I, like many others, was bemused by our government’s tardy response to the Ebola crisis. I know they were advised that infected health workers might not survive a 30 hour plane trip back to here but they seemed to do little to find a solution.
Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) are multi-disciplinary health teams incorporating doctors, nurses, and allied health staff. They are designed to be self-sufficient, experienced teams that can rapidly respond to a disaster zone to provide life saving treatment to casualties, in support of the local health response.
Instead of deploying these teams, we sat back as the infection rate grew exponentially, and brave volunteers who recognised the necessity of rapid response chose to go and help without government support.
Belatedly, Abbott announces a deal has been made (more than a fortnight after it was offered), but outsources our response effort to Aspen Medical without going through any form of tender process.
Call me cynical, but whenever this government begins outsourcing, I start wondering who will make money out of the deal.
Canberra-based Aspen, with a workforce of 2200, has become a regular recipient of government contracts, particularly from Defence.
In 2009, it signed three contracts worth $130 million to provide assistance to the regional mission in the Solomon Islands. This year it received another $26.5 million for regional assistance.
The company was officially opened in 2004 by the then Howard Government Health Minister Tony Abbott.
Electoral records show it donated $11,000 to the Queensland LNP last year.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation has asked Australia and Canada to justify their decisions last week to suspend migration from Ebola-hit countries.
“These are measures that go beyond the recommendations of the WHO’s emergency committee,” said Isabelle Nuttall, who heads WHO’s alert and response department.
Australia on October 27 became the first Western nation to suspend migration from Ebola-hit West African nations, and Canada followed suit four days later.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade awarded the $20 million contract to Aspen, bypassing Australian medical assistance teams or AusMats who are specifically trained to deal with this kind of crisis.
EMMA ALBERICI: So was this an open and competitive tender process?
GLENN KEYS: I can’t really talk to that because I’m not inside government, but I can say that because of our background in previous experience in deployments, as well as our experience in Liberia, I think we’re really well suited for the provision of these services to the Australian Government.
EMMA ALBERICI: Is there any level of Australian Government logistical support for your efforts?
GLENN KEYS: No, they’ve contracted us to provide all of the services.
EMMA ALBERICI: What I’m asking you, I guess is that you’re the people who are recruiting and providing the supports and the Government of Britain is giving you that logistical backup. What I’m asking you is beyond the money, the Australian Federal Government isn’t really providing anything else, is that correct?
GLENN KEYS: Well, they’re providing us, and I think that’s the thing that is important because we will be and have been already canvassing Australian health worker whose will help, as well as logistics officers and environmental health officers, and we will be putting that team together as part of that delivery of service.
And I think that’s going to be great, that there will be Australians helping deliver care to the people of Sierra Leone.
EMMA ALBERICI: So what proportion of Australians compared to overseas people will you be employing to man this treatment centre?
GLENN KEYS: It will be 10 to 20 per cent
A visit to the Aspen Medical site provides the following information:
“Founded in 2003 by Glenn Keys and Dr. Andrew Walker, Aspen Medical is an Australian-owned, multi award-winning, global provider of guaranteed and innovative healthcare solutions across a diverse range of sectors and clients including Defense, Mining & Resources, Oil & Gas, Government and Humanitarian.
Our competitive advantage lies in superior project management and the quality of our team. We pride ourselves on a customer-centric approach and a ‘can do’ attitude.”
So I decided to look into “the team”.
Aspen Medical co-founder and Managing Director, Glenn Keys, has been appointed to the board of the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), formerly known as DisabilityCare Australia.
Glenn is the only appointment from the ACT. The NDIA is an independent statutory agency, whose role is to implement the national disability insurance scheme (NDIS), which will support a better life for hundreds of thousands of Australians with a significant and permanent disability and their families and carers.
“Medical entrepreneur Andrew Walker has been accused of defrauding creditors by hiding $15 million worth of shares in tax haven the British Virgin Islands.
The liquidator of Dr Walker’s investment company, Apsara Capital, on Friday launched legal action against Dr Walker and Singapore-based businessman Georges Daniel Mercadal over the transaction.
He alleges Dr Walker ”improperly used his position to gain an advantage for himself or someone else, or cause detriment to Apsara”.
Mr Mercadal either ”wilfully shut his eyes to the obvious” or, together with Dr Walker, was part of ”a dishonest and fraudulent design” to divert the shares, he said.
The liquidator asked the court to order Dr Walker and Mr Mercadal to pay damages and return the proceeds of the alleged diversion.”
The article goes on to say
“Since founding healthcare group Aspen Medical in 2003, Dr Walker and school friend Glenn Keys have built the company into a profitable enterprise that employs 2200 people and boasts former health minister Michael Wooldridge on its board.”
A Federal Court has found the directors behind failed nursing home empire Prime Trust, including former federal health minister Michael Wooldridge, breached their corporate duties by overseeing a $33 million fee to the trust’s founder.
Justice Bernard Murphy ruled on Thursday that Dr Wooldridge and four other directors, including former Places Victoria chairman Peter Clarke, failed to act in members’ best interest by approving the fee to founder and director Bill Lewski.
Prime Trust collapsed in 2010 owing $550 million to investors. The managed investment scheme owned retirement villages in Queensland, NSW and Victoria.
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has asked the court to disqualify the five men from being company directors and order them to pay a penalty.
Dr Wooldridge is a director on a number of company boards, including Aspen Medical, Oral Health Australia and Australian Pharmaceutical Industries, owner of Priceline.
Penalty hearings for the directors will begin early next year.They face fines of up to $200,000 and bans from company boards.
ASIC Commissioner Greg Tanzer said the Federal Court’s decision was a significant outcome for investors. ”The conduct of the APCHL board was unacceptable and today’s judgment reflects that,” he said.
The tax office is deciding whether an anti-wind farm group linked to former Liberal MPs should retain its favourable tax treatment.
The Waubra Foundation has been classified a ”health promotion charity” by the tax office, meaning its ”principal activity is promoting the prevention and control of disease in humans”.
It has also been granted deductible gift recipient status by the Australian Taxation Office, and donations of more than $2 to it are tax-deductible.
Donations to Waubra have helped fund legal challenges against wind farm developments.
Former health minister Michael Wooldridge is a director of Waubra, and former MP Alby Schultz is its patron.
The foundation says its main aim is to ”educate others about the known science relating to the adverse health impacts of infrasound and low-frequency noise.”
A lack of timely access to doctors is a common complaint these days as waiting times blow out and people must go further afield or to bulk-billing clinics in search of medical help. This shortage of doctors can partly be traced to a 1996 decision by the Howard government, under then health minister Michael Wooldridge, to reduce funding for medical education places and to cut Medicare rebates for some doctors. The government relied on figures that forecast an oversupply of doctors by 2015.
Dr Brian Morton, a Sydney GP and chairman of the Australian Medical Association’s Council of General Practice, says: ”The information that the [Howard] government had was grossly inaccurate and shortsighted. Despite the [contrasting] figures that the AMA had at the time, the government wasn’t listening. The community is paying for that now.”
One consequence of the cuts in the ’90s has been that overseas-trained doctors have been brought in to fill the gap. A quarter of doctors practising here were qualified overseas. In 2009-10, 4700 visas were granted to medical practitioners – double the number of medical students who graduated from Australian universities. Health Workforce Australia found that by 2025 there will be about 2700 fewer doctors than Australia needs. (The shortage of nurses will be even more dramatic, with a gap of 110,000 in the same period.)
So, in summary, our Government is still doing nothing about the Ebola crisis except paying $20 million to a private company (who is a party donor and who was officially opened by Tony Abbott) who will give local Africans a ten day training course. The company’s co-founder stands accused of “improperly using his position to gain an advantage for himself” and of “defrauding creditors” by using tax havens to hide shares. Their company director, a former Liberal Minister who is largely responsible for the acute shortage of doctors in Australia and who is the director of a charitable organisation devoted to campaigning against wind farms, is now facing a ban from being on company boards for breaching his corporate duties and failing to act in members’ best interests by overseeing huge kickbacks to mates.
And they wonder why I am cynical.