Australian SC order against split of bushfire donations



Millions of dollars donated to a global fundraiser for Australia's bushfires can only be used by one state fire service, a court ruled on Monday.

Earlier this year, Australian comedian Celeste Barber raised A$51 ($33 million) in a Facebook appeal during the nation's catastrophic 2019-20 bushfire season.

Many donors hoped money would go to victims, charities, and animal groups.

Because the appeal was directed towards a state fire agency, the funds cannot be legally divided, judge Michael Slattery in the Supreme Court of New South Wales ruled on Monday.

This was despite the recipient - the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSW RFS) - intending to split the money in line with Barber and donors' directions, the Court said.

In his ruling, Slattery said: "Some donors may have intended or hoped that the money they donated would be used for purposes beyond those which the Court has advised are permissible."

But he said that honoring those intentions would breach the law around how trusts operate.

The judge said the money could be used to help volunteer firefighters and the families of firefighters killed battling the blazes.

Barber launched the fundraiser in January after her family was affected by the fires, which scorched land across the nation.

It went viral after it was shared by celebrities like Natalie Portman and Lizzo, raising A$20 million within 48 hours.

Facebook said it was the platform's largest appeal ever.

Massive blazes raged across every Australian state during the crisis, killing at least 33 people including 14 firefighters.

A royal commission inquiry into the natural disaster commenced on Monday, with testimonies from scientists who linked the extreme blazes to climate change.
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