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Waleed Aly grills fire boss on how $51million raised in Celeste Barber’s bushfire fund will be spent

Waleed Aly has grilled the newly-appointed NSW RFS Commissioner on how the $51million raised by Celeste Barber will be spent after the Supreme Court ruled it could not be shared with other charities.

RFS Commissioner Bob Rogers told The Project host on Monday NSW was in desperate need of the funds after being the hardest hit by bushfires over summer.  

Aly challenged the Commissioner and questioned why he went to court to ask the cash be distributed across the country if he was happy to use it in his own state.

‘So if you felt that way about the money, why did you go to court?’ Aly questioned.

‘Because as I understand it, you went to court to see if you could give the money to other charities. If you are quite happy not to, then why bother?’

The money had been sitting in legal limbo since Celeste Barber in January launched the ‘Please help anyway you can. This is terrifying’ appeal on Facebook. Pictured at the Fire Fight concert in February 

Mr Rogers said he was in court because Barber felt so strongly about sharing the money around with charities who were in desperate need.

‘Celeste Barber, who obviously initiated that fundraiser, she obviously had some views on that, and we were trying to make sure – we were doing the right thing by everybody to make sure that we go to the court to get an absolute ruling on what that money could be used for,’ he told The Project.

‘The last thing we want to do is alienate a portion of the population that gave so generously. So we were obligated to make sure that we followed the law to the absolute letter, and that included going and getting this ruling.’

Mr Rogers said the money would go to supporting the families of firefighters who had been injured or killed while fighting the blazes across the state.

RFS Commissioner Bob Rogers (pictured)  told The Project host on Monday that NSW was in desperate need of the funds after being the hardest hit by bushfires over summer

RFS Commissioner Bob Rogers (pictured)  told The Project host on Monday that NSW was in desperate need of the funds after being the hardest hit by bushfires over summer

Waleed Aly (pictured) challenged the Commissioner and questioned why he went to court if he was happy to use the money himself

Waleed Aly (pictured) challenged the Commissioner and questioned why he went to court if he was happy to use the money himself

Aly then brought up the potential change of law proposed by the Greens that would make it legal to divide the money and give some to other charities.

‘That, of course, if they were to pass, that would supersede today’s decision – legislation trumps the court case. Would you like to see that bill passed?’ Aly asked.

Mr Rogers said it was not the position of the RFS to advocate ‘what goes before parliament’ and he was going to respect the decision of the courts.  

The money had been sitting in legal limbo since January when Celeste Barber launched the Facebook appeal during the crisis with an initial goal of $30,000. 

The comedian ended up raising $51.3 million and nominated the NSW Rural Fire Service and Brigades Donation Fund as beneficiaries. 

But Barber was at the time unaware the deed governing that trust only allows money to be spent on purchasing and maintaining equipment, training and administrative costs.  

‘The trustees have submitted to the court that they wish to honour the intentions and beliefs of Ms Barber… but they wish to do so consistently with the trustee and in accordance with applicable law,’ Supreme Court Justice Michael Slattery said on Monday.

Barber responded to the Supreme Court ruling on Monday afternoon saying the RFS was doing 'pretty incredible things' with the money

Celeste Barber on Instagram

Barber responded to the Supreme Court ruling on Monday afternoon saying the RFS was doing ‘pretty incredible things’ with the money

‘Some donors may have intended or hoped that the money they donated would be used for purposes beyond those which the court has advised are permissible.

‘Despite the trustees’ wish to honour those intentions or hopes the law provides principles that ensure a degree of certainty in the application of trust funds including charitable trust funds.’

Justice Slattery ruled the trustees can give the money to families of deceased firefighters.

The trust can also fund the training courses and resources for trauma, physical and mental health training for firefighters. 

But the court ruled the money can’t go towards certain charities, including the Australian Red Cross, other state RFS divisions, and wildlife group WIRES.

Barber was at the time unaware the deed governing that trust only allows money to be spent on purchasing and maintaining equipment, training and administrative costs

Barber was at the time unaware the deed governing that trust only allows money to be spent on purchasing and maintaining equipment, training and administrative costs

Barber responded to the Supreme Court ruling on Monday afternoon saying the RFS was doing ‘pretty incredible things’ with the money.  

‘It isn’t going everywhere that we had kind of wanted it to but where it is going, is going to make such a difference,’ she told her 7.1million followers.

‘I want to give you guys all the love again, because holy s**t balls batman, you made a massive difference, its crazy.’

The comedian released an official statement saying she had ‘hoped’ the money may have been distributed elsewhere as it was such an’ unprecedented amount’.  

‘Turns out that studying acting at university does not make me a lawmaker,’ Barber wrote.   

‘The money will be in the very capable, very grateful hands of the NSW RFS.’

The court ruled the money can't go towards certain charities, including the Australian Red Cross, other state RFS divisions, and wildlife group WIRES

The court ruled the money can’t go towards certain charities, including the Australian Red Cross, other state RFS divisions, and wildlife group WIRES

Her statement outlined what the money would be used for and thanked everyone ‘around the world’ who donated. 

‘From the kids who smashed their piggy banks open, to the single mums that gave what they could,’ Barber said.

‘To everyone from all walks of life that heard us and helped us, whether it was a hand full of gold coins or a big fat cheque.

‘This is all because of you guys.’  

Earlier this year the RFS said it wished to share the money, which was donated from people all over the globe.

‘We take the issue of public donations very seriously — and know everyone wants to see the funds distributed quickly and to the right places,’ a spokesperson said. 

The trust can also fund the training courses and resources for trauma, physical and mental health training for firefighters

The trust can also fund the training courses and resources for trauma, physical and mental health training for firefighters

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