As we have seen so many issues involving “the right thing”, our prime Minister and his Government have a very flexible of view of conflicts of interest.

We’ve already seen the Minister for Ageing, Senator Santo Santoro, sprung by not declaring shares owned in a small publicly listed medical science research company. Now an even more obvious one has emerged.

The Government has appointed former Howard staffer and now professional company director, Paul McClintock, as chairman of Medibank Private.

As the story points out: “the Government immediately denied his appointment posed a conflict of interest. Mr McClintock, a former secretary of John Howard’s cabinet office, is the chairman of Symbion Health, a publicly listed company with extensive interests in private health care and in the supply of pharmaceuticals and health products.” (Here’s his CV from Symbion )

“The Finance Minister, Nick Minchin, yesterday acknowledged Mr McClintock’s chairmanship of Symbion, the defence industry company Thales Australia, and his directorship of Macquarie Infrastructure Group, but said the Government was “satisfied no actual or potential conflict of interest exists”.

What would Nick Minchin know? He couldn’t see any problem with Adelaide businessman and Liberal Party funder Rob Gerard being appointed to the board of he Reserve Bank, despite having major tax problems with the ATO.

Of course there’s a problem with Symbion. It is in medical imaging or scans, x-rays, medical centres, drugs distribution, both generic and prescription, and medical consumer products such as drugs and vitamins. In short its deeply involved in the sort of businesses that Medibank private is involved with on the other side paying for claims or gap insurance, etc.

How can Mr McClintock do his job as chairman of both Symbion (which is a takeover target) and Medibank Private? He will have to excuse himself from board meetings in both companies: that’s bad for Symbion shareholders and fellow directors and bad for the customers and owners of Medibank private.

What use would he be unless he’s a minder for the Howard Government ahead of the float of the company after the election, if Howard wins?