, they combined to form a ‘mega-fire’ – a 60 kilometre fire front – the size of Sydney itself – which is currently in control.
Over these past 5 days, the resulting smoke has covered the city in it’s worst air quality ever.
It also accelerated petition signing on cancelling Sydney NYE2019 and shifting it’s funds to bushfire/drought recovery. The now largest petition (there are quite a few petitions) going from 40,000 signatures to 81,000 signatures in 5 days.
These petitions started in mid-November just before a corporate fireworks display in Farm Cove of Sydney Harbour was controversially exempted from a total fire ban on a day of high fire danger, during a state of emergency.
Those petitions initially accelerated to 10,000 signatures due to media coverage, before slowing down over the past few weeks.
Though the fires have been nearly non-stop since September in New South Wales, since mid-November, the worst fire danger period so far, there has been an unusually high number of calls in the community for the cancellation of fireworks displays in light of the bushfires & drought.
Subsequently, local government debates have broken out and many upcoming fireworks displays around the state have been cancelled including Darling Harbour’s weekly fireworks, which were cancelled 3 times in the past month. Twice out of respect and the 3rd due to poor visibility. Some New Year’s Eve displays around the state have also been cancelled.
However, Sydney NYE2019 has not yet been cancelled. The show is still on.
On the 19th of November, the City Of Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, announced a bushfire donation appeal as part of Sydney NYE2019, which was announced at the event’s media launch on the 3rd of December to be a promotion of the Australian Red Cross’ Disaster Relief & Recovery Fund.
However, this wasn’t the major feature of the media launch, which was held on a day slightly covered by bushfire smoke and a few days before the nearby ‘mega-fire’ was formed, so bushfire media coverage was lower than in mid-November, though still the main news story.
The City Of Sydney has been contacted for comment.
Due to the nearby ‘mega-fire’ coinciding with this petition signing acceleration, this should indicate most of these new signatures are from Sydneysiders though not necessarily from the City Of Sydney local government area. There are 30 local government areas in Sydney.
Last month, we detailed some of the flaws of the largest petition. We also wrote an opinion piece after the controversial corporate fireworks display which details some other information on this situation.
Petitions calling for Sydney NYE’s cancellation are nothing new. There are a frequent occurrence but with the extreme fire danger over the past few months and the worst conditions yet to come over the next 3 months & high media interest, the possibility for controversy or cancellation is heightened for the rest of the year.
The Media Launch
At the upcoming edition’s media launch, the media’s focus was on the calls for cancellation & the City Of Sydney had a great chance to show they really care more about the bushfires instead of the party. However, whilst briefly pointing out the donations they’ve made & the bushfire appeal partnership they’ve set up, they didn’t take this opportunity instead putting the party front & centre. The City Of Sydney grasping the media launch’s opportunity to make the bushfire appeal front and centre of the event this year was completely missed with minimum coverage of the appeal but great coverage of the event & the calls for it’s cancellation.
This is evident as our article about Clover Moore’s social media announcement of a bushfire appeal on the 19th of November was significantly more read than any of the media releases published from the media launch, which was mostly a generic announcement (though it did contain some newsworthy information such as new fireworks & the ‘brightest beam in the Southern Hemisphere’). It should be pointed out the media didn’t include the Lord Mayor’s social media announcement in the news on the 20th of November. They only mentioned it during the media launch headlines on the 3rd of December.
The next major media event is not until after Boxing Day (26th of December). Who knows what the bushfires/public opinion will be like by then. Hopefully the bushfires are out by then but if they aren’t, hopefully the City Of Sydney respond better next time. It was at this event in 2004 that the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake & Tsunami NYE Appeal was launched (Mind you, that disaster happened 3 days prior). The lack of promotion at the media launch might have been an intentional move in the event the bushfires got worse & controversy grew stronger closer to the event so promoting the appeal closer to NYE would soften the controversy more and alert the public to the fund more as they are more attuned to the fast approaching NYE.
We’re not sure how the public will react if the City Of Sydney promote the fund more in late December. Will they be skeptical or thankful they are doing something? If the City Of Sydney puts a real effort in and also points out how much has been raised since the media launch or connected with the event, it may do well public relations-wise. A solid effort would include combining it with their official event broadcasts, which are mostly broadcast globally nowadays, plenty of promotion on the pylon projections and website (which there isn’t currently) as well as on the street with bucket gold coin collections and most importantly, reminders by the organisers & the Lord Mayor at the media events in the final week of 2019 as well as on New Year’s Day when hopefully we find out how much was raised.
Sydney NYE is a great opportunity to raise charitable funds if the effort is put in. $1.2 million was raised in 3 days in 2004 for the Indian Ocean Earthquake & Tsunami. Imagine how much can be raised in 2019 with 5 days worth of publicity. Now all the hard work will have to be done in the final week of the year.
It’s in the final week of the year we thought controversy would arise if extreme bushfires returned. We were wrong. The controversy broke out immediately and as the fires get worse, continue or get closer to Sydney, the stronger the controversy has gotten/will get.
Maybe the City Of Sydney made the right call by focusing on the party whilst responding to the petitions via the mass media for the 1st time at the media launch and possibly focusing mostly on the bushfire appeal in 2019’s final week?
In the end, the pressure for cancellation is now at it’s highest since 1986 and whilst that may be the case now, precedent has not yet been broken for another cancellation.
The precedent HOPEfully to not be broken
This will come on the 27th of December (A possible date for the next media event), where it could be determined whether the bushfires are worse than Black Christmas, which was held in the midst of the 2001 edition, which coincidentally had an appropriate theme – something this year’s edition doesn’t have at all.
Black Christmas had 300,000 hectares burnt, 121 homes lost and zero death toll. It should be noted the 1993/1994 Eastern Seaboard Fires were slightly worse particularly as they circled Sydney completely isolating it from the rest of the world. However, Sydney NYE was just still mostly a local event back in 1993, not the internationally renowned event it is now so less fuss was made back then. Most importantly, the deaths in the 1993/1994 Eastern Seaboard Fires happened after NYE as far as we are aware.
The current bushfires have been nearly non-stop since September, burnt 2 million hectares, over 700 homes and killed 6 people & have just started burning on Sydney’s doorstep. However, the death toll of Black Christmas is the only factor that will prevent a cancellation as simply, it was 0, thankfully. We will detail the death toll precedent below.
If they are still burning (and not a new separate series of fires) close to Sydney or worse on the 27th of December, there are 3 major things that could cancel it. The most likely is poor weather conditions on the night. Whether it is a high fire danger resulting in a revoking of a total fire ban exemption or poor visibility or simply strong winds or a combination of these. With the worst air quality ever in Sydney currently, the weather forecast would be the talk of the town that week. Based on 2001 conditions, air quality 10 times worse than normal at least will still allow the fireworks to go ahead. In the event of a total fire ban exemption revoking or poor air quality, we’d assume an announcement would be made well in advance if it is obvious it can’t be held. However, we believe they will try and keep the event on as much as possible so crowds can be managed better on the night (crowd crush & violence prevention, that is). We don’t need the night to get any worse.
If only strong winds arrive during the night, the fireworks could still be cancelled at the last minute though. This is an annual problem. In that event, the 9pm Family Fireworks could be postponed to a time no later than 10:30pm (or to Australia Day) while the Midnight Fireworks would be cancelled outright on the night but may also be postponed to Australia Day but not held at Midnight.
The 2nd but very unlikely thing for cancellation would be the bushfires’ death toll. The death toll, if the fires continue and the toll doesn’t change, is currently at 6. This, as sad as it is, wouldn’t justify cancellation. Cancellation would only be considered if the death toll is dramatically high – higher than about 280 (0.003% of NSW population), which is higher than Black Saturday – Australia’s worst disaster. This is based on the precedent set in 2004 when the event was still held despite the recent international tragedy, the Indian Ocean Earthquake & Tsunami, which killed 227,898 people (0.003% of humanity).
The last but unlikely thing for cancellation is mounting political pressure. However, based on previous years, politicians won’t buckle unless the Rural Fire Service says no or the bushfires’ death toll is simply too high as stated above.
And obviously, while the event costs around $6 million (fireworks max $2 million), the event does return $133 million to the ‘local’ economy so to politicians, economically, the event is a good option to hold. It is also a carbon neutral event. The event can do more good than harm in regards to the bushfires. Lord Mayor Clover Moore, as stated earlier, has also announced a bushfire appeal, which would be publicised globally.
A dramatic death toll increase as stated above or the Rural Fire Service advising against the fireworks would be the main things for politicians’ to cancel the event. Another detail which will detail in the final section is the lack of appropriate theming this year to accommodate bushfires like it coincidentally did in 2001. It may be simply be seen too distasteful by year’s end to hold the world’s most iconic NYE party.
In the end, it depends more closer to the event – that final week of 2019 – if is suitable to host the event based on weather conditions and most importantly, the bushfires’ death toll (if the bushfires are still raging). The ‘party’ feel of this non-themed edition would be most awkward if bushfires are surrounding Sydney or another Black Saturday occurs. Cancellation may seem a suitable option simply out of respect. There isn’t a ‘country’ theme this year that can act as a gentle tribute, dedication or reminder of/to the firefighters and rural citizens. It’s now just party, party, party.
In the end, strong winds are still currently the greatest threat to Sydney NYE2019. Bushfires won’t be a concern to the City Of Sydney until just before Christmas Eve.
Again, we advise people who have brought tickets for Sydney NYE events to check their refund policies in the event the iconic fireworks are cancelled or postponed to Australia Day as the City Of Sydney is the official organiser providing the fireworks for free. Tickets are usually only refunded if the actual function you are attending is cancelled or below par – not if the fireworks are cancelled or below par. Pirrama Park Wharf is probably the only exception to this so far. People who have bought tickets in National Park areas especially should be cautious. Keep an eye on the news in the week before NYE for any bushfire-related updates.
This post updates.
Disclaimer: Sydney Spectaculars is not associated with Sydney New Year’s Eve organisers, the City Of Sydney, nor Australia Day In Sydney organisers, NSW Government Department Of Premier & Cabinet. As of writing, the fireworks are still planned to go ahead.