'This is terrifying': Aussie comedian's wildfire appeal raises millions
TORONTO -- Australian comedian Celeste Barber -- known for being an internet satirist who pokes fun at celebrities – organized a fundraiser to assist the rural firefighting service currently battling wildfires all over the state of New South Wales, raising more than $33 million in four days.
On her official Facebook page, Barber posted a fundraiser on Jan. 2 with the title “Please help anyway you can. This is terrifying.” She also posted photos of the orange haze and smoke outside her mother-in-law’s house, saying “they are scared. They need your help.”
In an update posted on her fundraiser Jan. 4, Barber stated that her family was being evacuated, and that she felt “sick” over the situation.
In the “about” section of the fundraiser, Barber states that this fundraiser will be raising money for The Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service & Brigades Donations Fund, which helps “people in rural/regional/remote communities, victims of disaster and the general community in Australia” according to the Australian charity registration webpage.
The funds raised for this particular trust will be “utilized to purchase equipment for use by NSW Rural Fire Brigades across the State,” according to the charity registration page.
While many are lauding Barber for raising so much money in such little time, there has been some consternation over her choice of recipient for the funds – as many commenters on her fundraiser have voiced hopes that the money would go directly to families affected by the devastation.
The legal blog “Australian Emergency Law,” authored by lawyer Michael Eburn extrapolates on the charity status of the Trust Barber is raising money for, in a post entitled “Disaster fundraising for government or charity?”
“The Trust is very specialised, it does not make direct payments to those affected by the disaster,” Eburn writes. “Rather it receives donations made to individual brigades that are then used for the benefit of that brigade.”
Eburn states emphatically that he is “all for community fundraising,” but that he hopes “people understand what they are donating to,” noting that fire brigades in Australia are largely government-funded.
Barber is quoted from her Instagram Story in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on Jan. 5, that the funds raised would now “also be distributed to Victoria and South Australia, the Red Cross and families of those killed in the fires, to be decided in consultation with NSW RFS.”
The problem, as Eburn states in his rebuttal posted on the legal blog titled “Diverting Facebook donations", is that once the money is donated to a specific charity via Facebook the person who sets up the donation does not get to ”determine where they money goes after it has been paid.”
“I fear that many people who donated to this campaign will not see the money spent in a way that they hoped it would be, and will not see it spent during the peak of the response and immediate recovery,” Eburn wrote.