Bushfire tragedy hangs over Sydney's New Year's Eve celebrations
Sydney - The horrific bushfire disaster that has hit the east coast of Australia will hang over the New Year's celebrations in Sydney, but the city's iconic fireworks display is still expected to draw massive crowds.
Dozens slept overnight at the gates to the free zones around the harbour and hundreds arrived before dawn on Tuesday to grab the best spots to see the Sydney sky lit up with 100,000 fireworks.
The Rural Fire Service had to make a special exemption from fire bans for Sydney to be able to hold the midnight fireworks spectacular.
More than 280,000 people signed an online petition to cancel the display and give the money spent on it to those affected by the massive bushfires not far from the city.
The petition cites the cost of the fireworks as 5.8 million dollars (4 million US dollars), which is roughly in line with previous years.
With the event given the go ahead, instead buckets for donations to the Red Cross fire appeal will be passed around the million people who gather around the Sydney harbour foreshore.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said in a statement on Tuesday that Sydney New Year's Eve is a symbol of hope and happiness for Australians and those watching around the world.
"Sydney New Year's Eve brings people together from around the world. This year we want to channel that positive energy to help Australian communities who have been hit hard by the bushfires," Moore said.
Later on Tuesday, Moore spoke at a press conference where she hit back at critics of the city's fireworks display, telling reporters that the real issue the country should be worried about is climate change.
"Australia is burning - our national parks and our native animals are being decimated and our communities are being devastated," Moore said.
"As the driest continent on earth we're at the forefront of accelerating global warming. What is happening is a wake up call for our governments to start making effective contributions to reducing global emissions."
Her comments came as an op-ed article by federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor was published in The Australian newspaper on Tuesday arguing that Australians should be proud of the government's emissions reduction performance.
Taylor caused controversy at the COP25 climate talks in Madrid earlier in December when he argued Australia could use carbon credits from earlier cuts achieved under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
"Cities around the world are doing their bit to address global warming - it's our national governments that are failing us," Moore said.dpa