One billion dollars.
I find it hard to get my head around that figure when most transactions in my household are less than three figures. In case you’re right now trying to count how many zeros come after the one in 1 billion – it’s nine. One billion dollars is a ten-figure quantity.
When I (logically) asked my four-year-old what he could buy for $1 billion, he said, “A Stegosaurus. A big one. And a plant.”
I don’t doubt that.
If a paleontologist stumbled on the last living Stegosaurus and wanted to make some cash, maybe $1 billion would be a reasonable price tag (perhaps they’d throw in the plant for free). A T-Rex fossil affectionately known as Sue sold back in 1997 for a record $8.36 million.
Can’t say I was much enlightened (or surprised) by my son’s response. He has ODD… Obsessive Dinosaur Disorder. He’s a prehistoric fanatic, and they tell me it’s a phase…
So, I turned to Google and found an image of the sum. One billion dollars in $100 notes would fill 10 pallets. Those expensive little bricks might cover enough area to build a shed. Bucks and mortar!
But I still felt no closer to understanding.
You see, in the Australian Government’s 2015 budget delivered last week, $1 billion was slashed from foreign aid spend for the 2015-16 year and $3.7 billion over the next three years. This comes on top of the $7.6 billion in aid cuts outlined last year, amounting to a whopping $11.3 billion in the term of this government. So far.
Don’t worry, Tasmania scored $1 billion towards the upgrade of infrastructure and roads.
The dinosaur in the room is that while vulnerable people suffer, surely compassionate Australians cannot be placated with shiny new highways. Surely that Christian principal woven into the fabric of our society to uphold the cause of the vulnerable has not been lost.
“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4)
I picked up the phone and got Tony Milne on the line – executive officer of Make Poverty History, a group that has tirelessly lobbied for Australia’s aid spend to begin an upward trajectory. Maybe he could quantify the impact of retracting such a large sum from third-world countries.
“Australian aid is a fundamental part of who we are as a nation,” he said.
“Yet, despite aid being a sound long-term investment in millions of men, women and children in our global neighbourhood, despite helping millions become economically independent and self-sufficient, and despite only representing 1.2 per cent of total government expenditure, this government has cut aid again.”
Already, cuts to Australia’s foreign aid have had a measurable impact. Aid agencies have reported the following:
- 10,000 children lost an education in South Sudan.
- 8,000 people lost access to HIV mitigation in India.
- 3,000 Solomon Islanders lost disaster relief training.
- 2,000 vulnerable kids in Laos lost their schooling.
- 137,000 children lost a protection project in India.
- 45,000 kids in Lebanon lost healthcare.
- 385,000 children lost a protection project in Senegal.
That ten-digit figure is coming into sharp relief now, and that’s only the start of it. Without $11 billion of Australian aid, the future looks more and more grim:
- 1,424,796 children could be born without a birth attendant.
- 2,237,280 children may not get to enrol in school.
- 3,775,052 children may not be vaccinated.
- 4,710,642 people may not get access to safe water.
- 21,944,521 people in emergency situations may go unassisted.
A billion big ones is no longer 10 pallets stacked with $100 bricks. It is water, education, healthcare, shelter, protection and comfort. In short, it is life. Not sure about you, but I’m not well pleased with a government that would withhold life from the vulnerable.
The changes were announced just as Nepal sustained its second magnitude 7+ earthquake. How inconvenient, and yet a stark reminder why we need to increase foreign aid.
You see, when push comes to shove, the global poor, mostly out of sight and out of mind, don’t vote, not here anyway.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday May 18, 2015.