Australia’s peak body for food manufacturers, the Australian Food and Grocery Council has said that it contacted assistant health minister, Fiona Nash’s office on the day that the health star rating website was taken offline.
The AFGC’s CEO, Gary Dawson says that he contacted Nash’s office to express his concern that the health star rating website was ‘premature’, but stated that he did not ask for the website to be taken down.
"On the day, yes, we expressed a view that we thought it was premature," Dawson told ABC News.
Health department officials initially claimed that the website was a ‘draft’ and that it was ‘made live inadvertently’, however it was later revealed that Nash’s chief of staff, Alastair Furnival – who is a co-owner of his wife’s lobbying firm Australian Public Affairs – ordered health officials to pull the site down.
The move attracted widespread criticism from labor senators including Penny Wong, and health advocates, many of which sight Furnival’s involvement in lobbying firms as a significant conflict of interest.
Labor senators also accused Nash of misleading the senate as she initially claimed that Furnival had no links to the APA, only to say that he was a shareholder hours later.
Nash rejected the conflict of interest claims, stating that Furnival had given ‘a series of undertakings’ to ensure a strict separation between the department and his involvement with APA.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott stood by Nash stating that "all the decisions that Senator Nash has made are eminently justifiable and I support them".