Given it has been a good year for mega-rich businessmen taking on philanthropic causes, how far would some of the money earned this week by James Packer – either from his private fortune or that he controls at PBL – go if it was spent on disease prevention or charity work?

Anne Wilson, the CEO of Kidney Health Australia, says her organisation would need only a fraction of it to make a “major difference”.

“If Kidney Health Australia was able to access $5-10 million over the next five years, we would be able to establish prevention and awareness programs that would significantly reduce people going into end stage kidney failure,” Wilson told Crikey. “Given that kidney disease costs Australia $650 million a year, and the Packer family has an intimate knowledge of the disease, that investment I mentioned would reduce that figure significantly and provide huge relief to sufferers.”

Oxfam also said they could put the money to good use. The $4.5 billion earned by PBL:

  • could wipe out Malawi’s official foreign debt, which stands at around AUD$3.9 billion;
  • could provide for basic needs of 681,818 Zambian families for a whole year – around 37% of the population;
  • could fund the entire health budget of Timor Leste – AUD$33.5million per annum – for 15 years to enable the current generation of children to grow up with access to health care in their formative years;
  • Buy 11.7 million cows from the catalogue; or
  • Purchase a clean water system for 1,285,714 schools.

The Australian Red Cross told Crikey:

  • $1,000 allows our volunteers to feed 60 fire fighters during a bushfire;
  • $8,000 would feed kids in a remote community school who would otherwise go without a healthy breakfast;
  • $16,000 would provide training for 120 community first aid volunteers;
  • $32,000 will help send an aid worker to East Timor, PNG or Vanuatu to work in health or help prepare local communities for disasters.

Claire Tedeschi, Communications Director at Reconciliation Australia, says the money would be welcomed by Indigenous Australians. “If the Packer spending plan was long term, consistent and planned with the close, respected involvement of Indigenous people, the dollars would go a long way to closing the embarrassing 17-year gap in life expectancy,” Tedeschi told Crikey. “The AMA says Aboriginal Australians could be as healthy as the rest of us with an extra investment of $460 million a year for five years. The cost of getting through the housing backlog is estimated at $2.3 billion.”

A recent press release from the Australian Federation of Aids organisation noted a 41% national increase in HIV infections in the last five years, which “will add at least $500m. to PBS drug costs in the future, yet we’re investing less than $20million on HIV prevention now.” A donation in that direction would have a major impact on the lives of current and future AIDS sufferers.

Or, of course, you could build some new casinos.