Many of Australia’s biggest companies and local celebrities are coughing up tens of millions of dollars to provide assistance to volunteer firefighters, emergency services personnel and fire victims.
From mega-celebrities like Hollywood A-lister Chris Hemsworth, to corporate philanthropists like Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest, well-known Australians and businesses have been falling over themselves to present hundreds of thousands – and in some cases tens of millions – of dollars to the bushfire recovery effort.
Mr Forrest, for example, announced on Thursday he would offer up $70 million through his Minderoo Foundation.
“This is a disaster and the Minderoo Foundation and my family will react to the scale of the disaster,” he said.
He confirmed the contribution could rise, depending on what was needed to address the crisis, but he would not commit to lobbying the Morrison Government on climate change.
“I think we do what we can, I‘m very fortunate to chair a large Australian public company,” he said, referring to mining company Fortescue Metals Group.
“We’re spending over $500 million to move away from diesel and oil, and of course coal, to solar and to gas.
“I think, as a company, leading by example is more important than preaching to people.”
The National Australia Bank is putting $5 million towards the recovery effort, while Coles is donating $4 million and BHP $2 million.
‘This is a marathon not a sprint’
However, charities on the front line of the bushfire recovery effort are pleading with corporate Australia not to go too hard out of the blocks with big cash donations.
The Red Cross welcomed the outpouring of donations but acting chief executive Noel Clement said few understood that ongoing funding was what was needed.
“We can continue to provide support for as long as the assistance is there quite frankly,” he said.
With the Black Saturday bushfires we were providing support for 10 years
“There’s still some support going out to some of those communities.”
Disaster recovery experts believe the process of rebuilding communities affected by this season’s bushfires could take more than three years and, as large as the donations are right now, they will not be anything like enough to fund recovery efforts a few years from now.
Mr Clement feared after this initial surge of financial support, the flow of money would turn into a trickle, especially when the bushfires failed to make the headlines.
“These are marathons, not sprints,” he said.
“Now is the time people are wanting to give and that’s fantastic and the support we get from others to promote the work we and others are doing in the field is terrific as well.
“As long as people realise that this is to support communities now and in the long-term.”
Mr Forrest insisted he would be in it for the long-term and pointed to Minderoo’s commitment to the Black Saturday fire recovery a decade ago.
“The Minderoo Foundation, which was nowhere near the scale and size and capacity it is now, stayed in that region for two years,” he said.
“We played a very small part in their recovery.”
Efforts to extend support
The country’s peak corporate lobby group — the Business Council of Australia — has stepped up in this regard.
It announced the creation of a trust to assist the families of volunteers killed while fighting fires, both during the current disaster and into the future.
Major bushfire donors
|Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation||$70m|
|Paul Ramsay Foundation||$30m|
|Leonardo DiCaprio via Earth Alliance||$3.4m|
|Australian NBA stars||$1m+|
|John and Pauline Gandel||$1m|
|Hains family via Portland House Foundation||$1m|
|The Perich Group||$1m|
|Auction for Shane Warne’s baggy green cap (purchased by the Commonwealth Bank)||$1m|
|Lewis Hamilton||$730k approx|
|Kylie and Dannii Minogue||$500k|
|Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban||$500k|
*Table does not include fundraisers, such as Celeste Barber’s efforts to raise tens of millions, or pledges conditional on future events, such as Nick Krygios’ commitment to donate $200 for every ace he hits.
And businesses, including ANZ, Qantas and Wesfarmers, are granting paid leave to workers who volunteer with emergency services.
PwC has gone one step further by uncapping the amount of paid leave on offer.
“We are a professional services firm and we have a lot of skills to be able to offer the community as well,” PwC’s chief people officer Dorothy Hisgrove said.
“We’ve already reached out to the federal and the state governments to offer, and we’re waiting for them to say how best we partner and collaborate with them.”
She said the consultancy’s initial $500,000 donation would expand as the crisis developed.
“So I think over the longer-term our support for this will be not just in the immediate, but next year and the year after.”
Of course, once disaster recovery organisations feel more confident about receiving ongoing funding, the next challenge is actually managing the money.
The bigger the donation, the more complex this process becomes.
“It’s a really tough question when the fires are still going and people are yet to rebuild,” the Red Cross’s Noel Clement said.
“At the moment I couldn’t tell you how much these communities need because the events are still happening and as far as I understand no-one’s able to do a prospective assessment of: How far these fires could go and what could be the damage?
“It is tricky that we’re raising money now; now is when people want to give and we don’t know exactly how far-reaching the fires are going to be yet.”