‘Not f***ing around’: Celeste’s fire message
Comedian Celeste Barber has reassured her supporters that a serious effort is being made to release the $52 million she's raised for bushfire relief.
None of that money has been spent yet. It's being held up by a legal technicality.
Here's a quick rundown of the situation.
Barber's initial fundraising effort was specifically aimed at supporting the NSW Rural Fire Service. But given how comprehensively she blew past her original goal of $30,000, she now wants to distribute some of the funds to other states as well.
"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," Barber said in January.
Legally, however, the RFS Donations Trust is not allowed to give donated funds to other charities.
The trust deed specifies that funds should be used to help RFS brigades "meet the costs of purchasing and maintaining firefighting equipment and facilities, providing training and resources and/or otherwise to meet the administrative expense of the brigade".
So while the RFS is keen to help Barber distribute the funds to other states and services, it's unclear how exactly that can be accomplished.
The next step is for the RFS to seek clarification from the NSW Supreme Court on how the money can be used.
"The NSW Rural Fire Service is incredibly grateful for the efforts of Celeste Barber and her record-breaking online fundraising campaign," a spokesman told news.com.au this morning.
"The NSW RFS & Donations Trust has been working with Celeste's team to identify options for how the funds can be distributed.
"What has become clear is that the issue is very complex and the options are limited. This is because there are a number of laws which limit how funds can be distributed.
"At this stage, it's planned to seek the direction of the Supreme Court to seek some clarity on how the funds can be used. This is likely to take some time.
"Importantly, the NSW RFS and Celeste's team want to make it clear - there is no stoush and everyone is working hard to find a solution."
Barber herself has addressed the situation on Instagram, telling her followers it's being taken "really seriously".
"My team have been in contact, chatting a lot with the RFS and stuff, about all the money that you guys so kindly donated," she said.
"I just want you to know that we're onto it. So much so that I think that, well I know that the f***ing Supreme Court might be throwing their backs into it a little bit to find out if we can distribute it.
"Because I'm all like, 'Let's give it (to) all these different places.' Turns out it's not that easy, because there's laws or something involved.
"So the RFS have it at the moment and are trying to find out if it is possible to distribute it around more. But we're not f***ing around. Like, I just said the words 'Supreme Court'. Like, that's how much we're not f***ing around. We're taking it really seriously."
She also took a swipe at the media for the manner of its reporting on the delay.
"All the ridiculous sh*t that's going around in the media is - well one, it's bulls**t. And the other one, it's bulls**t. So just don't worry about it," Barber said.
"Also, friendly reminder, comedian raised money. Not lawyer, politician, accountant lady that is the boss of the world. So back off, if you're being mean. But if you're being supportive, which most of you are, thanks!"
I should stress, that last part was clearly said mostly in jest.
The comedian, whose fundraising efforts for bushfire relief far outstripped more official channels, continued her support for victims of the crisis by hosting the Fire Fight concert in Sydney last Sunday.
The event raised more than $9 million, which will be shared between the Red Cross's disaster relief and recovery fund, rural and regional fire services and the RSPCA's bushfire appeal.
Barber grew emotional as she thanked volunteer firefighters for their efforts.
"You will never know how grateful we are," she said.
"Our volunteers across this entire country, they are the ones who saved us," she told the crowd.
"They are the ones who cancel holidays to stay here and look after us, and I will speak now very confidently on behalf of a nation when I say to those volunteers, thank you."
Barber also fired a shot at the Government's handling of the bushfire crisis.
"As Aussies, we band together because we have to look after each other. Because it turns out people at the top don't," she said, sparking cheers from the crowd.
"God knows people in power haven't really done much.
"It is the people making the change, and specifically it's our volunteers.
"I'm sorry you had to do it all on your own. We love you."
At one point, she emerged on stage wearing a T-shirt which featured Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a Hawaiian shirt, holding a cocktail - a blunt reference to the holiday he took during the crisis.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked about that, and Barber's comments about the Government, the next day.
"Look, I've got a thick skin. I understand that over the period of the summer, that people felt really raw about things. But what I do know is what the Government has done," he said.
"What the Government has done is put in place the first compulsory call out to put our defence force reserves on the ground, boots on the ground. That provided incredible relief to Australians affected by bushfires.
"We put $2 billion into a national bushfire recovery agency, and more than half of that has already been committed in less than two months.
"The Government will continue to be there as we rebuild these communities over the next decade. That's my response. My response is to do things and get things done."