Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Show me the money: Gates talks aid

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates in Canberra yesterday.

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates in Canberra on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Australia is uniquely well placed to help prevent the spread of disease in poor countries, and would be uniquely well served to do so, according to the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates.

The Gillard government decided this month to postpone Australia's progress towards its promised aid budget of 0.5 per cent of gross national income, but Mr Gates said he wanted to ''encourage them to get to 0.5 per cent as soon as possible''.

The world's richest man, who has given $US28 billion to help the world's poor through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told Fairfax Media in an interview: ''Australia is a country that's doing very, very well, and its aid program has been rated very highly.

''I give my money away because of what I see in these programs, and I would be very, very disappointed if Australia did not'' meet its bipartisan pledge to contribute 0.5 per cent of GNI as aid.

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''I would be super disappointed if it didn't,'' the co-founder of the software firm Microsoft said. Australia's aid budget today is about 0.35 per cent of GNI.

''You certainly don't want to get debt and deficit levels too high, and they are local political decisions.'' However, ''Australia has the lowest debt, or close to the lowest, of any rich country, and the lowest deficit of any country I can think of. This country has more connections through trade with developing countries than any other country on the planet. The idea that you can take 0.5 per cent for the world's poorest seems quite reasonable.''

He pointed out Australia would benefit if the health and wealth of its trading partners improved, and if its region were less disease-ridden. Together with the humanitarian argument to prevent children from dying needlessly, he said, ''all the arguments point in the same direction''.

Mr Gates has contributed $US1.8 billion towards one of his two most urgent quests, the eradication of polio.

It has been largely confined to three countries - Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan - and the disease be wiped out altogether in six years, he said. This would make it the first infectious disease to be eradicated since smallpox in 1979. His personal commitment will fund almost one-third of the global requirement of $US5.5 billion set at an international meeting last month.

Mr Gates, who had breakfast with the Prime Minister on Monday, said he hoped Australia would contribute $80 million over four years to the polio effort, or about 1.5 per cent of the total. Later, Julia Gillard announced exactly that. She commended Mr Gates on his ''remarkable work''. Australia had earlier given $50 million for 2011-14, and Ms Gillard said she was pleased Australia was committing fresh funds to ''finish the job''.

Mr Gates' second international quest is for money to replenish the Global Fund to eradicate AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria. The fund's initial allocation of $11.7 billion will be exhausted by the end of the year and its money-raising target is $US15 billion. The US has pledged $US5 billion, and European nations are expected to supply another $US5 billion. Mr Gates is giving $150 million a year.

Australia provided $210 million over three years for the first round, or about 1.8 per cent of the total. To match that share in the second round, Australia would probably need to provide about $270 million.

The rise and rise of a benefactor

1955 Bill Gates is born.

1967 Befriends future Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen at Lakeside School, an exclusive college.

1973 Changes from pre-law major to study maths and computer science at Harvard.

1976 Registers ''Microsoft'' trademark.

1986 Microsoft stock goes public at $US21 ($20) a share, rising to $US28 a share by the end of the first day and raising $US61 million.

1987 Becomes the youngest billionaire at age 31.

1995 Becomes the world's richest man.

2000 Steps down as Microsoft CEO to focus on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

2010 Gates loses world's richest man crown to Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim.

2013 Gates regains world's richest man title thanks to a slide in the price of Mexican stocks.

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