Deborah Cornwall reported in the Australian on May 6th that the fate of the $53 million raised by Celeste Berber at the bushfire relief concert at the ANZ Stadium was headed to the Supreme Court.
The fate of a staggering $53 million in donations left sitting in limbo since the runaway success of comedian Celeste Barber’s January bushfire appeal could be resolved by the NSW Supreme Court as early as this month.
Four months after Ms Barber raised the $53 million – the largest in Facebook appeal in history – lawyers for the NSW Rural Fire Service’s Brigades Donations Fund are seeking urgent judicial advice from the court on whether they can spend the money as donors intended.
In a brief court appearance on Wednesday before Senior Deputy Registrar Jennifer Hedge, lawyers representing the chairman of the Brigades Donations Fund, Andrew MacDonald, were granted an urgent hearing before NSW Supreme Court Justice Michael Slattery on May 18.
Ms Barber launched her “This Is Terrifying” appeal via Facebook on January 3. But as donations soared well beyond her initial goal of $30,000 Ms Barber apparently failed to heed repeated warnings that hero firefighters and bushfire victims she and the donors thought they were helping were unlikely to see a cent of it.
Under the strict conditions of the RFS trust fund – the charity of nominated by Ms Barber – donation spending is strictly limited to fire equipment and volunteer training.
By January 5, when donations had almost topped $30 million and were flowing in at the phenomenal rate of $10,000 an hour, Barber posted a video message to her 6.5 million Instagram followers lashing out at those who had questioned where the money was going.
“It seems raising a f..k-tonne of money comes with a f..k-tonne of people telling you what you should do with it,” she declared.
She then gave her personal guarantee that all the donations to the RFS would be “distributed out” from there.
“I’m going to make sure that Victoria gets some, that South Australia gets some, also families of people who have died in these fires, the wildlife,” she said.
She also added that she was in discussions “with fancy people in fancy RFS land, and we will sort it out”. “Why raise this money if it’s not going to go to the people who absolutely need it?” she asked.
The RFS has repeatedly flagged how “incredibly grateful “they are for Ms Barber’s “record-breaking online fundraising campaign”, promising donors it was attempting to resolve the “very complex” legal issues as to how the money can be distributed in keeping with donor’s wishes.
The Brigade Fund’s legal submission on what areas they would like to spend the $53 million on, is expected to remain confidential.
But a spokesman for the RFS has told The Australian one area the RFS trust fund is seeking to spend the donations, if allowed, will be on individual firefighter volunteers in need, including families of volunteers who died fighting the December and January bushfires.
It is unknown whether the trust fund will seek to share any of the donation money with outside organisations that were nominated by Ms Barber during her 10 day appeal, including fire brigades outside of NSW.