Helping the Helpers - Op Ed, The Herald-Sun and Courier Mail


The Herald-Sun and Courier Mail, 18 January 2020

Millions of hectares of bush have been burned. Dozens of lives have been lost. Up to a billion mammals, birds, reptiles, bats, frogs and invertebrates may have died. Smoke from Australia’s bushfires has reached as far as New Zealand and Chile. Australia’s bush capital has recorded the worst air quality in the world.

Amid the tragedy, many of us are looking at how we can help. On the front lines, our volunteer fire fighting services need donations, which will allow them not only to fight this year’s fires, but also to be better prepared next season. In affected communities, Red Cross, Vinnies, the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, the Salvos, Foodbank and the Rural Advisory Mental Health program are among those working with families who have lost their homes.

To help injured animals, and to provide sources of food and water to keep native animals alive, the World Wildlife Fund, WIRES, the RSPCA, the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital and Adelaide Koala Rescue are among the bodies that are seeking donations.

At the same time, it’s important to be on your guard against the scammers. If you’re approached online or in person by a charity you don’t recognise, take a moment to check their credentials at If they don’t check out, they don’t deserve your cash. Scammers rely on the high level of trust we feel for Australian charities, but a bit of homework will help you ensure that what you’re able to give will reach the people who need it most.

Cash is the most efficient way to assist, but it’s also possible to make in-kind donations. The key thing to remember is that people in disaster-hit areas don’t need random shipments of bulky goods. Like the container load of woollen jumpers that was once sent as part of an African disaster relief effort, unwanted goods can just get in the way. A much smarter approach is to jump on to the website of GIVIT (, which operates as a matchmaking service, linking up generous donors offering, for instance, a laptop, washing machine or trampoline with charities and needy families.

Another form of in-kind assistance is to open up your home to host someone displaced by the bushfires. If you have a spare bedroom or apartment that’s available for two days or more, Airbnb Open Homes ( is a platform that lets you offer free temporary housing to someone affected by the disaster.

Recovery from disaster plays out on many fronts. Emergency relief charities have been building resilience in threatened communities for times like this and they will be working now with the tired and demoralised victims of the fires.

Our volunteering experts know that recovery works best when communities can be kept together and when those who have been hurt by the fires can share their stories. 

Alongside the ABC, community broadcasters have played a critical role in keeping endangered communities informed and up to date with local conditions.

With luck, the intensity of this disaster will start to subside. At that point, we need to keep hearing from the people affected, we need to recognise what they’ve been through and assist in the recovery. The aftermath of this disaster isn’t just measured in lost lives, homes and photo albums. We must recognise that there is also the psychological aftermath. In some cases, new social networks will form from the common bond of shared suffering. In other instances, old networks will need careful rebuilding.

Beyond the physical restoration and emotional recovery process, we all have a responsibility to inform ourselves of the risks for the future and how we collectively can reduce them. Expert environmental advocates play a crucial role in highlighting the risks posed by climate change and how we can mitigate the risks to public health that come with higher temperatures and more volatile weather.

Australia has thousands of extraordinary charities, doing fabulous work in affected communities. Like our heroic firefighters, they’ve got many months of hard work ahead of them as we work together to extinguish the blazes and rebuild our communities. By pitching in to support a worthy charity, you can make a real difference.

Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Minister for Charities.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.