- Wildfires have been tearing through Australia since late July, damaging more than 3,000 homes and killing at least 28 people.
- Australians including Celeste Barber, the comedian who organized the largest fundraiser in Facebook’s history for wildfire relief efforts, have criticized the country’s billionaires for not donating more.
- The largest known gift from an Australian came from mining billionaire Andrew Forrest, who donated $48 million.
- Some billionaires have gotten creative with their gifts, even donating through bids on Russell Crowe’s online auction for the hat he wore while cleaning his fire-damaged property in November.
- An estimated 25 million acres of Australia’s brush have burned, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate and blanketing cities in dangerous smoke.
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Some Australians are not impressed by how their country’s wealthiest citizens have responded to the country’s disastrous wildfires.
An estimated 25 million acres of Australia’s brush have burned since September, killing at least 28 people, forcing hundreds of thousands of others to evacuate, and blanketing cities in dangerous smoke.
Famous Aussie multimillionaires including Liam Hemsworth and Nicole Kidman have pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars to relief efforts, but some business figures have been slower to respond publicly, leading to outrage online. The criticism on this front has largely been led by Australian comedian Celeste Barber, who led the largest Facebook fundraiser in the platform’s history to benefit relief efforts.
Barber also called out the difference in billionaires’ responses to the Australian fires and the Notre Dame fire in April 2019. Within hours of that incident, three French billionaires – who, it bears noting, are all significantly wealthier than anyone in Australia – had already pledged $565 million for restoration efforts, Business Insider’s Katie Warren reported at the time.
Barber tweeted: "Hey billionaires, Notre Dame burning down sucked. I get it. Times that by a trillion and that's what's happening in Australia. Feel free to flick us a quick couple of million. You make it seem pretty easy."
The criticism hasn't been limited to Australian billionaires, however. Jeff Bezos was slammed on Twitter after announcing that Amazon would be donating $690,000 - roughly the amount of money he makes in five minutes - to the recovery efforts, Business Insider reported.
Here are the donations Australian billionaires made to recovery efforts, listed in chronological order. Business Insider will be updating this list as new donations are made.
Casino mogul James Packer was among the first Australian billionaires to donate, making two gifts totaling $3.45 million through his company and family foundation.
Total donation: $3.45 million ($5 million AU)
Net worth: $3 billion
Packer was one of the first billionaires to donate to the relief efforts, giving the New South Wales Rural Fire Service $690,000 ($1 million AU) in November, The Australian reported. Packer added an additional $2.76 million ($4 million AU) to his gift on January 6, only part of which will come from his personal foundation.
"Australians are digging deep to support each other in these tough times, it's truly inspiring," Packer said, according to The Australian. "My family and Crown are eager to do more and the best way we can help, is to significantly increase our donation."
Packer built his $3 billion fortune running the casino chain he inherited from his father, Crown Resorts, according to Forbes.
The cofounders of software company Atlassian, Michael Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar, each donated $770,000.
Total donation: $770,000 each ($1.1 million AU)
Net worth: $9 billion each
Cannon-Brookes and Farquhar's first $70,000 donations were made through a charity auction for the hat Russell Crowe wore while cleaning his fire damaged property in November, Forbes reported. They subsequently promised to match the $700,000 donated by their company's charitable foundation, Forbes reported.
The pair built their multibillion-dollar fortunes as the cofounders and co-CEOs of collaboration software-maker Atlassian, according to Forbes.
On December 27, real estate billionaires John and Pauline Gandel donated $690,380 to a group of organizations involved in the relief efforts.
Total donation: $690,380 ($1 million AU)
Net worth: $3.8 billion (John Gandel)
The gift will be split between the Australian Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and St Vincent de Paul Society, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
Pauline Gandel made in headlines last January when she criticized other ultra-wealthy Australians for not giving away more of their wealth while receiving an award on Australia Day in 2019, The Financial Review reported. "I hope to inspire others to be generous and improve our society," Pauline Gandel told The Financial Review.
John Gandel built the couple's $3.8 billion fortune running women's clothing retailer Sussan, but later pivoted to commercial real estate, according to Forbes. The billionaire is now part-owner of Melbourne megamall Chadstone.
On January 8, Gina Rinehart said she "privately" donated after being called out on Twitter.
Total donation: unspecified
Net worth: $15.6 billion
Barber called out Rinehart by name for not making a public donation. "Hey Gina Rinehart where the hell are you and all your money?! If you're in Hawaii on a family holiday I'm going to flip a f------- table," Barber tweeted.
Rinehart responded to the attack through a spokesperson, saying that she had made a private donation. "(Mrs. Rinehart) is most concerned that the true causes of this sad devastation are tackled, rather than missed in the rush to blame climate change," the spokesman said in a statement to The Daily Mail January 8 that also mentioned regulations on building dams and land clearing.
Rinehart, the executive chairman of iron miner Hancock Prospecting, has a $15.6 billion fortune and is the richest person in Australia, according to Forbes.
On January 9, Andrew Forrest made what is believed to be the largest private donation by an Australian to relief efforts.
Total donation: $48 million ($70 million AU)
Net worth: $8.9 billion
The Western Australian-based billionaire pledged to donate $70 million through his philanthropic organization, Minderoo Foundation, Business Insider Australia reported.
The first round of funds, $10 million, will be spent immediately on disaster relief efforts, Business Insider Australia reported. The rest will be used to organize volunteers and fund future fire prevention efforts.
"We recognise that we don't have all the answers, but we want to understand what communities need and do our bit to help them now and as they regroup in the coming months," Forrest said, according to Business Insider Australia.
Forrest built his fortune off Minara Resources, the mining company he founded in 1994, according to Forbes.