As the tragedy of the Australian bushfires fades into the past, Australians everywhere may be wondering what happened to the millions raised for bushfire relief.
Since January, the Australian Red Cross and the Salvation Army have raised over $240 million for bushfire affected victims and communities. However, the charity giants have come under fire in claims they have been withholding payments.
So far, the Australian Red Cross has distributed $78.6 million (40%) out of the $200 million in grants to 4,000 people. The Salvation Army has similarly distributed around $19 million of the $41 million, helping 11,000 people across the country.
Public officials have criticised the charities as slow to act, as many fire affected victims have still not seen payment 5 months later.
In a recent statement, Red Cross Director, Noel Clement, defended the actions of the organisation claiming fraudulent activity was preventing expedient distribution.
Red Cross claims there have been over 1000 false applications for grants, which the Red Cross has had to investigate.
“Sadly we’ve confirmed on many occasions people who have claimed quite strongly and vehemently that their homes have been destroyed, have been untouched,” Mr Clement said.
“So it’s really finding that balance between speed, which is critically important, and making sure it’s getting to the people who need that assistance.”
Mr Clements has said the charity has a zero tolerance for fraudulent activity and has reported false allegations to police.
Charities have also claimed for a more long term approach to the distributions of donations.
The Salvation Army national secretary of mission, Lyn Edge, has said that donations need to be distributed in every stage of recovery, not just in the immediate aftermath.
“I know there’s a lot of public pressure to spend a lot of money very quickly and early, but our experience and good research shows us that we need to be there for the long haul because … there are still people today seeking our assistance for the first time.”
The charities have said they aim to distribute funds fairly, with the largest portion supporting people in rebuilding their homes.
“The balance of the $200 million which has been received into the fund is all being used to support communities impacted by the bushfires with the largest portion to support people as they re-build or re-establish their homes.” Red Cross Statement.
Both the Australian Red Cross and the Salvation Army, have said they planned for a three year recovery period.
“If we spend the funds really quickly we … will often find we miss some of the people who have been most severely impacted.” Mr Green said.
Australians who have already received grants have said they have been very helpful in rebuilding their homes. Grants of $40,000 have already been distributed to Australian businesses such as the Lions Club in the Southern Highlands.
There are also concerns over the $51 million raised in Celeste Barber’s social media campaign. The fundraiser trust was allocated to the RFS, with the money to go directly to the RFS, and must go towards firefighting resources, equipment, and training.
Barber has taken the fundraiser to the Supreme Court in an attempt to distribute the funds more widely across Australia. There is little hope however, with suggestions that the Supreme Court will rule very little deed variation for the fundraiser.
The Supreme Court will come to a decision this coming Wednesday.
The RFS has already distributed $10,000 in grants to fire brigades over the country.