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 and it was, we were miles away & of course, these days, there are fireworks up and down the Harbour so I think it’s, it has been embraced by the community to quite a remarkable degree.
Certainly, there were 300,000 people sign a petition against it.
There were a million people at least who went there actually to still experience it, uh, notwithstanding all the people globally on TV and elsewhere or who simply couldn’t get to be to the edge so, um, I think it has been very interesting going over many years to see the new technologies incorporated & I don’t think any of us would discount drones per say, um, but it is also worth noting how we could turn the controversy to advantage & so the Lord Mayor did, in fact, put forward that, it, that New Year’s Eve would become a fundraiser for the victims of drought and bushfire & then in fact, um, 13.3 million dollars was raised that night, to that end and that’s as well as the money that we voted on.
Uh, 2 grants of 300,000.
One for the drought & one for the bushfire so I think that was a very significant outpouring, uh, recognition of the distress that people around our state & in fact, around our country had felt but it is also a very important event for our city.
It does bring in something like 130 million dollars to the economy.
I don’t think any of us want to imperil that in any way.
I think it is something that, uh, in fact, many people, uh, do this, do really rely on that, that money coming in.
It’s also, I think, worth clarifying the actual cost, um, that the City spends something like from the figures that, um, I’ve, I’ve been able to research.
6.5 million on the night but…. the vast majority of that is, in fact, for crowd control, signage, um, barricades and the like but the figures of the actual fireworks is just under a million dollars so that was actually quite surprising to me that it was such a small percentage & we know that the management of crowds has been something that has been growing exponentially, uh, at least since the Olympics.
It’s something that seems to be, uh, uh, called for more & more, um, and so logistics, obviously security & the like, there, there very important considerations these days.
As to the environmental, uh, impact of the fireworks, well, in fact, our fireworks last year were the cleanest on record.
Um, yes, they certainly looked smokey and, and, um, pollutant but, um, they actually not as bad as you would think & it’s actually good to see progress on this issue.
I wasn’t aware of it previously.
I must say but the City’s Sites & Operations used 100% accredited GreenPower from Sapphire Wind Farm near Glen Innes & they use fireworks made from biodegradable paper and compounds that eas, more easily breakdown so (Councillor Chung possibly inaudibly chuckled) I’m not claiming to be an expert on fireworks, Councillor Chung, um, so these are the things you find out along the way.
Uh, it’s also worth noting that, despite the incredible k’s, that the emissions actually, uh, equal to a couple of cars on the road all year so that was also a surprise to me that they don’t have, despite (gestures towards Councillor Phelps) what common sense might tell you with the, the visual impact of the fireworks, the environmental footprint is much smaller than, in fact, I, I thought as well so I’m sure our staff, as they have been for many years, are, are incorporating new technologies, that we’re using the entire city skyline.
That’s a very, uh, exciting aspect.
The way that we have used the Bridge over the last 20 years has been quite remarkable & who knows how they will be using it in, in 10 years time but I would still like to move an amendment to the motion because I think that there are more things to say.
Um, it’s not to discount what Councillor Chung has put forward but I think it is important to have a full story of the fireworks in 2019 & who knows the fireworks in 2020, let’s hope are a much better story. In 2021, they continue to embrace technology so I would like to circulate the amendment.
The amendment (which became the final motion eventually) was then circulated amongst the Councillors. The motion eventually was varied by consent rather than amended due to the similarities between them especially after Councillor Chung recommended to Councillor Thalis, who accepted his recommendation, to add “and other technologies” to section B of his own amendment.
Councillor Vithoulkas (Sydney Matters Independent Team) then spoke on the now substantive motion:
It’s certainly not debate.
I’m, um, very pleased to support this and, and, uh, second this particular, uh, notice of motion.
Just some comments.
Uh, I’m not always easy to, um, adapt to things that have childhood meaning behind them.
Um, I find that the fireworks for me & it’s by no means, I’m referring that there aren’t other small business owners around this table but, uh, I grew up in a, uh, a corner store and one of my big jobs each year was to sell the fireworks & as I progressed along to the age of 10, uh, I was allowed to choose the fireworks for the upcoming year.
Um, my brother & I, who were known as ‘The Dynamic Duo’ & terror little children of the area, would also then, uh, open up some of those fireworks & create our own so I come from a very experienced background (giggles)
(Councillor Phelps (slightly inaudible & may be incorrect): “I say how old did you say?”)
Um, a very experienced background of, um, handling fireworks, um, looking forward to them every year & what they meant for the kids around our area.
We used to have great bonfires.
I learnt to toast the best, best marshmallows & there’s, there’s something about that community feeling then somebody went and made it illegal & my career was cut short, unfortunately.
I found I had to find other ways of supplementing, um, my income at the age of 10.
I won’t tell you what else I did.
I’ll reserve that for another night, um, but it, it did have a lot of meaning for a long time.
Look, it saddens me that progress means that this might spell the end but I’m hoping that innovation will drive these very smart business owners to produce not only, um, what turns out to be a very environmentally friendly and sustainable option but perhaps complement their extreme talent & I will, um, also report that one of my favourite moments in my life, um, when I was very lucky to win the very significant business award.
I was able to view the fireworks up close in my very young years & it was quite one of the best nights of my life when I got to experience it so I’m glad I got to do it.
Many others won’t but I know that we will find a good alternative that will still fulfill that part of, um, excitement for New Year’s Eve that millions of people come to expect in a very friendly way & I hope we do get to hear a little bit of that noise, Councillor.
It means everything.
I’m very supportive.
The Chief Executive Officer was then referred to:
I’m glad, that, that, that, that the discussion is about finding, um, perhaps, a variety of things because, uh, you know, yes, drones exist.
Um, they are not necessarily…We do not know their environmental impact & I mean, um, you know if a lot of them, failed and fell into the ocean, that wouldn’t be great.
Um, we know that they generally can’t take off during wind & pretty much every New Year’s Eve – 9 o’clock fireworks are at risk because of the wind so th…that will evolve, you know, the technology so we might, you know, we might need to have, um, a variety of options & so I think the f…I think we really need to be really clear and we will do this in the report:
There, there’s the environmental piece and being really sure about what are the impacts of the different options are because there is really…There is no completely environmental, eh, you know, zero everything option probably at all.
It is going to be a combination so that’s 1 issue that came up that’s important to the community but the other issue I want to talk about is the emotional piece.
People were concerned about the fireworks because there were bushfires but I put to you:
What if there’s an aviation disaster & we’ve got a drone show?
So do you hear what I am saying?
There are some cities that do water shows.
What if there is a flood?
So we need to accept that the…There is no…There is the technology and it’s impact but there’s also the context & that is always going to be a challenge, right?
And I always tell people of the story of being in China during the mudslides & immediately China, um, just calls 3 days national mourning.
Everybody knows what that means.
There is no television, broadcasts, everybody wears dark colours.
It is a nationally understood convention when somebody important dies in Australia or somebody that’s done something significant, we fly a flag at half mast.
I’m sure a lot of countries do the same.
We understand it.
We don’t have to argue about it.
We don’t have a convention for what we do at New Year’s Eve if there is a natural disaster or something going on & that’s a kind of national conversation.
That is a very complex conversation and we, and, and what, what I am trying to say is this is going to happen it…It might not happen again next year but it has happened twice in the time that I’ve been here & it will happen again & if the technology we’re using has any association with the disaster, you are going to have the same problem & that’s just what it is so I just want to make that point that just because we change the mode, won’t necessarily change the, the, the, the…what might occur & we also need to realise that, that the scale of what we do is huge & at the moment, I don’t actually think there is a technology that can do that scale around the Harbour at that price but I totally, totally accept & appreciate that Councillors are saying ‘Please find out what’s available’, ‘What, what’s, what’s else can be done?’, ‘Let’s trial some things & over time, it might look like a slightly different show’.
It should be noted an aviation disaster is possible at Sydney New Year’s Eve. For over a decade, Matt Hall has done an aviation display in the early evening as part of the pre-show entertainment.
2 years ago, there was an aviation disaster in the Hawksbury River 30 kilometres north of Sydney on New Year’s Eve involving a seaplane (6 lives were lost) while returning back to it’s Sydney Harbour Rose Bay sea plane base. The fact it crashed kilometres away from the event site is probably why the event & it’s aerial display went ahead. Had it been on the Harbour, probably not.
There are actually 2 conventions for Sydney New Year’s Eve – if a mass murder occurred (like in 1986) after 7 years of increasing crowd violence, the event would be cancelled for 2 years at least. If catastrophic fire dangers are forecast the day before the event, the fireworks would be cancelled (as nearly was the case in 2001 & 2019).
Sydney Spectaculars can still imagine a way to do a drone show on a large scale -whether it is technically & financially possible is all that stands in the way
Deputy Lord Mayor, Councillor Jess Scully (Clover Moore Independent Team), then spoke. For our Vivid Sydney followers, you may remember Jess Scully as the original Vivid Ideas curator before leaving after the 2016 edition. Ignatius Jones took up the role temporarily until Tory Loudon got permanently appointed for the 2018, 2019 & I assume, the cancelled 2020 edition:
A few years ago, I was involved in a drone show on Sydney Harbour, um, and it was more expensive than our fireworks I can tell you, um, and for much less of an impact, um, so there are challenges around any technology that we trial, um, and, um, and I think the other thing that we should note is, is the community is quite divided on this issue.
You know, we, we may have heard from people who were opposed but there were a lot of people who did get some real joy out of that moment, um & as the CEO has noted, um, a, a crisis can come at any time and take different forms &, uh, it’s hard for us to preempt it when we are working so far in advance so I think this is a, a sensible, um, amendment that we have before us.
Councillors Christine Forster (Liberal), Linda Scott (Labor), Robert Kok & Jess Miller (Clover Moore Independent Team) did not speak during the overall discussion.
As mentioned earlier, Lord Mayor Clover Moore (Clover Moore Independent Team) was not in attendance at this meeting due to ill health.
Councillor Craig Chung (Liberal) then gave a reply to the overall discussion:
Thank you everybody for your contributions & for, um, uh, & for, uh, uh, enhancing the motion that we have got before us.
If I could just make a, a couple of comments an, and, I say thank the CEO for her comments.
I guess, um, um, our, our expectations as Councillors is, is that we’ll get something back, which give us alternatives and options & if, if, they work out, they work out & if they don’t, we’ll look at other ways.
Um, I, I, think that, uh, I acknowledge, uh, when I spoke, uh, uh, initially, that, um, of course, um, there was an outpouring of emotion & it was a convergence of events at the time, uh, and I endorsed going ahead with the, the fireworks.
I think that it was important that we did.
I think there were reasons for & against it, uh, and I think, um, un, under difficult circumstances, the Lord Mayor was the one that actually copped the pressure & I do not normally defend her but yeah, she made the right decision at that time & she had to answer for it, um, um but following on from that, I think there has been a continuing discussion about it & I think it’s…As emotion has declined a, af, after that initial period, I think that, that people are, are expecting us to, to at least consider some of the options and, and, and not, um, you know & not small number of people have, have said ‘Look, we would like you to at least look at some options’.
Cost is one of the issues, of course but look we do not know what that is.
I do not think the CEO either knows what it is.
I think there is, you know, ideas of how big or little it could be & what these…how spectacular it is.
Let’s get the facts on the table.
Let’s exactly have, have some sort of idea about it & of course, we know there are limitations with all technology.
You know, drones, um, have a limitation of about 35 kilometres an hour, uh, I understand, uh, but, you know, for those who were around 2003, the fireworks were cancelled because there was high winds so I, uh, guess all technologies have their difficulties & I am pleased that, that Councillors are open to the idea of at least thinking of some alternatives or maybe a hybrid model, uh, of what we do in the future.
The 9pm Family Fireworks for Sydney New Year’s Eve 2002 were cancelled due to high (90km/h+) winds (about 2 hours before 2003) not the New Year’s Eve 2003 fireworks.
And Sydney New Year’s Eve has always been a hybrid event since it became world famous at the turn of the Millennium – consisting of music, lights & fireworks. Projection mapping shows were also introduced last edition to add to the ‘hybrid’ fireworks display. It’s pre-Millennium editions were ‘hybrid’ as well except, apart from the cancelled editions, maybe a few in the early to mid-1990’s, when the lights were removed.
The final motion, varied by Councillor Phillip Thalis (Clover Moore Independent Team) was then approved unanimously by those in attendance & the motion 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
(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
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 was to 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
However, due to COVID-19, the election has been postponed by 1 year by the New South Wales Government.