The fate of Australian comedian Celeste Barber’s A$51 million fundraiser on Facebook, the biggest in the social media business’ history, has been decided by a court.
Celeste Barber, who originally wanted to raise A$30,000 via Facebook for the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Brigades Donation Fund, told people who donated once the figure has been passed that money would be given to charities, such as the Australian Red Cross, and to other firefighters in other parts of Australia.
In early January when the bushfires were out of control in many parts of NSW, Barber launched a appeal with the words “Please help anyway you can. This is terrifying”. She has 7.1 million followers on Instagram and 2.7 million on Facebook and the donations came from across the world.
The A$30,000 target set on Facebook was easily surpassed and Barber stated on social media that the donated money would be used in other parts of Australia, which were also battling bushfires.
“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,” Barber posted to Instagram in January.
“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.”
When the bushfires eased, New South Wales Rural Fire Service realised it was unable to meet Barber’s wish that the money be shared due to the laws concerning the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Brigades Donation Fund. The matter went to the NSW Supreme Court.
In his judgement, Justice Michael Slattery ruled that the A$51 million had to be given to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Brigades Donation Fund as Barber had stated on Facebook. Slattery ruled the money could only be used on the purchase and maintenance of equipment, together with training and administrative costs, as the NSW RFS had previously stated.
However, Justice Slattery added that in addition the NSW RFS could spend the money on helping the injured volunteer firefighters and the families of those firefighters killed. Money could also be used towards physical training, mental health training and trauma counselling.
Barber released a statement on her social media channels, stating that “studying acting at university does not make me a lawmaker”.
“They’re going to be doing trauma counselling, money is going to families who lost firefighters, yes it’s going to injured firefighters as well,” she said.
“It isn’t going everywhere we kind of wanted it too, but where it is going is making such a difference.”
She heaped praise on the NSW RFS.
“You are rock stars like no others. You will never know the depth and breadth of our gratitude,” she said.
“I want to thank everyone around the world who donated. From the kids who smashed their piggy banks open, to the single mums that gave what they could. To everyone from all walks of life that heard us and helped us, whether it was a handful of gold coins or a big fat cheque. This is all because of you guys.
“My family say thank you. They felt abandoned and were terrified in the face of all this and you guys made them feel less alone, this is the power of people.”