On Thursday, NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliott joined the chorus of criticism over the amount of time major charities are taking to distribute bushfire relief funds.
“My message to the charities is ‘pull your finger out’,” he said.
“This is not a time for us to delay, particularly while people are hurting so much.”
Watch: Emily Smith is among those who lost everything in NSW bushfires.
His statement followed that of Transport Minister Andrew Constance, who slammed the organisations during a Thursday morning press conference: “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.
“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.”
The comments came after The Red Cross issued a statement on Wednesday that declared it had set aside $30 million to provide immediate financial relief to people in fire-affected communities — less than one-third of the $115 million that’s been donated to its Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund since July 2019.
It was a similar case for the St Vincent de Paul Society, who (as of Thursday) had spent $2.65 million of the $12.5 million donated to its bushfire appeal.
The Salvation Army said on Thursday it had distributed $8.4 million of the $11 million in funds received so far. Over $42m has been pledged to the Salvos Disaster Appeal since its launch on November 9, 2019.
The figures stunned some donors, who expressed concern via social media that the charities are acting too slowly. Some accused them of deliberately stockpiling money at the expense of traumatised survivors. Others said they’d never donate to a disaster appeal again.
Why it’s taking so long to distribute relief.
There’s no doubt there are Australians in desperate need of aid right now, but it’s worth acknowledging that planning and coordinating the distribution of funds during a disaster on this scale is anything but simple.
Thirty two people have been killed and more than 2000 homes destroyed so far this fire season, and that figure is rising by the day.
The three charities under scrutiny over the past 24 hours are largely distributing funds on two fronts. The first being trained volunteers and employees on the ground at emergency hubs, offering shelter, counselling, direct logistical support and so on to those affected.
The second — and this is the source of much of the recent frustration — is relief grant programs on offer to those who’ve had homes destroyed. Successful applicants will receive a lump sum payment to help them start the recovery process. In the Red Cross’ case, for example, that payment is $10,000.