Bushfire arrives into the township of Malua Bay NSW, just south of Batemans Bay. Locals seek refuge on the beach as the fire approaches. Picture: Alex Coppel.
Bushfire arrives into the township of Malua Bay NSW, just south of Batemans Bay. Locals seek refuge on the beach as the fire approaches. Picture: Alex Coppel.

Fury at Red Cross for ‘stashing cash’ for future disasters

The Red Cross has drawn fury from fire-affected towns for committing just $30 million of $95 million raised for victims immediately with the charity condemned for stashing cash for future floods and cyclones.

State government minister Andrew Constance on Tuesday said he was "furious" that charitable organisations are sitting on tens of millions of dollars and not distributing it to desperate residents.

The Bega MP, who almost lost his home in the south coast fires, has challenged the heads of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul to come to Batemans Bay and witness the devastation first-hand on Saturday.

Bega MP Andrew Constance at the Batemans Bay evacuation centre on January 2. Picture: John Grainger
Bega MP Andrew Constance at the Batemans Bay evacuation centre on January 2. Picture: John Grainger


The Vinnies Bushfire Appeal has so far raised $12.5 million, of which just over $1 million has been spent on helping bushfire victims.

About $40 million has been pledged towards the Salvation Army's national disaster fund since its bushfire appeal was launched in November.

Of that money, about $7.5 million has been handed over.

The remains of a burnt-out property in Cobargo on January 16. Picture: AAP
The remains of a burnt-out property in Cobargo on January 16. Picture: AAP

The Salvation Army and Red Cross have said the majority of the money would be spent over the medium to long term to help people recover.

However, the Red Cross confirmed it would fund a three year bushfire recovery plan but said it would withhold money to spend on future disasters and singled out floods and cyclones.

The Red Cross declined to answer whether its boss would meet Mr Constance but the head of Vinnies said he would be there and the Salvation Army is considering the offer.

So far The Red Cross has processed just 559 cash grants of $10,000 and $20,000 payments are now available to next of kin of those who died.

A snapshot of what the large charities have raised and handed over.
A snapshot of what the large charities have raised and handed over.

Mr Constance praised the work of volunteers from the charities who are "working their guts out" but said bosses needed to get on the ground and "have a rethink" about how donations are prioritised.

"How dare they (the Red Cross) say publicly they're only going to spend a third of the donations on people when people are traumatised and in crisis?" Mr Constance said.

"We need the donations … what we don't need is welfare bureaucracy thinking this is the opportunity for them to grow their organisations."

"We've got people in tents, on lounges, in caravan parks, in showgrounds, people sleeping rough on their burnt-out properties and they don't want to hear about a three-year program."

Malcolm Elmslie sifts through the remnants of his house in Cobargo after the firestorm swept through on New Year's Eve. Picture: Stuart McEvoy
Malcolm Elmslie sifts through the remnants of his house in Cobargo after the firestorm swept through on New Year's Eve. Picture: Stuart McEvoy

Red Cross Australian programs director Noel Clement said it was "prudent to plan for the inevitable disasters to come so our (fund) remains in place to scale up and to respond when the cyclones and floods hit".

"This money is all being spent in Australia," he said.

Mr Clement said it was equally important to budget for the recovery effort, adding: "We know from our long experience in disasters that (it) takes time". 

He could not reveal how much of the donations will go towards the bushfire response and how much will be set aside for the future events.

"Be assured the mechanisms are in place, including an independent Fund Advisory Panel of eminent Australians, to enable a sound and transparent response," Mr Clement said.

Cobargo local Dave Britton at the Cobargo Bushfire Relief Centre at the town’s showground. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Cobargo local Dave Britton at the Cobargo Bushfire Relief Centre at the town’s showground. Picture: Jonathan Ng

The charity spent almost $2.5m in the last financial year for Australian Red Cross Humanitarian Services management staff, which includes salaries and benefits of eight executives and expenses paid for board members.

Peter Iverson, 72, lost a building on his property near Rainbow Flat in November and has been helped by Rotary, the Lions Club, the Salvos and local churches but he hadn't heard from the Red Cross.

He applied for a $1000 grant from the government but was knocked back because he and his wife receive pensions.

Peter Iverson, of Koorainghat, has received help from Rotary, the Lions Club, the Salvos and local churches but hasn’t heard from the Red Cross. Picture: Peter Lorimer
Peter Iverson, of Koorainghat, has received help from Rotary, the Lions Club, the Salvos and local churches but hasn’t heard from the Red Cross. Picture: Peter Lorimer


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