Comedian Celeste Barber has clashed with the NSW Rural Fire Service over where the remaining cash from her $51 million bushfire fundraiser should go.
An inquiry into the fundraiser is underway in the NSW Parliament, after the Greens backed a bill which would see excess donations made between November 2019 and February 2020 go towards victims of the bushfires – not just the NSW RFS itself.
In a submission to Parliament, Barber said her Instagram and Facebook followers trusted her to get the funds to those who need it most.
“I have spent many years cultivating an online community of over 10 million people who trust me and I never take for granted,” she said.
“These people, my community who trust me are the people that started the overwhelming momentum of this fundraiser.”
Back in January, over a million people around the world donated to Barber’s Facebook fundraiser, which listed the NSW RFS & Brigades Donations Fund as the recipient.
However, many people donated with the expectation their money would go towards families and communities who’ve lost everything in the fires, rather than just the fire brigades themselves.
“In the days that followed, it was suggested to me that I open up a number of additional fundraising pages so the money could go to other charities,” Barber wrote in the submission.
“I didn’t know what to do as I feared that if I closed this particular fundraiser down and started another one the momentum might have been lost.”
She now says redistributing the remaining $20 million in funds would be a way to “honour those donors, some of whom were children from fire ravaged communities themselves.”
“Maybe something that we have never seen before deserves the consideration of a change of rules in this unprecedented instance,” she said.
However, the RFS has pushed back against Barber’s lobbying.
“To do anything else would undermine the spirit of the trust and any efforts to raise money for brigades in the future,” it said.
However, Barber said not sharing the money with victims would go against the spirit of the fundraiser.
“My concern is that if it is not possible to help these people have their money allocated to where they want it to go in this unprecedented instance, that this may be the last we see of such generosity on such an international scale,” she wrote.