SYDNEY • A petition to cancel Sydney's famous New Year's Eve fireworks and use the money to fight bush fires surrounding the city has topped 260,000 signatures, but officials say the show will go on.
The city is spending A$6.5 million (S$6.13 million) on this year's fireworks display at Sydney Harbour - funds that the Change.org petition argues would be better spent on supporting volunteer firefighters and farmers suffering through a brutal drought.
Toxic smoke haze from bush fires raging across Australia has blanketed Sydney and other major cities for weeks. Entire towns have been left in ruins by devastating blazes in worst-hit New South Wales (NSW) state, where eight people have died and an area the size of Belgium burned to cinders.
"2019 has been a catastrophic year in Australia for floods and fires," the petition states, noting that "there is enough smoke in the air", and "all states should say no to fireworks".
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the show would go on to show the world Australia's resiliency. "In the midst of the challenges that we face, subject to the safety considerations, I can think of no better time to express to the world just how optimistic and positive we are as a country," he said.
A City of Sydney spokesman said that while it appreciates the concerns of the people, can-celling the celebration would have "little practical benefit for affected communities".
"We began preparations and planning for the (New Year's Eve) celebrations 15 months ago. This means most of the budget, largely used for crowd safety and cleaning measures, has already been spent," the spokesman said in a statement.
"Cancelling the event would seriously hurt Sydney businesses. It would also ruin plans for tens of thousands of people from across the country and overseas who have booked flights, hotels and restaurants for New Year's Eve."
Sydney's council added that it has donated A$620,000 to support the bush fire and drought response, and would also promote a Red Cross disaster relief fund during the televised fireworks broadcast.
A heatwave is due to sweep across parts of NSW in the coming days.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said he does not expect any impact on the fireworks, but he is prepared to cancel them at the last minute if he deems the display too risky.
"The pyrotechnics organisations and local authorities are used to working with us around exemptions in the summer period," he said.
The display, watched by an estimated one billion people globally, is worth A$130 million annually to the NSW economy.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ASSOCIATED PRESS