Questions remain over govt staffer: Labor
Labor is claiming a conflict of interest and possible breach of parliamentary conduct on the part of a senior federal government staffer over his links to the junk food industry.
Late on Tuesday assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash told the Senate her chief of staff Alastair Furnival remains a shareholder of Australian Public Affairs, a company operated by his wife, Tracey Cain.
The business represents the Australian Beverages Council, Mondelez and Cadbury which opposed a new website providing nutritional information about food.
The website was removed 20 hours after it began operation last week and Labor have questioned Mr Furnival’s involvement.
“Prior to working for me Mr Furnival was APA’s chairman and because of that previous position he has a shareholding in the company,” Senator Nash told the Senate.
But before his parliamentary appointment “arrangements were put in place” to prevent his work history conflicting with his obligations under the Statement of Standards for Ministerial Staff, she added.
Ms Cain subsequently gave undertakings that neither her nor ACA would make representations to Health Minister Peter Dutton, the Health Department, or any commonwealth minister in relation to the health portfolio, Senator Nash said.
“On the advice available to me these undertakings have been honoured in full.
“Indeed, neither he nor my office has met with Mondelez, formerly Kraft, and owners of Cadbury with whom he worked as a chief economist,” Senator Nash said.
Opposition Senate leader Penny Wong said Senator Nash’s response required further explanation.
“She’s in fact conceded that her chief of staff had a direct pecuniary interest in a firm which … had a commercial interest in the policy decisions in her portfolio,” Senator Wong said.
“There are some very serious questions to be answered by the minister and frankly by the government about how that arrangement can possibly comply with the ministerial standards and the standards applicable to ministerial staff.”
Senator Wong said Mr Furnival’s involvement in the website removal is yet to be explained.
She also asked to be told when Mr Furnival declared his interest to Senator Nash, the health department and the prime minister’s office.