The Greens NSW are introducing legislation to ensure the $52 million donated to the Rural Fires Trust during the catastrophic fire season can be used for the purposes that the generous donors intended, and not just to offset government expenditure on the equipment, operations and supplies of the Rural Fire Service.
Under the current law the record donations to the NSW Rural Fire Service and Brigades Donations Fund can only be spent on RFS brigades, and none can be directed to volunteer firefighters, their families, bushfire impacted communities or animal welfare organisations.
Celeste Barber, who made the call for these record donations has indicated she will bring an application to the Supreme Court to address this problem. A number of legal commentators have indicated that it is unlikely the Court will be able to redirect the monies as sought by Ms Barber.
Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson said:
“We want to ensure the intentions of the more than one million donors are respected and this record donation is able to be used to do more than offset government expenditure on the RFS.
“There is no question that the families of any RFS volunteer who was killed on duty should be eligible for support and assistance from these funds.
“We know that a number of firefighters were injured fighting fires and there needs to be a generous fund available to help them too.
“This is a problem that is unlikely to be fixed by any court application, it really needs a legislative fix.
“We are giving notice of the law change today and we are open to frank discussions with other parties and Celeste Barber on the final drafting of the bill.
“The extraordinary generosity of ordinary Australians needs to be matched by some common sense politics, and that means opening up these funds to the firefighters, fire impacted communities and wildlife carers who so desperately need assistance,” Mr Shoebridge said.
The Rural Fires Amendment (NSW RFS and Brigades Donations Fund) Bill 2020 will be seeking to amend the Rural Fires Act so that and donations received by or on behalf of the Fund in the period from 1 November 2019 to 1 February 2020 can be directed to any of the purposes of the Trust as well as any of the following purposes:
1. To provide support and assistance to the families of any RFS volunteer killed while on duty;
2. To provide support and assistance to any RFS volunteer injured while on duty,
3. To provide support and assistance to communities, including individuals, who have been significantly impacted by bush fires, and
4. To provide support and assistance to people and organizations providing care to animals injured or displaced by bush fires.
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