‘New Year’s Eve should be free and fun’: The cost of watching Sydney’s fireworks from some public parks

Watching Sydney's New Year's Eve fireworks from a premiere venue can cost a small fortune, but enjoying the display from a harbourside park has long been a simple and free option.

Key points:

  • The NSW government says tickets have been priced as low as possible and will allow for crowd control
  • The City of Sydney is not charging people to watch the fireworks from council controlled areas
  • North Sydney council has scrapped paid ticketing this year and is using a first-come-first-served model

But watching 2022 roll in on your picnic rug could cost you, depending on where you want to sit.

More than a dozen of the most popular spots to watch the fireworks from in Sydney are now subject to paid ticketing by the NSW government.

Although ticketing ensures social distancing and crowd control at a time when COVID cases have never been higher in NSW, critics say it's privatising what's supposed to be a free community event.

The 'pay to view' model was introduced by the NSW government in 2011 in just a few locations and although it has caused community outrage, it has now been expanded to include 15 areas.

People in the paid ticketing section of Circular Quay at NYE in 2019.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

This year to watch the fireworks from the Royal Botanic Gardens it will cost $43 to be in the cheapest section (known as 'silver') but if that area sells out, tickets jump up to $156 to get into the 'gold' section.

The only thing the ticket includes is a patch of grass to sit on, toilets and water refill stations.

Other spots around the harbour are less expensive but may still rule out some looking for an affordable New Year's Eve.

At Bradley's Head in Mosman, which is managed by NSW National Parks, a family with two children will be $60 out of pocket to watch the fireworks.

At Circular Quay tickets for adults are $25, at nearby Hickson Reserve they rise to $50 and at Barangaroo they are $46.90.

Tickets to areas within the Royal Botanic Gardens are some of the most expensive.(Supplied: Royal Botanic Gardens)

Dawes Point is a more affordable option at $12.50 and spots in Elizabeth Bay, Glebe, Darling Point, Milsons Point and Pyrmont are ticketed but free. 

But the City of Sydney, who pays for the 9pm and midnight fireworks, is not charging for tickets to the six vantage points it controls.

The council has always kept its sites free and Lord Mayor Clover Moore has previously hit out at the state government for charging people to use public spaces on the night.

Sydney councillor and president of the Australian Local Government Association, Linda Scott, said people were effectively being charged twice as the fireworks were already paid for by ratepayers.

"It's so disappointing to see each year more and more public spaces, particularly those sitting under the New South Wales government, charging to attend," Ms Scott said.

"This shouldn't be the practice of a good government, especially after the year that we've had — New Year's Eve should be free and fun."

City of Sydney councillor Linda Scott says charging people to attend the fireworks creates a bad precedent for other events around the harbour.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

This year the North Sydney council decided to make its harbourside vantage points free after previously charging $10 entry to spots like Blues Point Reserve.

The three parklands under the council's control will operate on a first-come-first-served basis and close once they hit capacity.

However, the NSW department of planning said it was using ticketing at its vantage points to ensure a COVID-19 safe event and says admission fees have been kept "relatively low".

"Visitors are able to use their NSW Dine & Discover vouchers to purchase them," a spokesperson said.

"[In addition] anyone with a booking at a pub or restaurant in The Rocks will be provided with a ticket to enter the precinct.

"This will be overseen by government-appointed COVID marshals and enable us to carefully manage the number of attendees, as well as ensure appropriate space for crowds to physically distance themselves."

Crowds at Barangaroo Reserve at NYE in 2019. Tickets to enter the park cost around $50 this year.(AAP: City of Sydney)

Infrastructure NSW, which manages Barangaroo Reserve, said tickets would help recover part of the costs associated with hosting the event.

"Ticketing avoids overcrowding, increases public safety and ensures it is managed as a family-friendly event," the government agency said.

"Infrastructure NSW provides entertainment before and after the fireworks."

The Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust said every ticket they sell would support "science, horticulture and conservation projects" in the park.

But Ms Scott said charging people was an unacceptable way to regulate festivities and the government would most likely turn a profit.

"Of course, every New Year's Eve involves some cost to government, but that's why people make a tax contribution," she said.

"It's hard to see how the New South Wales government charging for public open space won't actually now make a profit from New Year's Eve. This is not in the public interest."

Some revellers may see paid ticketing as a less stressful way of securing a good viewing spot.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

New Year's Eve is always an important night for CBD businesses but especially this year as hospitality venues try to recover from lockdowns and two years of cancelled events.

But Ms Scott believes paid ticketing is bad news for business as it could encourage their customers to stay home and watch the fireworks for free on TV.

In 2019 North Sydney mayor Jilly Gibson was inundated with complaints from businesses who said paid ticketing in the council area had "killed New Year's Eve" and left restaurants empty.

"I had phone calls actually on New Year's Eve telling me how dead it was," she said.

But a spokesperson from Business Sydney, formerly known as the business chamber, said it expected COVID-19 to be a greater disincentive to going out this New Year's Eve rather than paid ticketing.

Last time Sydney enjoyed a full-scale New Year's eve in 2019 most vantage points sold out but tickets seem to be much slower to move this year.

So far only three vantage points have sold out, two with free admission.

Ms Scott believes governments should instead run a public raffle for tickets as a COVID-safe way forward.

"In fact you can find many creative ways to regulate spaces that don't involve charging people."

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news

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