Assistant health minister Fiona Nash has been censured by parliament for misleading the senate and failing to produce documents that allegedly proved she had adequate provisions in place that addressed her chief of staff’s co-ownership in a junk food lobby.
Nash told the senate that she had appropriate provisions in place to ensure that her former chief of staff, Alistair Furnival’s involvement with lobby group, Australian Public Affairs (APA) did not interfere with his role in the Health department.
“In short, both Mr Furnival and Ms Cain (Furnival’s wife, head of APA) have taken proper and appropriate steps to prevent conflicts or potential conflicts between the private business and his duties as my chief of staff by withdrawing from any work for clients in the health portfolio,” Nash told parliament last month.
Both Nash and Furnival came under fire last month when the Health Star Rating website – which was created to support a healthy eating initiative in the form of a new front-of-pack rating system – was pulled down under Furnival’s orders only eight hours after it was officially launched.
SMH reports that parliament had given Nash until Wednesday afternoon to produce documents that outlined such provisions, and her failure to do so has led to labor to call for her resignation, sighting that her position is no longer tenable.
A vote passed in the senate with the support of both labor and the Greens. According to SMH, only three such censure motions have passed in the last 10 years.
“I should not need to move this censure, the prime minister should have acted,'' Labor senator Penny Wong said. ''The Senate, the press gallery, the Australian public, have been treated with contempt.''
Prime Minister Abbott however is continuing to standby Nash, stating that “not a single person has done anything wrong in this case … not only is there no fire, there is not even any smoke.''
In addition to criticism from the labor government, health officials including Dr Steve Hambleton, president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) has also raised concerns over the interference of lobby groups in the health sector, stating that the Australian food industry needs to ‘stop undermining’ the Health Star Rating system.
“It is time that the food industry and its peak Council did the right thing and put their full support behind a bold initiative that will help people make healthier food choices and take some pressure of the health Budget,” he said.