Comedian Celeste Barber has spoken for the first time about her $51 million bushfire fundraiser urging New South Wales lawmakers to change strict rules governing the cash.
In May, the state’s Supreme Court ruled the millions cannot be distributed to other charities or states beyond NSW, despite the expectations of thousands of donors.
Barber began the Facebook appeal in January with an initial aim of $30,000, but the campaign exceeded all expectations as the fires raged.
The restrictions on how the money can be spent are due to the deed governing the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Brigades Donation Fund, which Barber nominated for her campaign.
In a submission to NSW Parliament supporting a Greens bill to amend the strict limitations, Barber said the RFS had distributed $20 million to its brigades and acknowledged the generosity was “unprecedented”.
It’s the first time she has commented publicly on the saga, which made international headlines.
“Maybe something that we have never seen before deserves the consideration of a change of rules in this unprecedented instance,” Barber wrote.
She expressed hope it would herald a “new way of the world coming together” in times of crisis.
Many hoped the money would also be used to help people whose homes had been destroyed or damaged in the crisis.
“My concern is that if it is not possible to help these people have their money allocated to where they want it to go in this unprecedented instance that this may be the last we see of such generosity on such an international scale,” she wrote.
The limitations mean the money is able to be spent on training and RFS materials and, to a limited extent, to help the families of firefighters who were injured or killed in the blazes.
An inquiry examining the bill will sit tomorrow.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said the bill was about “making good on the intentions of thousands of individual donors”.
In her submission, Barber said she spent years cultivating an online community of over 10 million people who “trust me and I never take for granted”.
When the millions rolled in, it was suggested to her that she begin additional fundraising pages for other charities.
But Barber said she feared the “momentum might have been lost”.
“I absolutely thought it would be possible for this huge amount of money to be shared,” she wrote.
She recalled seeing her mother-in-law “scared, panicked and frustrated” by the raging bushfires after driving from Eden, on the NSW South Coast, to Canberra.
That trip she made with her family prompted her to begin the online appeal.