By Amy Corderoy.
Health Editor, SMH
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.
“The government has a responsibility to act in the best interests of all Australians,” she said. “It is for Senator Nash to explain how her actions and those of her office demonstrate this.”
Public health and consumer groups are furious that the site has been taken offline after two years in development, and have accused the government of bowing to the interests of the junk food industry.
The site, which set up a system that enabled food manufacturers to label their products with easy-to-understand nutritional information, was launched about midday on Wednesday last week, only to be pulled by 8pm that night.
On Friday, Ms Nash did not respond to questions from Fairfax Media about whether she or Mr Furnival had intervened to have the site removed. A departmental spokeswoman had previously told Fairfax Media the site was just a “draft” that had been published due to an “inadvertent error”.
On Tuesday, Ms Nash told Parliament that Mr Furnival had approached departmental staff about the website on her direction. She said she and Mr Furnival had complied with the ministerial code of conduct and a question asked by Labor Senator Penny Wong about Mr Furnival’s relationship with the company was “unworthy”.
Read full article at the Brisbane Times here.