How do we party while the bush burns?

It was just a little uncomfortable watching fireworks over Sydney Harbour while people were facing a bushfire apocalypse.  The fireworks were sensational – I can understand why people travel halfway around the globe just to see them. But a few hundred kilometres to the south people were sheltering on beaches and in boats while a firestorm consumed their towns, their homes, tens of thousands of hectares of forest, and – at this stage – eight human lives. So, while millions people were in awe on the harbour many others were in fear while the bush exploded around them.

Some called for the fireworks to be scrapped altogether. While I understand that call I also understand why the Sydney Harbour celebrations were allowed to continue. Cancelling may have saved several million dollars, which some say could have been used for fire relief. In truth the money was spent months ago when the contract was signed. Cancelling the display in the event of catastrophic conditions would have resulted in an insurance claim, not a net saving. Cancelling the event would also have cost the NSW economy $150m in lost revenue, and perhaps put some people out of business.

So cancelling would not have helped much. Even so, there are a few things which could have been done differently.

Some $2m was raised on the night to aid those who have been impacted by the fire. Great result. But imagine how different it may have been if the civic leaders had specifically suggested that all adult attenders give at least $20 to the appeal? Some people might have found that hard – fair enough – it would not have been compulsory. Others could have given more. But a specific “ask” is always helpful. Who knows, doing it that way maybe $20m could have been raised on the night.

Also, the Prime Minister received some criticism for having some friends at Kirribilli House for a box seat fireworks viewing opportunity. He’s the Prime Minister, of course, and he’ll be criticised for anything. But what if he’d asked some cameras in, and just before the fireworks display, encouraged all Australians them to give the the Appeal? What if his guests had all dug deep on the night and raised their own sum for the appeal?

That would have been a great display of leadership and empathy. I think something like that would have pulled our country together even more, and the millions of people not affected by the extreme fire events would have been drawn closer to the thousands that are facing unimaginable terror. Australia would have been left with an enduring message of solidarity in a time of massive destruction and fear.

So, yes, we cheered in the New Year. And we prayed. And we held the joy and hope of new beginning at the same time as holding fear and concern for others as the fires bear down on them.