- LAURIE OAKES
- Herald Sun
- February 15, 2014
Sunday, February 16, 2014
There Is A Lot More Here That Is Relevant To E-Health Than Might Initially Seem.
We had this published yesterday today.
WHEN government adviser Alastair Furnival walked the plank yesterday, conflict of interest was not the real problem.
The cause of his fall from grace was a minister who treated Parliament with contempt.
Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash knew Furnival, her chief-of-staff, had been a partner with his wife, Tracey Cain, in a lobbying firm that had in the past acted for companies — specifically food companies — in areas covered by her portfolio.
She knew — or should have known — that he’d held shares in the firm Australian Public Affairs, when he took the job in her office.
Yet, under questioning by Labor Senate leader Penny Wong on Tuesday, Nash blithely asserted: “There is no connection whatsoever between my chief-of-staff and the company Australian Public Affairs.” That was simply untrue. And the Prime Minister’s office knew it was untrue because full details of Furnival’s involvement with the company had been canvassed in the vetting process before his appointment.
That process had been overseen by Tony Abbott’s chief-of-staff, Peta Credlin, and Tony Nutt, once John Howard’s shrewd political fixer. Aware of the risks of employing someone with a lobbying background, they had looked at his business affairs very carefully.
So alarm bells would have rung as soon as Nash gave her answer to Wong. Certainly, there was phone contact between Abbott’s office and Nash’s fairly soon after Senate Question Time ended.
Nash was advised to correct the record with a detailed statement.
Five hours after her original answer Nash returned to the Senate chamber to provide what she called additional information “for the sake of completeness”.
The additional information amounted to an admission that her earlier version had been false. “Prior to working for me,” she said, “Mr Furnival was APA’s chairman and, because of that previous position, he has a shareholding in the company.”
Nash had clearly misled the Senate and that guaranteed Furnival’s position would blow up into a major political controversy, especially since, over the next couple of days, she continued to obfuscate over the issue that had led to Wong’s questioning.
Wong was digging into why Furnival, acting for Nash, had ordered bureaucrats to take down a food-rating website opposed by sections of the industry, including some who had been clients of Australian Public Affairs.
Seasoned Coalition people are now portraying this as a lesson for inexperienced ministers who think they know it all. Nash was also contemptuous and careless. Furnival is the Government’s first casualty as a result.
Lots more here:
Here is an earlier report which was followed up continually by Fairfax and the Opposition until the result we report above.
Date February 11, 2014 - 6:15PM
A senior government staffer who demanded a new healthy food rating website be taken down is married to the head of a lobbying outfit that works for the junk food industry, it has been revealed.
In senate question time on Tuesday, Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash admitted that both she and her chief-of-staff, Alastair Furnival, had personally intervened to insist health department staff pull down the new “health star rating” site on the day it was launched.
Mr Furnival was previously a chairman of Australian Public Affairs, which is listed on the lobbyists' register as representing the Australian Beverages Council and Mondelez Australia, which owns the Kraft peanut butter, Cadbury and Oreo brands, among others.
In question time, Ms Nash also admitted Mr Furnival was married to the company's sole director and secretary, Tracey Cain.
Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King has demanded an explanation for the actions of Ms Nash and Mr Furnival.
Lots more here:
As far as one can tell the story is this.
A two year very consultative process had resulted in a web site which had the intent of helping food manufacturers voluntarily label their products with a new star system to assist consumers eat a more healthy diet. As far as I know the web site was not designed mainly for consumers - as their involvement was to come later in the year after the labels are found on some products.
Just after launch for some reason and without warning after less than a day the site was pulled down under instructions from the Assistant Health Minister. Some digging then led to the discovery of the shareholding in a food lobbying company and we have now seen the Minister’s Chief of Staff resign.
Why relevant to e-Health in Australia? Well to me it shows how deeply entwined politics is with what happens and how careful policy development and planning can be derailed by personal interests and maybe ideology (dislike of the so-called ‘nanny state’ by business interests and some conservatives).
To me the PCEHR and other components of the current e-Health effort have similarly been derailed by political interference (demanding stupidly rapid implementation, lack of proper piloting, clumsy design, horrible user interface etc.) and a the lack of quality and open governance. Having a allegedly conflicted ministerial chief of staff being able to cause a relatively un-controversial voluntary proposal to be essentially killed off is a similar example of lack of governance.
It really makes one wonder what is needed to escape the influences of politics and vested interests to get apparently reasonable things done?
On an unrelated issue I also wonder just why Senator Nash is Assistant Health Minister given a lack of apparent interest in the Health Sector?
See here for her career summary.
Posted by Dr David More MB PhD FACHI at Sunday, February 16, 2014