Australia’s leading charities have defended their plan of action after it was revealed less than one third of donations made for bushfire victims had been handed out.
The Australian Red Cross has so far received a confirmed $95 million to date but revealed on Wednesday only $30 million of that had been distributed to victims.
On Thursday Red Cross Director of Australian Services Noel Clement said the figure raised was now closer to $115 million.
The revelation sparked anger right across the country, with the charity’s failure to release all the funds described as “disgraceful” online.
Mr Clement quashed reports the charity was planning to use the remaining funds to support future disasters during an appearance on Channel Nine’s Today on Thursday morning.
“What we are planning is phases of support for people,” he said.
“The balance of those funds IS for the bushfires.” The Red Cross' director of Australian services has DENIED allegations that up to $60 million in bushfire donations has been withheld from victims. #9Today pic.twitter.com/RcHeFZvmlU— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) January 22, 2020
“The balance of those funds is for the bushfires. What we’re talking about is further immediate relief so as we become clearer on needs we will announce further support and longer term support.
“Keep in mind there are people who will need to rebuild and there are people who will need support for that. We want funds to be able to do that.”
Mr Clement said over 60,000 people have been supported since September.
He said 700 bushfire victims had so far benefited from $10,000 in grants. More than 2500 homes have so far been destroyed nationwide.
Mr Clement said the Red Cross is working through the remaining applications for immediate relief as quickly as possible, with applications normally taking six days.
He said it was vital to ensure the funds ended up in the right hands and that the Red Cross was “committed” to working in affected communities for the next three years.
Charity bosses invited to see the devastation
However NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance, whose local community on the south coast was ravaged by fire, said the response was unacceptable.
“The money is needed now, not sitting in a Red Cross bank account earning interest so they can map out their next three years and do their marketing,” Mr Constance said.
“How dare they say publicly they’re only going to spend a third of the donations on people when people are traumatised and in crisis.”
He invited charity bosses to visit the decimated communities where Mr Constance said people were sleeping rough in their burnt-out properties.
"Meet me in Batemans Bay at 8.00am on Saturday and I'll drive you the 300 kilometres of devastation on the far south coast,” he said.
St Vincent De Paul’s NSW CEO Jack de Groot told 7News he understood Mr Constance’s anger and was willing to accept his offer.
His charity has so far raised $12.5m with $1.1m distributed to eligible victims.
NSW Minister for Police and Emergency Services David Elliott urged charities to “pull your finger out”.
His comments accompanied a wave of anger online, with some vowing never to donate to certain charities again.
“This is going to be one of the worst acts of legalised fraud in Australian history!” one person said on Twitter.
“This is disgusting,” another declared.
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