Debates about tax, and how much is paid by corporations, are good to have says Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, who is in Australia today to discuss Australia’s foreign aid budget with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Speaking at the National Press Club today, Gates was asked about the amount of tax global tech giants, including Microsoft, pay, and whether countries might be able to contribute more money to foreign aid if they received their "fair share" of tax from such organsations.
"It’s the business of government to collect tax. I don’t know what the term 'fair share' means," Gates told journalists.
"As far as I know the whole discussion is about whether the current set of laws are structured the way they should be."
Gates said he hadn't seen anything suggesting the global tech giants had done something illegal.
"I don’t think, whatever your definition of fair is, that unless you change the laws that they're likely to come bearing large cheques according to some definition you might have of the word fair."
Earlier in the day Gates told Radio National he thought technology had a neutral to slightly positive influence on creativity and innovation.
In an interview with Fran Kelly, Gates said technology was part of the answer to fighting global disease and helping the poorest lift themselves up and become self-sufficient.
“The word ‘technology’ can include a new vaccine for malaria which we don’t have or AIDS or TB,” Gates said.
“The idea of using satellite photos to find all the huts so you can get out and get them, or GPS trackers that let you see the team get to where it needs to go and get the job done right.”
Gates discussed two technology projects being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, including an improved toilet that can work in slums and a “super thermos” that keeps vaccines cold without the need for electricity.
Asked by host Fran Kelly if people’s constant use of mobile devices and the internet was making it more difficult for people to think outside of the box, Gates said it was more likely to help innovation.
“I admit people have to be careful to block out time so they can think through complex problems and so the technology means you have to be a bit more disciplined, but overall in terms of connecting with other scientists and learning very quickly I think its going to speed up the pace of innovation.”
Gates said his foundation had spent $1.8 billion on a plan to eradicate polio, which if successful would save the world more than $2 billion a year.