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Feb 14, 2014

The minister's unhealthy chief of staff with the chequered past

The chief of staff to the Assistant Health Minister has got his boss in big trouble and scuppered the food ratings website. But who is this guy, anyway?


Who is Alastair Furnival, the chief of staff of Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash, whose part-ownership of a food industry lobbying firm has gotten his boss into so much trouble?

Long-time readers may recall Furnival and his firm Australian Public Affairs from 2008. APA isn’t just any old lobbying outfit, it is closely aligned with the Liberal National Party in Queensland and was even hired by the newly formed party in 2008 to vet candidates for Labor-held seats.

Furnival was chairman of the company back then and was still chairman until he took up his position with Nash, having been carefully vetted by Tony Abbott’s chief of staff Peta Credlin, who apparently didn’t twig that his continuing connection to the firm might cause potential difficulties.

But Furnival (abandoned Twitter account: @AusConservative) is no stranger to the health portfolio, which might have increased his appeal to the Abbott brains trust that spent so long running the ruler over ministerial staff after the election. He was chief of staff to Queensland Liberal Santo Santoro in the latter’s mercifully brief stint as John Howard’s minister for ageing in 2007, which was ended after Santoro was revealed to have been less than forthcoming about his shareholdings, not merely to voters but to Howard, which was a hanging offence.

Furnival is a bright spark: he edited the short-lived Conservative journal and pens articles name-checking Foucault and lamenting reductionism in physics. But he apparently failed to learn the lesson of Santoro’s fate: that undisclosed shareholdings can be fatal, especially when they come as a surprise to prime ministers.

The PMO was duly embroiled in the scandal over the axing of a food health website this week, with Nash admitting in Parliament that she had had “internal discussions” with the PMO before returning to Parliament on Tuesday night to admit that Furnival still partly owned APA. Indeed, it’s been less than a year since Furnival was doing duty as Kraft-Cadbury spokesman.

Regardless of the shareholding issue, it’s hardly a good look that Furnival, just a few months before demanding a healthy food site loathed by big food companies be taken down, was spruiking the corporate line for one of the world’s biggest chocolate manufacturers. Did he tell Credlin and Nash about that?

So far, though, Furnival remains in place. The only person to suffer as a consequence of the axing of the healthy food star ratings website, as Fairfax’s Amy Corderoy revealed this week, is the Department of Health public servant in charge of it, Kathy Dennis, who declined Furnival’s demand that the site be taken down. She’s had responsibility for the project taken off her.

Jane “children overboard” Halton, who is still secretary of Health (and waiting for Ian Watt to move on from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet), knows the value of close co-operation with governments, even when something unusual has occurred. Indeed, particularly when something unusual has occurred.

Update: Fiona Nash issued a statement on the afternoon of Friday 14 February advising that she had accepted Furnival’s resignation “with regret”.


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26 thoughts on “The minister’s unhealthy chief of staff with the chequered past

  1. extra

    While we’re on the subject of lobbyists and links, what is the name of the spinning outfit that got the gig for the Medibank Private sale? Does this outfit feature any ex Coalition staffers?

  2. rhwombat

    …and Minchin gets the NY job. It’s only corrupt if it’s Labor. They’re not even bothering to pretend any more, are they.

  3. Stuart Coyle

    What is really worrying is that the anti-science creationist lobby has a grip on power in this country. No science minister. No health advice on the food we eat. No information on what happens to refugees. It’s all about hiding information from us. Keep us in the dark and happy.

  4. Electric Lardyland

    So, Alistair Furnival is actually a real name!? I honestly though it was a First Dog On The Moon invention. No wonder the man seems to have a few problems.
    And by the way, I’m not sure if writing articles mentioning Foucault is any indicator of intelligence.

  5. klewso

    So he was cleared by The Credlin?
    [I don’t know about it being over, this is more like Natalie Merchant’s “Furnival”?
    ……Have I been blind
    Have I been lost
    Have I been wrong
    Have I been wise
    Have I been strong
    Have I been
    Hypnotized, mesmerized
    By what my eyes refused to see
    In that great street carnival
    In that Furnival? ]

  6. paddy

    Ah yes. A grateful electorate has yet another reason to thank Kevin Rudd’s foresight. Leaving Jane Halton in place was clearly a stroke of genius.

  7. Interrobanging On

    It seems public health is a right wing hatred…it is by definition democratic (applies to all) and interferes with corporate profits.

    Anything with “public” and for that matter “health” in the name has to be bad. Health only comes from Big Pharma, including when trying to fix the problems caused by Big Food.

    I suggest rename it to “Freedom Life Choice” – right wingers should go for it, including the oxymoron, as there are two keywords they like (although “life” of course is a bit suspect).

    Is it, as BK said, a case that the controlling Credlin “apparently didn’t twig that his continuing connection to the firm might cause potential difficulties”.

    Are they the educated fools BK implies (add Abbott as Rhodes Scholar, Brandis’s legal thuggery although a trained legal mind)?

    Or are they contemptuous and/or clueless of the minefields because the LNP bubble is so distorted with arrogance and “born to rule” contempt for the punters they can’t see the problem or think they can do as they please?

    The sheer gall of the Minchin appointment after objecting to the “political” appointment of Bracks is breathtaking and the reasons given laughable. Ignorance or contempt?

    Someone else argued (on New Matilda?) that there is no point in trying to shame people like this mob, because they have become shameless. It is only real consequence at the ballot box that *might* change things.

    But they will probably get away with it. It is crash through or crash, and I am not certain of the crash, given the mugged Australian electorate.

  8. geomac62

    Whats that Seekers song ?
    Say goodbye the furnival is over , this could be our last goodbye

  9. zut alors

    Re the postscript update: again Fiona Nash misleads the public. One imagines she accepted the resignation with unbridled gratitude and relief, it means the heat is now off. Her ‘regret’ is that she was tripped.

  10. rhwombat

    …aaand so Furnival is thrown to the wolves. I presume that Nash is untouchable, being (a) female, (b) a National and (c) assistant minister to the depleted uranium craniumed ex-detective Dutton of Queensland’s finest. Peta-peter-eater is running out of options.

  11. leon knight

    Fair go Interrobanging – at least see the some good in the outcomes.
    I for one will be quite glad to get Minchin out of the country for a few years, and the Yanks deserve him..!!
    You are right though,absolutely contemptuous is what they are – but I reckon they will not get away with it at the next election.

  12. AR

    Interb’On pinged it – they aren’t just shameless & clueless but they don’t see that as a proble.
    Like all ideology driven groups, they are enclosed in an hermetically sealed bubble, hearing no criticism, thus seeing no probs.
    Bourbons, except that they are good with coffee.

  13. Interrobanging On

    True, leon, as somewhere past Jupiter is too close for Minchin.

    But heading off to cosy even more with the religious right in the USA is not healthy, as they are clearly the model for the ugly right wing tail wagging the Liberal dog. He can host Tea Parties when Cory comes to visit with some chosen US ideologues at our expense.

    I am leaning towards contemptuous, not ignorant, too. But still it remains difficult to decide if Furnival’s graceless whine that he is a victim comes from ignorance or born to rule contempt…

  14. klewso

    Minchin would be better adapted to living under a rock.

  15. Liamj

    So finally Furnival has been flushed, really Nash should go too for ever thinking they could get away with giving him the job. Whether deliberate deceit or incompetence doesn’t matter, she has repeatedly misled parliament & public over major conflict of interest.

    I wonder will any enterprising journalists trace the grubbiness back to the Food & Grocery Council, to Nestle & Kraft & Unilever? We all know they don’t give a shit about megadeaths from obesity, diabetes & heart disease, but it’d be nice to prove malignant sabotage of government.

  16. John Ryan

    I do hope some one takes these Liberal Jobs for the boys people aside and informs them to write their resignation letter before they go.
    Cause if Labour get back each Abbott appointment should be terminated immediately

  17. Kez

    A spruiker for one of the world’s biggest chocolate manufacturer, hey? The same choccy co. which has received substantial assistance from a government that doesn’t hold with propping up private companies? Fascinating.

  18. klewso

    The ABC is so “Left bent” it thought neither this story nor Minchin’s exhibition of brazen hypocrisy was worth mentioning on TV news up here in Q?

  19. leon knight

    Aaahh Klewso – you have to have some sympathy for the ABC journos, walking on eggshells to avoid LNP malevolence manifesting itself in funding cuts revenge….you know they would love to tell the whole truth as they see it, but fair reporting will always expose unbelievable LNP stupidity in a manner that appears “left-biased”.

  20. drmick

    I really hate someone pis$ing in my pocket and telling me it is raining.
    Now, we could be eating chemically prepared artificially coloured, genetically modified toxic waste, that has been strained through fracking affected hanging swamps; that are supposed to be the generators of the “asian food-bowl”, & could also double as fuel for a nuclear reactor.
    “Look, it is unfair to have duopoly have to spend all that money just to let the great unwashed know what they already suspected.” What about poor Cadburys? How would they afford this terrible impost?

  21. Liamj

    Paging Oz media – are there any journo’s & outlets willing to publish the links between the obviously grubby Furnival/Australian Public Affairs, the Food & Grocery Council & its member ‘household’ brands?

    How much has eg. Kraft or Nestle kicked in to help smother the website, a govt effort to reduce obesity, diabetes & heart disease mega-deaths?
    But then those corporations are huge advertisers, perhaps all our media is as bought as the LNP.
    [revised to try & get thru moderation]

  22. klewso

    Is Kate Carnell in there somewhere?

  23. Andybob

    Apart from the eyesight difficulties Fiona Nash has in recognising a conflict of interest at point blank range the whole affair illustrates the degree to which the public service is completely politicised. Ministerial staff riding roughshod over departmental officers and petty revenge being wreaked on any who proffer free and frank advice.

  24. klewso

    “Beware : This government may contain traces of nuts”

  25. MJPC

    Who said they got rid of the healthy eating website?
    They have privatised it.
    McDonalds are advertising you can go online and ask them any questions about their food, such as why, in the US, do they source beef from Brazil in areas of intense de-forestation of the Amazon and why (in Australia) they have the audacity to sell fries which would out about $22kgs, get the growers get nowhere near that amoount for their raw materials.

  26. Observation

    Maybe we need a royal commission into CEO and board member performance/decisions and NLP policy with lobby groups and their ties with corporations. Shine a bright light into the dark corners to expose the corruption, to quote the rAbbott.


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