Karl Stefanovic has taken a swing on the Today show at a crowd funding expert who called Celeste Barber “attention grabbing” a day after the comedian hosted the Fire Fight Australia concert.
“What’s your beef?” an indignant Stefanovic asked Tania Burstin, founder and managing director of MyCause.com.au, on the breakfast show when she said Barber essentially didn’t do due diligence on charity donations.
The stoush between the TV star and the charity executive is the latest twist in what has become a controversial saga involving Barber and the $51.2 million raised by her January 3 social media post asking for donations during Australia’s deadly bushfires.
Barber’s sole nominated recipient for the funds was the NSW’ Rural Fire Service. Her appeal drew more than one million donations from around the globe.
On Sunday, doing mic duties at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium in front of 75,000 people, she helped raise an extra $9.5 million.
Ms Burstin kicked off her Today interview by praising Barber’s “incredible and ground-breaking” fundraising achievements.
“She’s done an amazing job, but she said that the funds were going to places that unfortunately the funds are not going to,” she said.
Barber told donors that the money would be handed out to several charities, including those that work with wildlife.
The comedian’s lawyers are negotiating with the RFS over her request that other companies and families affected by the fires get their cut of the money.
The attempt by Barber to change where the funds go is wrong, Ms Burstin told Today.
“I think that her words, trying to now bring in the legal fight and try to move where the funds are going is attention grabbing because the funds can’t be moved,” she said.
“The funds have been donated to RFS. That is where people understood the funds were going to but, unfortunately, she misled people by saying the funds were going to wildlife charities or to Victoria.”
Stefanovic said the Today audience would view Ms Burstin’s comments as “whining” about someone who has “gone above and beyond to raise money” for the RFS.
“There is obviously devil in the detail that needs to be sorted but overall why are you so upset, given how much money she’s raised and how much good she’s done?” Stefanovic said.
When Ms Burstin replied “There is no devil in the detail, there is no confusion”, Stefanovic fired back: “What is your beef?”
Replied Ms Burstin, “I don’t have a beef. I am just concerned that people are misled, that their funds are going to go to fire-ravaged communities and to wildlife, which unfortunately they’re not.”
Co-host Allison Langdon accused Ms Burstin of giving Barber a “slap”.
“The slap is about misleading donors. Is it about the text she used in her social media post, which actually doesn’t bear any resemblance to what’s actually happening,” she replied.
So far none of the $51.2 million has been spent because RFS rules dictate state donations directed to the trustee of the service must be spent on firefighting equipment and training, not on families or charities.
NSW RFS spokesman James Morris said the service wanted to distribute the money in line with Barber’s wishes but legal reasons might prohibit it.
“We have our lawyers working with Celeste’s lawyers to find a way this can be done,” he said on February 16.
“Everyone is being amicable about it and we are working together to hopefully come to a solution.”
Ms Burstin said she believes there can be no resolution “save returning the funds to the Paypal giving fund for redistribution, or an act of Parliament in NSW.”