City Of Sydney Requests Sydney NYE Fireworks/Alternatives Comparison

The City Of Sydney has voted unanimously tonight to request the City’s Chief Executive Officer to bring a report to Council comparing the cost & environmental impact of fireworks with alternative technologies, such as drone shows, for future Sydney New Year’s Eve editions. The Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, (Clover Moore Independent Team) was not in attendance for the vote due to ill health however media reports last month suggest she would have voted for the proposed and as you will see, varied motions too.

The original motion, proposed by Councillor Craig Chung (Liberal), was:

(A) Council note:

(i) the 2019 New Year’s Eve Fireworks display were considered the most controversial as the event was permitted to go ahead at the height of the bushfire crisis despite calls for it to be cancelled by the community;

(ii) drone shows are gradually becoming more common as alternatives to fireworks displays due to their minimal noise and environmental disruption. Between 2015 and 2018, Intel’s ‘Shooting Star’ drones have performed more than 300 shows in 16 countries;

(iii) notable drone show performances include the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang South Korea and the 2018 Fourth of July show in Aspen, Colorado, which was done as a safer alternative in the midst of a fire ban due to the North American wildfires; and

(iv) to date, there have been no large-scale drone shows that have been performed in Australia; and

(B) the Chief Executive Officer be requested to investigate environmentally-sustainable and non-explosive alternatives, such as drone shows, for future New Year’s Eve celebrations and provide a report back to Council.

A drone show has been done before on Sydney Harbour in 2016 as part of Vivid Sydney. Lasting 5 nights from it’s world premiere on the 8th of June to the 12th of June, it was world-record breaking at the time, consisting of 100 drones. (The world record is now in the thousands) The show, held over Farm Cove, was suitably named Drone 100 and was presented by Intel accompanied by the Sydney Youth Orchestra:



Here are other drone shows mentioned in the motion:







He opened the motion’s discussion saying:

My proposal is for an alternative, uh, looking at options for alternatives to New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Uh, as Councillors are aware & those who are in the gallery still are aware, um, uh, during the, um, the late part of last year, uh, early this year, we had some devastating bushfires, um, and, of course, at the height of those bushfires came New Year & it brought into focus for many people, um, the question about whether or not we should be exploding fireworks during that period & of course, there were some legitimate questions about fire danger & risk, um, and ultimately, the City Of Sydney, uh, decided that it would proceed & I endorsed, uh, that that was the decision that was made, um, the fireworks being planned and proposed.

It was, um, uh, given permission by the relevant fire authorities to proceed with the fireworks at that time but what it, it really brought to light was that people were starting to think about ‘Well, what are the alternatives of fireworks?’,‘What are ways in which we can, uh, still, um, have a festival which has the impact, uh, for the rest of the world?  Uh, uh, the impact for, um, the billions of people who potentially that watch our fireworks, uh, at New Year, um, but then be a way in which we can signal to the world, uh, that we are progressive, sustainable city, um, that we actually do reduce our emissions, um, that we do, uh, um, uh, improve air quality’ and, of course, my motion there and, um, the thing that has gotten a people’s attention has been the option perhaps to think about drones.

Uh, my proposal is not only for drones.

My proposal is, uh, ah, looks at the option of drones but any other way which we can celebrate New Year with, uh, non-explosive, uh, type, um, um, uh, celebrations, that which may include lasers, which may include light, which may include drones.

Now we do know already that the New Year we are, a, a, utilizing light for, for part of our New Year’s Eve celebration.

We know that, um, uh, Vivid has been a wonderful celebration for Sydney bringing tens of millions of dollars in, uh, economic benefit to Sydney, um, and it attracts many, many, many thousands of people.

Now, the, the, drones have been used in many parts of the world & indeed, they have been used in Sydney for things like Vivid, um, and trials around Farm Cove, uh, and in Darling Harbour.

Indeed, there are a number of organisations who are talking to Property New South Wales I understand about how they can, uh, perform regular shows around the Darling Harbour precinct.

They’ve been some very large-scale drone shows, laser shows, light shows around the world.

Uh, drone shows around the, uh, South Korean Olympics, um, around, uh, Super Bowl & in fact, uh, for the 4th of July celebrations in the United States when, um, when the fire danger didn’t permit for fireworks to be let off, they had drone shows.

Uh, down in Kiama, they use an accommodation of lasers & lights, um, uh, and in other jurisdictions, they are using fireworks as well as lasers & lights.

Uh, Councillors, I’d like us to be open to the idea of what can we do, uh, that might be different.

What is a way in which we can still have a, a, a, an incredible impact for the people watching around the world?

Sydney, of course, is one of the first major cities in the world to, to celebrate New Year & the eyes of the world are often on Sydney so we need to make show, that we sure that whatever we do on New Year, uh, has an impact for them, has an impact for the, the visitors & residents here in Sydney who come and line the shore.

A million of them each year, um, and produce a bit, um, a spectacular show but at the same time, um, produce a show which, uh, shows that Sydney is sustainable.

Uh, Councillors, I look forward to your support for a, um, for a, um, for a report back from the CEO about how we can actually address this.

Lasers have been used at Sydney NYE between 1998 & 2000 when they were used as the first pylon ‘projections’. Lasers have also featured recently at Vivid Sydney, on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2018 and up to recent editions, as part of the 10 to 15 minute show done on Cockle Bay at Darling Harbour each year for Vivid Sydney. Lasers were also used on the Sydney Opera House in 1993 when Sydney won the bidding rights for The Games Of The XXVIIth Olympiad: 2000.

Below are the examples of what Councillor Chung was referring to in his opening address:




The motion was then seconded by Councillor Angela Vithoulkas (Sydney Matters Independent Team). This allowed discussion to begin.

Councillor Professor Kerryn Phelps AM (Clover Moore Independent Team) then spoke:

Look, there’s no question that, uhm, (huffed), there were many questions raised about the fireworks display in, uh, New Year’s Eve 2019 to 2020 (breaths in twice) & people, (huffed), were concerned about the symbolism, uh, in the midst of the catastrophic bushfires.

They were concerned about the, the expense in the midst of all of the loss & they were concerned about the environmental impact because fireworks are not environmentally clean.

Uh, they do emit, um, uh, substances that affect air quality.

Uh, when they drop into the water, they affect water quality & so I don’t think that we can, you know, in 2020, ignore the potential environmental impacts of something that we, uh, all enjoy, uh, that we all come to expect for New Year’s Eve but, uh, in…maybe it is time to carefully move forward, to look at what other technologies are available internationally, to explore the possibility of transitioning away from, uh, the, uh, fireworks displays that we have all known and loved for many, many years & to see what else might be available which will, uh, attract Sydneysiders and international tourists to the same extent as our world famous fireworks do, um, now and, and, and certainly I think it’s, uh, worth supporting at least an exploration of these op, options and, uh, and I commend Councillor Chung for raising this issue with Council.

Councillor Phillip Thalis (Clover Moore Independent Team) then spoke:

Certainly, I think everybody in the community remembers that, that, that, the summer of distress in terms of drought & bushfire, um, and, uh, acknowledging, as the other Councillors have, that it was actually a, of course, a big point of discussion in the community about whether the, the fireworks should go ahead & the final arbiter was, in fact, the Commissioner, um, Bushfire Commissioner, who felt there, in fact, was no danger to the public, um, and, so, it was a decision which, I think, we all, uh, anguished over & I’m, I actually welcome this, um, proposal from Councillor Chung because I think there is merit in looking at alternatives and, uh, as he rightly said um, and as uh, uh, in fact, Councillor Phelps’s also said, we have, in fact, incorporated new technologies even though there’s something sort of visceral about fire, uh, about fireworks.

I remember, as a kid, seeing the Captain Cook ones in 1970.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

You could, can, we were miles away & of course, these days, there are fireworks up & down the Harbour so I think it’s it has been embraced by the community to quite a remarkable degree.



The amendment was then circulated amongst the Councillors.

The final motion, varied by Councillor Phillip Thalis (Clover Moore Independent Team) & later at the discussions’ conclusion, was approved unanimously by those in attendance, was:

(A) Council note:

(i) many members of the community were calling for the New Year’s Eve fireworks to be cancelled;

(ii) the 2019 New Year’s Eve fireworks display went ahead as planned after approval from the NSW Rural Fire Service;

(iii) the decision to proceed was based on the following considerations:

(a) after 15 months of preparations, the vast majority of the budget had been spent,
so the money could not have been redirected and cancelling the celebrations would have had no practical benefit for bushfire and drought-affected communities;

(b) the event contributes $133 million to the NSW economy and cancelling the event
would have had a devastating impact on hotels, restaurants, and other small businesses, particularly tourism operators in Sydney and across NSW;

(c) the Lord Mayor believed that more could be gained for fire and drought-affected
communities by harnessing the power of the event to raise money for charities responding to the crisis; and

(d) the Lord Mayor did not want to disappoint over one million people who planned to attend the event on the harbour foreshore, including many who travelled from

(iv) the City of Sydney, ABC Australia and Australian Red Cross Sydney New Year’s Eve fundraising drive raised a total of $13.3 million;

(v) the decision to proceed with the 2019 New Year’s Eve fireworks was supported by fire authorities, and political and business leaders, including:

(a) Shane Fitzsimmons, NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner;

(b) the Premier of NSW, Gladys Berejiklian, and the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison;

(c) Chief Executive of the Tourism and Transport Forum, Margy Osmond; Executive
Director of the Sydney Business Chamber, Katherine O’Regan; General Manager
of the Captain Cook Cruises, Anthony Haworth; and former advertising executive
Jane Caro, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 30 December 2019;

(vi) the 2019 New Year’s Eve celebrations brought more than one million people to the harbour foreshore and their safety was the prime consideration in the planning and delivery of the event – Sydney’s fireworks have a proven safety record for such a large-scale and global event;

(vii) with their scale, height and visibility, Sydney’s fireworks have a proven appeal as:

(a) a live event staged over a large area to an audience of at least one million people;

(b) a globally broadcast event on television and via the internet to one billion people
worldwide; and

(c) the opportunity to showcase Sydney, it’s significant landmarks, such as the
Harbour, the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House & Australia, to the world;

(viii) drone shows are gradually becoming more common as alternatives to fireworks displays due to their minimal noise and environmental disruption. Between 2015 and 2018, Intel’s ‘Shooting Star’ drones have performed more than 300 shows in 16 countries;

(ix) notable drone show performances include the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the 2018 Fourth of July show in Aspen, Colorado, which was done as a safer alternative in the midst of a fire ban due to the North American wildfires;

(x) to date, there have been no large-scale drone shows that have been performed in

(xi) City staff have been working to introduce innovative elements that reduce the
environmental impact of the New Year’s Eve celebrations for many years, including
pylon projections, the use of lighting on the bridge, colour changing lighting on vessels to coincide with bridge lighting and lighting on the Luna Park ferris wheel; and

(xii) City staff are already investigating alternatives and complementary activities for future New Year’s Eve celebrations, including drones; and

(B) the Chief Executive Officer be requested to provide a report to Council comparing the cost and environmental impacts of drones and other technologies to the current fireworks display for future New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Pylon ‘projections’ were first introduced on NYE1998 as a laser display. For NYE2000, projections as we know them were introduced and projection mapping began on NYE2008. It is known though that one, and we stress, one factor in the Bridge Effect’s demise after NYE2014 was that pylon projection mapping was cheaper. The main factor was that the company that made the Bridge Effect went into liquidation. This was also the main reason for the re-introduction of the centrepiece Bridge light shows since NYE2015.

Bridge light shows have also been done on NYE2003, as a last minute alternative, when that year’s proposed Bridge Effect, Fanfare, went over time & budget. Fanfare appeared the following edition. Bridge light shows were also used on NYE1989, NYE1990, NYE2002, NYE2004 to NYE2008 & NYE2012

We will post more of the meeting’s discussion over the coming weeks.

It is highly unlikely the fireworks would be cancelled permanently. They are, in fact, booked in for 2 more editions of Sydney New Year’s Eve at least.

Also, fireworks have also been a major staple of Sydney culture since the 19th century.

However, given a comparison rather than an investigation has been requested there is a more likelier chance than usual that fireworks could be replaced in 2022 by more environmentally sensitive and/or cheaper technologies. There are conflicting reports on whether drones are more expensive or cheaper than fireworks. We will investigate this further.

However, the chance of replacement at this stage is low. Complementing the fireworks is more likely currently.

On the 12th of September 2020, an election will be held for the seat of the City Of Sydney’s Lord Mayor as well as the City’s councillors, who represent 1 whole ward.

The current Council consists of 10 members:

  • 6 Clover Moore Independent Team members (including Lord Mayor),
  • 2 Liberal members,
  • A Labor member and
  • A Sydney Matters Independent Team member

More to come over the next weeks (due to COVID-19 interrupting everything)