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Urgent hearing held to break Celeste Barber’s $52 million bushfire gridlock

Anastasia Santoreneos
·2-min read
Urgent hearing held to help Celeste Barber break her $52 million donation gridlock. Source: Getty
Urgent hearing held to help Celeste Barber break her $52 million donation gridlock. Source: Getty

An urgent hearing at the Supreme Court of NSW is being held today to determine how comedian Celeste Barber can distribute the $52 million donated to her bushfire fundraiser on Facebook earlier this year.

Barber’s bushfire appeal, which initially aimed to gather $30,000, was to be donated to the Trustee for NSW Rural Fire Service and Brigades Donations Fund, for firefighting equipment and training.

Once the fundraiser surpassed $50 million, Barber indicated she would divide the donations amongst the states’ fire services.

"So it's going to the RFS and it will be distributed out,” Barber said of the funds on her Instagram in January.

"So I'm gonna make sure that Victoria gets some, that South Australia gets some, also families of people who have died in these fires, the wildlife...I get it, I get it all, I'm hearing you all. I want you to know that, otherwise why raise this money if it's not going to go to the people who absolutely need it."

But, according to Facebook’s terms and conditions, spreading out the donations is easier said than done.

What happens to the donations?

When donors donate money via a Facebook fundraiser, the money is taken from their account and put into the PayPal Giving fund - a registered public ancillary fund set up to distribute money to charities.

From there, the PayPal Giving Fund’s “first priority” is to honour the donors’ wishes and grant donated funds to the charity they have nominated.

In this case, that was the Trustee for the NSW RFS.

Once it’s in the Trustee of NSW RFS’ hands, how they use those funds is dictated by their trust deed, which explicitly states funds can be used: “for the purpose of supporting the volunteer-based fire and emergency service…in order to enable or assist them to meet the costs of purchasing and maintaining firefighting equipment and facilities, providing training and resources and/or to otherwise meet the administrative expense”.

As it stands, the NSW RFS is the beneficiary of any donations, and they cannot donate the funds to other charities as per the deed.

However, NSW RFS spokesperson Ben Shepherd told the Daily Telegraph in February that the RFS wanted to distribute the money in line with Barber’s wishes.

“No one is being bad about this, it’s all very amicable, and we will try and see her wishes through,” Shepherd said.

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