The drama surrounding that $51 million raised by Celeste Barber for the bushfire appeal earlier this year just keeps on going. This time, politicians are calling on the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) to at least tell the public what they’re actually spending the cash on.
“There is a serious lack of transparency on the part of the trust,” state Greens MLC David Shoebridge told Guardian Australia.
“It puts the public’s goodwill at risk. This was an enormously generous gift from across the community to those firefighters and those communities that they saw were in desperate need.”
In case you need a refresher (it’s been a long time), the NSW Surpeme Court ruled in May that the money could only go to the NSW RFS. That means it couldn’t be shared with other states, or with victims and affected communities.
Obviously, many of the people who donated were quite pissed off by this. While Barber’s fundraiser was clear about who the recipient was, many were hoping for a bit of flexibility and goodwill after an “overwhelming” outpouring of generosity in response to the most devastating fire season in the state’s history.
The only thing the NSW RFS has publicly announced so far is that it’s allocated $90 million (which includes the $51 million Barber raised) for “initiatives that will help volunteer brigades respond to incidents safely, and provide welfare and support to our members.”
That includes grants for local brigades to purchase new protective equipment and communications systems, as well as to upgrade vehicles.
This is great, but the problem is we have no idea how much of these funds came from Barber’s fundraiser, and where they went more specifically.
“They appear to have co-mingled the funds with other donations,” Shoebridge added.
“Whether that was by accident or design isn’t a matter I can comment on.”
Shadow Emergency Services Minister Trish Doyle also called for greater transparency.
“I can’t drill down and tell you, unfortunately, what they’ve spent it on, because it’s not as transparent as it should be,” the Labor MLA told Guardian Australia.
It’s great that they money is at least being spend, but for people who donated to be truly satisfied, it’s time the NSW RFS starts showing some receipts.Image: Getty Images / Cole Bennetts