Red Cross Has Given Out Just 25 Percent of Money Raised For Australian Bushfire Victims

A message asking for donations for the Red Cross is displayed on a screen while fans sit in the haze created by the Australian bushfires at a tennis match in Sydney on January 4, 2020
A message asking for donations for the Red Cross is displayed on a screen while fans sit in the haze created by the Australian bushfires at a tennis match in Sydney on January 4, 2020
Photo: Getty Images

The Red Cross in Australia is coming under fire from at least one local politician for disbursed just a quarter of the money collected for bushfire victims who have lost their homes. About $20.5 million of the $78.7 million ($30 million of $115 million in Australian currency) recently donated by the public to Red Cross Australia has been given to people affected by the bushfire crisis so far. And some people say that isn’t enough.

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“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,” New South Wales politician Andrew Constance told Australia’s ABC News.

“We need a very real change, very quickly so that the money can get to those who need it most [...] people are on their knees and we can’t have a drip feed.”

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The bushfire crisis has killed at least 29 people in Australia and destroyed thousands of homes, leaving some people to camp outside while they wait for relief from either the government or charities like the Red Cross.

A spokesperson for Red Cross Australia, Susan Cullinan, disputed the characterization that it was holding money back, telling Gizmodo in an email Wednesday, “some $30 million [Australian] is being made available for immediate relief with the balance for recovery for bush fire affected communities.”

The Red Cross initially told Gizmodo we were “quite incorrect” after we inquired about the exact amount of money already allocated. But the recovery agency didn’t ultimately dispute the numbers being reported by ABC News.

“Thirty million for immediate needs and apart from a relatively small amount fundraised before the bushfires, the balance will go towards recovery in bushfire-affected communities for a minimum of three years so when the world’s attention turns away and the story moves on locals don’t feel left behind,” Cullinan told Gizmodo.

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Jamille Noxgray, Rachel Noonan and their daughter Manuka, who are now living in a tent after their home was destroyed, are pictured on January 14, 2020 in Wytaliba, Australia.
Jamille Noxgray, Rachel Noonan and their daughter Manuka, who are now living in a tent after their home was destroyed, are pictured on January 14, 2020 in Wytaliba, Australia.
Photo: Getty Images

The Red Cross sent Gizmodo a long press release about the work that they do, noting that the organization has given out hundreds of grants to people in need so far (with currency in Australian dollars):

We have already committed $30 million to meet people’s immediate needs by way of $10,000 emergency grants for those whose homes have been destroyed. We’ve already paid 559 grants and we’re finalising hundreds more. In addition, a $20,000 bereavement payment is now available to the next of kin of someone who is bereaved for their unmet needs, including funeral and related expenses. This is just the start. As we get clear on what people need and what others are providing, we are committed to providing more support. We are working on this daily.

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The air in some major cities in Australia has become so polluted that it’s hard to even breathe, with at least two people dying from respiratory illnesses directly linked to the fires. And sadly, there’s at least two more months of the fire season before things might start to cool down. Thankfully, conservative politicians in Australia are no longer denying that climate change is fueling the crisis. Whether they act to fight the worst of it remains to be seen.

Those who have lost a home to the bushfires in Australia since July of 2019 can reach out to the Red Cross to see about getting grants by visiting redcross.org.au/grants or by calling 1800 727 077. Grants are open until April 30, 2020, according to the Red Cross.

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If you’ve had an experience with the Red Cross in Australia that you’d like to tell us about you can send an email to novak@gizmodo.com.

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

imnotdedyet
David E. Davis

It seems like pragmatic thinking to me to have a long term plan for the money collected to be dispersed over a set time frame after donations will fall off vs all at once or very short time. Of course I say this without the need for funds so this is strictly armchair thinking.