Money handed to Aspen Medical is another example of political corruption in Australia

Image from Four Corners

Contributed from Victoria

Hearing that health minister Greg Hunt gave a Canberra based medical group $1.1 billion in contracts, and without bothering to go through a public tender, has reminded me how corrupt politics have become in Australia.

There should be a deafening outcry over it. But it seems corruption has become so pervasive that it has been normalised. We expect it and carry on as usual. We are all being hurt by it. Politicians hand out money to mates and this is taken from the delivery of services we need. Corruption makes a mockery of the political process. Money talks and our rights suffer.

The case in question is about a company called Aspen Medical. The ABC’s Four corners revealed how the minister intervened and helped the company avoid proper process to get into his department’s multi-million-dollar handouts to supply PPE equipment during the Covid Pandemic.

It turns out that Hunt’s predecessor as health minister, Michael Wooldridge, a former board member and lobbyist with Aspen Medical, is now one of its directors. In addition, the company has been named as in a top money laundering investigation in Sri Lanka. This is tied to an international criminal probe.

Photo by Julian Smith/AAP: Former health minister Michael Wooldridge

In 2012, the company obtained an $18.8 million insurance guarantee from the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation. This was associated to its involvement as a junior partner in a multi-million-dollar hospital project in Hambantota, on Sri Lanka’s southern coast. The leading contractor was a Dutch registered company called EN-Projects, secretly owned by a middleman, Nimal Perera, notorious for his links to the Rajapaksa family which has dominated Sri Lankan politics for decades.

Aspen Medical’s investment was channelled to the Virgin Islands.

Perera confessed to money laundering in 2016 and Sri the Lankan Prime Minister was arrested soon after.

Woodridge continued his association with Aspen Medical, after he was banned as a company director by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission over fiduciary breaches concerning the collapse of a retirement village investment scheme.

Former chairman and co-founder of Aspen Medical, Andrew Walker, has revealed how the company obtained access to senior ranks of the Coalition government by participating in political fundraising and appointing a former Liberal cabinet minister to its board.

Photo from the ABC/Four Corners: Andrew Walker co-founded Aspen Medical 20 years ago

Connections to the government, avoidance of a tendering process, Woodridge’s history, the money laundering question, and connections to the Liberal Party, are signs of corruption.

On top of this, the company lacked relevant experience and still managed to get more deals than any other applicant, including those with experience in the industry.

Between 2009 and 2021, Aspen Medical gave the Liberal Party more than $110,000 through political donations and fundraising attendances.

After profit losses over previous years, Aspen Medical’s pre-tax profit during the pandemic was $420 million.

These revelations are the result of documents released under freedom of information legislation and follow up investigation by Four Corners. Especially damning is a letter written by Greg Hunt, which reveals his intervention to ensure Aspen Medical succeeds.

This is just one example of a long list of associations between the Australian government and shady business, and the Morrison government has managed to lift this to a new level. We only need to look at the use of the pandemic to provide lucrative contracts to prove this.

Handouts given Aspen Medical pale next to the monopoly rights given to AstraZeneca and Pfizer to supply vaccinations. Then there is the impunity given over criminal and corrupt conduct revealed in the Royal Commission into the banks. There are the multi-million handouts to gas companies. The list goes on.

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