Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash has been accused of misleading Parliament over her controversial intervention to remove a new healthy food rating website.
On Thursday night Labor senator Penny Wong said Senator Nash's explanation that she had removed the site in part because the state and territory food ministers had unanimously agreed it required a cost-benefit analysis was contradicted by official documents.
''On the face of the documents, including the communique from the meeting, this statement . . . is not true,'' Senator Wong said. ''The communique reveals the forum made no decision unanimously or otherwise.''
On Thursday night, Senator Nash issued a statement rejecting Senator Wong's allegations.
"The answers I provided to questions in the Senate today were absolutely correct," she said.
"The Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation, at its meeting of 13 December 2013, unanimously agreed to a broader cost-benefit analysis of the front of pack labelling to include evidence-based research and extensive industry consultations.
"A proposal for a regulatory impact statement was not agreed to by the forum."
Senator Wong's claims came after a torrid day in the Senate in which Senator Nash repeatedly refused to answer questions about when she or Prime Minister Tony Abbott were informed about a senior aide's shareholding in a company that lobbies for the junk food industry.
Senator Wong accused Senator Nash of hiding from the truth after she was asked several times to state the date she and the Prime Minister's office were informed about Alastair Furnival's shareholding in lobbying company Australian Public Affairs.
Senator Nash has come under heavy fire after she and Mr Furnival insisted the website be taken down. Senior government sources have confirmed the Prime Minister's office is in discussions with Senator Nash about Mr Furnival's position, however, the only person whose employment had changed since the scandal began is the bureaucrat in charge of the star rating program, Kathy Dennis.
On Thursday afternoon Senator Nash revealed Ms Dennis, the assistant secretary in the Healthy Living and Food Policy branch of the Department of Health, was also the official who had refused Mr Furnival's demand she take down the health star rating website.
Senator Wong said Senator Nash's claim that the Prime Minister's office was informed about Mr Furnival's shareholding in an ''appropriate'' time frame was ''dropping the Prime Minister's office in it. What is very clear through all of this is that a government that promised to be accountable and transparent . . . has been found this week to mislead the Australian people through the Senate,'' Senator Wong said.
Labor health spokeswoman Catherine King said Senator Nash should give a full ministerial statement about what had happened, and when.
But Senator Nash said she had corrected the record at the ''earliest opportunity'', and there was no conflict of interest to report.
''My chief of staff and his wife have shares in a family business,'' she said. ''My chief of staff is not involved in the operation of the business. The proper processes were followed in terms of the timing when I was provided advice.''
On Tuesday night Senator Nash admitted Mr Furnival owned the Australian Public Affairs shares, after earlier stating that he had ''no connection whatsoever'' with the junk food industry.
Asked in question time on Thursday why he had not taken action, Mr Abbott did not defend Mr Furnival. He said he would take the question on notice.
The director of Australian Public Affairs, and Mr Furnival's wife, Tracey Cain, said she had not made any representations on behalf of food industry clients since September.
In response to questions about Ms Dennis' reassignment, a spokeswoman said:
''It was decided that, as the ministerial food standards forum is a joint Commonwealth and state and territory committee, that the secretariat should report to a separate officer, other than the Commonwealth officer responsible for food issues.''
Fairfax Media understands the move is unusual, as the director of the healthy star program is now reporting to someone less senior than Ms Dennis, despite Ms Dennis still retaining control of food issues.
with Dan Harrison
The story Fiona Nash accused of misleading Parliament over food ratings website first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.