Australia

Sydney mayor defends New Year's fireworks despite protests

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Media captionSydney welcomed in 2020, as is tradition

Sydney's Lord Mayor has defended the decision to press ahead with the city's New Year's Eve fireworks display, despite calls it should have been cancelled due to the bushfire crisis.

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, Clover Moore said the celebration would "give hope to people".

Parts of Australia have been ravaged by bushfires intensified by high temperatures and months of drought.

A number of other fireworks displays across the country were scrapped.

Critics of the Sydney display had argued that going ahead with it would send the wrong message. Organisers were urged to call it off and instead donate the money to farmers and the fire service.

But the fireworks went ahead as planned.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Ms Moore said the event would seek to raise money for the Australian Red Cross

What did the mayor say?

Ms Moore told a press conference that New Year's Eve was an important celebration that would "give hope to people at a terrible time", but called for action on climate change.

She stressed the preparations for the event to usher in the new decade had begun 15 months ago.

"Many people have already flown in and paid for hotels and restaurants, travelling from all over the world to be here for tonight's New Year's Eve. It generates A$130m (£69m; $91m) for the NSW economy, powers our tourism industry, creates jobs and supports countless small businesses", she said.

But she argued that the "compelling issue here is climate change", and called on the government to do more to reduce global emissions.

"Cities around the world are doing their bit to address global warming; it's our national governments that are failing us," she added.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro was among those calling for Tuesday's display to be cancelled, saying it should be a "very easy decision".

But Ms Moore said doing so "would have little practical benefit".

Which displays have been cancelled?

A popular fireworks display in Parramatta Park was cancelled by Parramatta Council on Monday after it failed to obtain an exemption due to the extreme weather forecast.

"Council was not granted an exemption to proceed with its fireworks display, due to the total fire ban in place and a range of associated risks including extreme temperatures, smoke, dust and poor air quality," Parramatta lord mayor Bob Dwyer said.

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Image caption A number of New Year's Eve fireworks displays have been cancelled across NSW

The council said it would donate A$10,000 to the NSW Regional Fire Service instead.

Other areas where fireworks displays have been cancelled or postponed include Wollongong, Maitland, Orange, Berry, Shoalhaven, Huskisson, Armidale, Port Macquarie, Liverpool, Campbelltown and Tweed Heads.

Why are there calls to cancel fireworks displays?

In recent months, bushfires have been raging across Australia, where heatwave conditions, strong winds and drought have created dangerous conditions.

NSW - where Sydney is located - is the worst-affected state, with more than 100 fires currently burning.

A petition calling for the Sydney spectacle to be scrapped - saying it was inappropriate at a time swathes of the country was suffering from bushfires - gathered more than 280,000 signatures.

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Media captionThe shocking aftermath of the bushfires in Balmoral - the town almost razed to the ground

The petition, entitled "Say NO to FIREWORKS NYE 2019", said the display "may traumatise some people" who are dealing with "enough smoke in the air".

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian disagreed, but acknowledged the "suffering in the community at the moment".

"Sydney is one of the first cities in the world that welcomes in the new year, and if it's safe to do so, we should continue to do it as we've done every other year," Ms Berejiklian said.

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