Battle between Celeste Barber and the RFS reignites as the comedian demands funds from her $51million bushfire appeal be spread across Australia – but firies aren’t playing ball
- Australian comedian Celeste Barber is at loggerheads with RFS over donations
- NSW Supreme Court ruled the $51million raised cannot be divided and shared
- But a proposed bill could see the remaining funds used by other charity groups
- RFS oppose the new bill but Ms Barber is a staunch supporter of the legislation
The battle over $51million in bushfire charity funds has reignited after the New South Wales Rural Fire Service voiced their opposition to a proposed bill that would allow the money raised to be divided up and shared with other groups.
Australian comedian Celeste Barber raised the staggering amount of cash through a Facebook charity appeal in January after fire fronts engulfed her NSW south coast property during the unprecedented summer bushfire crisis.
The social media star, known for imitating glamorous celebrities online, has staunchly supported the Greens bill and warned lawmakers if it’s not passed it could be the ‘last we see of such generosity on an international scale’.
Celeste Barber (pictured) speaks during the Fire Fight Australia bushfire relief concert at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on February 16
John Farnham (below centre), comedian Celeste Barber (above centre), and Olivia Newton-John (above centre) pose for a photograph volunteer fire fighters
Ms Barber set a goal of $30,000 on January 3 but just two days later more than $30million dollars had been donated from around the world.
But ongoing legal confusion has surrounded the money because Ms Barber originally directed the money to go to the NSW RFS Brigades Donations Fund.
She was unaware money sent to this fund is only to be used on training, resources and fire equipment – not for volunteers and their families or fire-affected communities.
But with more money than expected rolling in, Ms Barber also wanted to share the donations with other charities.
Barber is pictured in Los Angeles on February 7 at the 2020 Autumn/Winter 2020 Runway Show
The social media star is known for imitating glamorous celebrities online. Pictured: Celeste Barber (right) poses as Kim Kardashian (left)
‘I’m going to make sure that Victoria gets some, that South Australia gets some, also families of people who have died in these fires, the wildlife,’ Ms Barber said in an Instagram story in January.
But the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Brigades Donations Fund cannot by law give their donations to other charities – meaning the bulk of the money has sat in limbo since January.
AUSTRALIA’S HORROR SUMMER BUSHFIRES
The 2019-20 bush fire season was the worst Australia had ever experienced.
A combination of one of servere drought, unprecedented weather conditions and intense fire behaviour resulted some of the largest bushfires ever seen
Nationwide 18.6 million hectares were scortched
One billion species are estimated to have been killed
More than 3500 homes lost and 5,850 outbuildings were destroyed
A total of 34 lives were lost
In May, the NSW Supreme Court ruled the money could not be shared with any other charities.
‘A judicial decision on how the funds can be allocated has been made,’ the NSW RFS wrote in a submission made public on Wednesday to the parliamentary inquiry examining the proposed bill.
‘The Court has ruled that applying funds to people and organisations outside of NSW, including organisations that provide care to animals affected by bushfire, is outside the scope of the Trust and would be a breach of Trust.
‘The NSW RFS believes that decision should be respected. To do anything else would undermine the spirit of the trust and any efforts to raise money for brigades in the future.’
But Ms Barber disagrees and wrote in her submission that the law should be overhauled to help others in need.
‘I started the fundraiser to help my family, with a goal of 30K, then when it surpassed tens of millions of dollars, and the fires kept raging and the devastation was unfathomable I absolutely thought it would be possible for this huge amount of money to be shared,’ she said.
‘As I understand, the RFS have already distributed $20M to their brigades.
‘This leaves $30 plus million to help people that need it, to honour those donors, some of whom were children from fire ravaged communities themselves, donating anything they could, to help others rebuild their lives.
‘It makes so much sense to me and thousands of people around the world who donated that this money be given to those and others in need.’
NSW RFS volunteers are pictured fighting a bushfire which closed the Princes Highway south of Ulladulla, on January 5
Fire and Rescue personnel run to move their truck as a bushfire burns next to a major road and homes on the outskirts of the town of Bilpin on December 19, 2019 in Sydney