Fiona Nash, Alastair Furnival and a sea of contradictions

Tony Abbott and Alastair Furnival at Cadbury Factory. Photo: Channel SevenLabor’s pursuit of conflict of interest allegations against the Assistant Health Minister has been a patchy faltering affair, at times brilliant, and at others, limp.

Senator Fiona Nash’s performance as the minister in the gun, has been consistently dismal, and yet strangely resolute.

Her approach, from what is an extremely weak position, has been orthodox tuck ‘n roll politics, no doubt urged on her by a nervous prime ministerial office eager to keep their man out of it.

Protect, deflect, minimise. That’s the three stage process for ministers who stuff up and threaten the wider show, and particularly the prime minister.

Protect the PM, deflect any attempt to get at the detail, and minimise the governmental target at all times.

In question time, Mr Abbott kept up his part of the bargain, backing his minister’s decisions – for that read, her decision to cut her chief of staff Alastair Furnival adrift – and pledging his loyalty. For now anyway. Abbott, a dab hand at conflict-politics, showed how to minimise alright describing controversy as less than a storm in a tea-cup and even less than a “zephyr in a thimble”.

He must be really worried, quipped one onlooker.

And why not? There’s Nash’s multiple contradictions, and there’s the still unexplained role played by Furnival in securing a whopping $16 million for his client Cadbury. That threatens to bring Abbott right back into the fray if it turns out Furnival stitched up the Cadbury/coalition deal.

And there’s the subsequent but perhaps related decision to appoint Furnival to a plum post in control of critical elements of health policy and food policy in particular.

Nash is in a mess. She admits to knowing full-well about the commercial and personal interests of the man she appointed as her chief of staff but has no answer to why she told the Senate on February 11, that he had no such links. While she later corrected the record partially, she has no convincing explanation for her initial deception. Her reasoning was incomprehensible and would not last five seconds in any other court.

The government has still not explained how Furnival was employed and at whose behest. Now it is in a massive muddle as to why he was dismissed.

Abbott told parliament he was dilatory in divesting himself of the lobbying firm and thus had to go. End of story.

Nash, who denied any conflict of interest at all, cannot explain why he was let go but says his performance was perfect.

Labor veteran John Faulkner was incredulous? He did nothing wrong but you accepted his resignation, he asked, his tone revealing the sheer ridiculousness of the claim.

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