The NSW government could take over the Sydney New Year’s Eve fireworks after a public stoush over Sydney Council’s plans for a toned-down, COVID-safe spectacle.
The potential backflip from the state government – which held last year’s event but has already declined to do so this year – came after the council decided to axe the 9pm Family Fireworks and Harbour of Light Parade for public health reasons.
“If the 9pm fireworks can be held safely it should go ahead and we will look at options on how that can happen if the council vacates the field. This will help the Sydney CBD and our economy rebound strongly,” NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet told The New Daily.
“We all need a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, and after the year we’ve endure the traditional Sydney fireworks can help send us out with a bang.”
Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore said she’d welcome the state government’s decision to take the reins, but told Premier Gladys Berejiklian in a private letter that murmurs of a state government takeover would seemingly conflict with the existing arrangements.
“Given the increased challenges surrounding transport, health and crowd management during the pandemic, the NSW government took operational control of Sydney New Year’s Eve in 2020,” Ms Moore told TND.
“We offered the event to the NSW government again this year, but that offer was declined. We instead agreed to host a midnight-only fireworks display, and began planning for that event.
“The NSW government is responsible for health, transport and police. If the government is now concerned about the city’s plans and confident a COVID-safe 9pm event can and should go ahead, I reiterate my offer for them to take over management of the event.”
The family-owned company which is usually contracted to stage the fireworks, Foti Fireworks International, confirmed on Friday that it hadn’t heard any updates about the 9pm fireworks from either the state government or the council.
The Foti family was already contracted to organise the midnight fireworks as usual.
Confusion behind the scenes
The first media reports about the 9pm fireworks being axed emerged on Tuesday after the council began engaging contractors and stakeholders. Some of those reports included comments from Mr Perrottet calling for the show to go on.
On Thursday night, Ms Moore sent a letter to Ms Berejiklian about the decision making process leading up to now.
By Friday morning, The Daily Telegraph reported the state government would take control, with Mr Perrottet calling for “a bit more boom, boom, boom” instead of a “nana nap”.
His later comments were less definitive.
Ms Moore’s letter to the Premier, seen by TND, claims that the NSW government had acknowledged the council’s plans to axe the 9pm fireworks weeks ago.
“I wrote to you in August confirming this agreement was reached between our officials, which you acknowledged on September 2, confirming the NSW government’s belief in the importance of the New Year’s Eve event and the need for it to occur in a COVID-safe way,” Ms Moore wrote.
“You referred my letter to the Minister for Tourism [Stuart Ayres], to which I have yet to receive a response. I was waiting on the Minister’s response before making any details public.
“The city continues to have concerns about the potential for the event to be cancelled due to a further outbreak, and our capacity to absorb the associated costs, as well as ensuring New Year’s Eve 2021 is COVID-safe.
“I note that the Doherty Report identifies the potential for localised lockdowns even as we open up when vaccination rates reach 70 per cent.”
Ms Moore went on to express concern about the overlap of crowds coming and going for both sets of fireworks, adding that Sydney’s public transport network might not be able to cope with this in a COVID-safe way.
The council also noted that the 9pm Family Fireworks tend to attract young children, the vast majority of whom are unvaccinated.
However, Mr Perrottet said NSW was “rapidly approaching” 80 per cent vaccine coverage and that it was “important we chart a course back to normal”.
Despite this behind-the-scenes confusion, the City of Sydney has repeatedly said it would welcome and cooperate with any state government plans to stage the NYE fireworks.
“The NSW government has the capacity to run both the 9pm and midnight fireworks events – and the associated crowds of both events – and I reiterate my offer for the NSW government to take over management of the event to deliver this, with the support of the city,” Ms Moore said in the letter.
If that does ultimately go ahead, it would mark the first time in exactly two years that crowds can gather to witness Sydney’s New Year’s Eve Family Fireworks.