Celeste Barber has spoken up about the backlash to her bushfire fundraiser, more than three years after an Australian high court ruled the $51 million she raised for the NSW Rural Fire Service could not be distributed to other impacted states and communities.
“I realised no matter what you do, people will always find something wrong with it. Always,” she told the sold-out audience.
As Barber, like so many of us, watched in horror as Australia was ravaged by flames, she urged her followers to donate to the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and Brigades Donation Fund, starting a Facebook fundraiser for the cause with a goal of $30,000.
But Barber’s millions of followers far exceeded expectations, eventually raising a total of $51.3 million. In response, the comedian promised the funds would be shared across Australia, posting to Instagram, “It’s going to the RFS and it will be distributed out.”
“I’m going to make sure that Victoria gets some, that South Australia gets some, also families of people who have died in these fires, the wildlife.
“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,” she wrote at the time.
But despite her best efforts, the NSW supreme court ultimately ruled that the funds must go to the RFS and Brigades Donation Fund.
The ruling resulted in a host of backlash for the comedian, with critics accusing her of misleading her followers.
“What Celeste did wrong was that she said to her fans, followers and donors that the funds would be dispersed to other entities like wildlife charities, and it would go to other states like Victoria,” Managing Director of online fundraising platform Mycause, Tania Burstin, told 3AW.
Celeste responded to the backlash on stage at marie claire’s Power Talks event, saying, “I’m telling you, you could raise 51 million dollars for the worst national disaster this country has ever seen, and people will [still have a problem with it].”
“You can stand in front of parliament fighting for that money to be used in the way that it was intended. You can fight the High Court of the country and beg them to consider people and the situation they are in, and it still won’t be enough. So you need to stay on the right side of things. And that’s what I try to do.”