Celeste Barber’s fundraiser has become the face of the international response to the bushfire crisis, but the whopping total donated has made the task of distributing the cash far more complex.
The comedian’s Facebook campaign started with a modest target of just $30,000 before reaching a staggering $51million thanks to generous donations from across the globe.
The PayPal Giving Fund responsible for distributing the money to the NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund confirmed last Thursday it had begun the process of paying out the mammoth total.
But RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the organisation was still trying to figure out exactly how donors wanted their money spent.
Comedian Celeste Barber’s (pictured) $51million bushfire fundraiser could be about to become beset with squabbling for funds and legal uncertainty
‘Was it to go to disaster victims, was it to go to make better arrangements and better conditions for volunteers?’ he told The Guardian.
‘We will need to target the money to where people intended it to go.’
Australian National University Associate Professor Michael Eburn, an expert in emergency law, told ABC News the RFS fund trustees were restricted to using the donations to help the state’s fire brigades.
For the money to be spent in other ways – such as helping bushfire-ravaged towns rebuild or supporting wildlife agencies – could require government intervention or court action.
‘To move the money elsewhere may require an Act of Parliament or approval of the NSW Supreme Court,’ Dr Eburn said.
A work-around has been proposed by Swinburne Business School Industry Fellow and public policy expert Krystian Seibert – who said a ‘Winding up of Trust’ clause could be activated to distribute funds elsewhere.
The trust could be shut down, and its assets could then be given to different ‘entities, funds, authorities, and institutions’.
Barber’s Facebook fundraiser (pictured) has since evolved to become the face of the international response to the unprecedented bushfire crisis
Dr Seibert admitted however he did not know how feasible using the clause would be.
Further complicating the process, money that goes into the PayPal Giving Fund can take up to 90 days to be passed on to trustees.
But Barber took to Instagram to say the money would be distributed imminently.
‘I have had some pretty long and pretty boring conversations with fancy people at PayPal, Facebook, and the RFS, and I can tell you now, your money is getting moving,’ she said.
An RFS spokesperson insisted to Daily Mail Australia on Saturday that its members would decide how donated funds are spent.
It said once the crisis eases, it would work to make sure the money was used ‘for the greatest benefits of our members and their communities’.
Barber is pictured with her husband Api Robin in 2018. Legal experts have expressed concern about how the mammoth total raised will be distributed to the different states as laid out by the comedian
Barber, 37, said last week she would make sure both Victoria and South Australia received a portion of the donations as well as New South Wales.
But Dr Eburn said she could struggle to distribute the money to all of the bushfire-affected states.
In a separate article for The Big Smoke Australia, Dr Eburn added those donating to Barber’s fundraiser are essentially making a donation to the state government.
‘No doubt the trustees, the RFS and brigades that benefit from the fund will put (the money) to good use,’ he said.
‘But people should understand before they make their donation that fundamentally they are making a donation to the NSW government.’
Swinburne Business School Industry Fellow and public policy expert Krystian Seibert said the NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund may have to be dissolved to enable money to be distributed elsewhere than the state’s fire brigades
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Barber’s team for comment.
Barber meanwhile has been honoured by an artist who painted a street mural to give thanks for her bushfire fundraising success.
The spontaneous portrait with its heart-felt message of gratitude appeared in Melbourne’s Hosier Lane, an inner-city laneway famous for urban art.
Big names giving to bushfire relief
Australia’s bushfires have attracted several high-profile and corporate donations, including $500,000 from US singer Pink.
Australian actress Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban donated $500,000.
The Packer family has donated a total of $5million, while Chris Hemsworth and his family pledged $1million.
Metal band Metallica donated $750,000.
Australian producer and DJ Flume announced a $100,000 donation to WIRES Wildlife Rescue.
American singer Selena Gomez encouraged her fans to donate and pledged money herself.
Australian actor and Stranger Things star Dacre Montgomery made an emotional video pleading people to help Australia, and made a GoFundMe that has surpassed $320,000.
Actress Rebel Wilson has thrown her support behind bushfire appeals by auctioning off a special lunch for charity, where she raised $100,000.
World No.1 tennis player Ash Barty has promised to donate $360,000 to families affected by bushfires if she wins a major international competition.
British actress Phoebe Waller-Bridge from Fleabag promised to auction the outfit she wore to the Golden Globes and donate it to the bushfires.
Australia’s sweetheart Kylie Minogue donated $500,000.
Model and social media star Kylie Jenner has also donated US$1million.
Former cricketer Shane Warne auctioned his Baggy Green hat, raising over $1million.
Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest announced the biggest donation so far this week, pledging $70million.
Barber meanwhile has been honoured by an artist who painted a street mural in Melbourne to give thanks for her bushfire fundraising success
Graffiti artist Matty Te Paea of Matty Bro Art, originally from New Zealand, painted it on Thursday, uploading a picture of his work to Facebook.
The work on the back wall of Culture Kings captures Ms Barber’s face in black and white against a blue and turquoise background.
Her name, ‘Celeste’, is demurely spelt in French ultramarine with a black drop-shadow while bright red letters gracefully say: ‘Thank you’.
‘I wanted to keep it simple and straight to the point,’ Mr Te Paea told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I think right now this was the best way to say that Celeste Barber is truly a person for the people. The least I could do.’
The 37-year-old entertainer who was best known for recreating celebrity poses with the hashtag #celestechallengeaccepted now has 6.7 million followers on her Instagram page after the runaway success of her campaign.
AUSTRALIA’S BUSHFIRE CRISIS – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Evacuations are underway and emergency alerts are in place in NSW, Victoria and South Australia as authorities predict the devastating bushfires will continue burning until at least March.
At least 28 people have been killed in blazes across the country since the bushfire season began in October.
NEW SOUTH WALES/ACT
- At least 130 bushfires were burning in NSW on Saturday morning
- 20 people dead
- More than 5.2 million hectares burned – equal to the metro areas of the five mainland state capitals
- 1870 homes confirmed destroyed, more than 3774 outbuildings and 200 facilities razed
- Four people dead
- 12 bushfires burning in the Gippsland, northeast and alpine regions
- More than 1.2 million hectares burnt
- 330 structures confirmed destroyed but significantly more expected
- Three people, including two from Kangaroo Island, are dead
- Six fires burning on Kangaroo Island
- More than 274,000 hectares burnt
- 161 homes confirmed destroyed, along with 413 sheds and outhouses
- About 600 properties on Kangaroo Island remain without power with SA Power Networks warning it may be some time before crews can access the fire ground to assess damage
- 33 bushfires burning
- 2.5 million hectares burnt
- 48 homes confirmed destroyed
- More than 35 bushfires burning, two of significance
- 1.5 million hectares burned
- One home confirmed destroyed
- 23 bushfires burning, two of significance
- 30,000 hectares burned
- Two homes confirmed destroyed
- Five bushfires burning
- Five homes confirmed destroyed