"Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Canberra, Newcastle and the Gold Coast have been flattened overnight - their entire populations left homeless."
Imagine that headline. That's what happened to Vanuatu yesterday. It's still chaos, but early estimates are 70 per cent of their population has been left homeless overnight. How would Australia rebuild from that? It's impossible to even imagine. And it's not just Vanuatu. Kiribati and Tuvalu are also devastated.
Thankfully, Australians are, as usual, generously reaching into their pockets and chipping in to the Red Cross and other services.
But donating isn't enough. In fact, our charity is a Band-aid over the gashing cuts we have allowed to Australian aid.
The Abbott government cut $8 billion from Australian foreign aid last budget. By contrast, Australians donate about $4 billion to charity a year, and a third goes to humanitarian efforts. So the government cut the equivalent of six years of all our private humanitarian donations in one budget announcement.
Right now, Australians are less generous than we have ever been, contributing half what we did under the McMahon and Whitlam governments 40 years ago.
The Coalition has led the charge, delivering what Tim Costello called "unprecedented and immoral" cuts to foreign aid just before Christmas. But the ALP has been at it, too: for two budgets in a row they cut Australia's future foreign aid, having promised to increase it.
It's not their fault though, it's ours. We get the politicians we deserve, and we deserve scrooges.
Every year, before making budget cuts, the government and opposition poll Australians to see what the "soft spots" for cuts are - where can they cut without us complaining. Time after time, their pollsters tell them their voters don't care about Australian aid. Time after time, after the cuts, church and charity leaders tell us the outcomes: literally hundreds of thousands of people will die who would otherwise have been helped by our aid. Not only that, our immediate neighbours will be less safe, less educated, less friendly to Australia, and less likely to trade with us.
And I did mention the hundreds of thousands (no really) of people who will die, and go without education? Just checking.
The other area Tony Abbott's government has been quick to cut? Funding for climate change adaptation for our neighbours like Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.
The President of Vanuatu and the UN Secretary General have already pointed out that climate change has made cyclones like Pam far more destructive. That's because sea levels have already risen – although not nearly as much as they will – meaning more water in cyclone storm surges, which is what causes most of the damage. Low-lying pacific islands like our poor neighbours are particularly vulnerable, as Pam shows.
For decades, Vanuatu and other countries have argued that they urgently need international help to prepare for climate events like cyclone Pam. Tony Abbott's government last year cut our contribution to that fund. So not only is Australia contributing more to climate change, we're contributing less to help those most affected by climate change, and when they are affected, our aid coffers are empty.
So let's all pick up the phones and call the Red Cross to help. But before you put the phone down, call your local MP and Senator too, and tell them that you do give a damn about Australian aid – and that times like this show why Australians can be so much better than the scrooges they've made of us.
Sam McLean is GetUp's national director.