Abbott defends Fiona Nash
Labor targets embattled Assistant Health Minister Senator Fiona Nash in question time, but the Prime Minister maintains she has done nothing wrong.PT4M28S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-33i8y 620 349 February 26, 2014
In the hunt for the high moral ground in politics, the defence of ''Hey, at least we're not as bad as Thommo!'' is not usually one's first stop.
And yet, in a press conference on Wednesday, when defending the actions of his Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash, Prime Minister Tony Abbott deployed the unusual tactic of comparing his government's conduct to his predecessor's in relation to the erstwhile member for Dobell Craig Thomson.
Food for thought: Senator Nash is grilled in the Senate estimates hearings on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Senator Nash has lately been involved in some awkwardness involving her former chief of staff. It began when Fairfax Media revealed she intervened to remove from the internet a government healthy food website.
Does the minister personally despise apples and acai berries? Or was her aversion to healthy food information something to do with her chief of staff, Alistair Furnival, who had strong links to the junk food lobby?
Mr Furnival has since resigned, but not before Senator Nash first told the Senate that Mr Furnival had ''no links'' to the junk food industry, and then corrected that statement several hours later, when she said that actually, Mr Furnival had a shareholding in a food industry lobby firm. Which did sound a lot like a link.
Furthermore, as revealed, again, by Fairfax Media, Furnival had more than a shareholding. He was a director of the company which is the sole owner of the junk food lobbying firm. Which sounded like a very big link indeed.
These junk food japes, while embarrassing to the government, have had one happy consequence.
They have made this week's Senate estimates hearings very interesting indeed - a rare occurrence which happens only when certain planets align, or when Senator Stephen Conroy has one too many coffees of a morning.
Senator Nash faced a right inquisition by a joint Senator Penny Wong/Senator John Faulkner pincer movement as delicate yet devastating as a butterfly punch.
Senator Faulkner got Senator Nash to admit that she knew of Mr Furnival's lobby group connections when she hired him. But when he asked how she can have known this history Senator Faulkner wants to know how Senator Nash can both have known about Furnival's past history and then made the statement to Parliament thinking there was no conflict of interest.
''It doesn't stack up, they can't both be right,'' cried Falks.
''It's chalk and cheese, it's black and white!''
Senator Nash went on to say that she believed there had been a ''separation'' between her chief of staff and his junk food industry links, and as such there had been no conflict of interest.
So why did Furnival resign? Senator Faulkner wanted to know.
Oh, only because the whole thing had been such a distraction, Senator Nash replied.
Later, the Prime Minister got distracted too. While giving a press conference on drought relief, he was asked about the Nash issue. Mr Abbott said that in such cases, ''everyone hyperventilates about who said what to whom and when and who knew what and when''.
But really, this was a ''fairly minor case'' and Senator Nash's actions were ''eminently justifiable''.
By whom, he did not say. He said he personally had had no conversation with the Minister about her resigning (which doesn't mean his chief-of-staff Peta Credlin didn't).
And then, he launched Thommo defence: ''I'd ask you to compare the way this government has dealt with this with the way the former government dealt with the scandal involving the former member for Dobell who was, let's face it, protected for three years.''
True, of course. Also true that Thomson was protected because the government thought they could ride the issue out. Turned out they couldn't.