ACT News


First the Sultan, now Bill Gates comes to town

The world’s second-richest man, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, will turn high-profile lobbyist when he visits Canberra later this month.

The billionaire philanthropist will visit Australia for just one day - May 28 -  speaking in Canberra and Sydney. Crucial to his visit will be meeting with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to ensure the government continues to contribute to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, of which his foundation is the largest private donor.

Mr Gates, 57, with a fortune worth $67 billion, will be addressing National Press Club members and guests in the Great Hall at Parliament House at lunchtime on May 28 and speaking at the University of NSW in Sydney later in the day.

National Press Club chief executive Maurice Reilly said all 570 tickets to the Canberra address were sold in less than two hours, a record for the press club.

‘‘It will be his only media event and we’re very honoured he wants to do a live national telecast. We’re all very excited here,’’ he said.

Mr Gates last appeared at a National Press Club event in 1994 when he attracted 1200 people to the convention centre in Canberra - a record crowd for the press club still not surpassed.


His focus this time will be on addressing issues of global health and poverty rather than his heady days as a computing pioneer.

‘‘I don’t think it will be one for the tech-heads,’’ Mr Reilly said.

Mr Gates will be appearing as the co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic organisation he heads with his wife to tackle the ‘‘tough issues’’ facing the world including ‘‘extreme poverty and poor health in developing countries, and the failures of America’s education system’’.

The title of his Canberra address is “Smart Aid: Australia’s Leadership and Innovating for the World’s Poorest’’.

Mrs Gates will not be coming to Canberra.

The Gates’ foundation has contributed or pledged a total of US $1.4 billion ($AUS 1.42 billion) to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Since it was established in 2002, the fund has provided AIDS treatment for 4.2 million people, anti-tuberculosis treatment for 9.7 million people and 310 million insecticide-treated nets for the prevention of malaria.

Pacific Friends of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria executive director Bill Bowtell said the Global Fund was looking to shore up its donations, including from the Australian Government which had donated about $210 million over the last three years.

Mr Gates would explain the work of the fund to Australia’s political leaders at a time when the foreign aid dollar was under pressure.

‘‘We’re hoping the Australian Government will continue to be a generous supporter of the Global Fund,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s a very tough business [securing donations for the fund] because a third comes from the United States, a third has traditionally come from Europe and about a third from the rest of the world including the private sector. So getting that money is always difficult. It’s made more difficult in this coming year by the crisis in Europe and the impact on the development assistance budgets of many of the European countries.’’

Mr Bowtell said Pacific Friends had suggested Mr Gates should come to Australia to promote the fund and was thrilled to have him visit and speak to the nation through a live telecast.

‘‘It’s good that he meets the prime minister and the political leaders and the officials  but what’s great is he gets to explain this well to the Australian public and Australian press,’’ he said.

‘‘There’s been really great advances in international health and development in the last 10 years and it’s important that the person who is driving much of this is able to explain it to the Australian people.’’

The Pacific Friends group is run by an advisory council with strong links to Canberra. Mr Bowtell is a former senior adviser to then prime minister Paul Keating and then health minister Neal Blewett. Its chair is former University of Canberra chancellor Wendy McCarthy and its members include former High Court judge Michael Kirby.

Forbes puts Mr Gates No.2 on the world’s rich list, after Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim Helu who is worth $73 billion.

Mr Gates’ Canberra address will be at Parliament House from 11.30am to 1.30pm on May 28.