Confronted with the news that Channel Seven was planning to run an unflattering story about organ donation rates, Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash took pre-emptive action.
The same day she received this information, her federal department informed the chairman of the Organ and Tissue Authority – television personality David Koch – that it would conduct a review into organ donation.
The following day, May 21, Ms Nash announced the review in a pre-recorded interview with Channel Seven.
Federal Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash expedited an announcement of a review to meet a television deadline. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Then, on May 26, Channel Seven aired two programs highly critical of reforms to the organ donation system, tempered by Ms Nash’s announcement of a review
The timeline of events surrounding the decision to establish a $212,000 review into organ and tissue donation, which prompted Koch’s dramatic on-air response, is revealed in answers to questions taken on notice at senate estimates and published on Friday.
Koch resigned during his presentation of Sunrise after learning the government planned to review the organ donation system without consulting the Organ and Tissue Authority, which had been set up to lift organ transplant rates.
David Koch resigned from the Organ and Tissue Authority’s advisory council on live television. Photo: Seven Network
“Get a backbone,” he told the minister on air.
“You didn’t even ring me as chairman of your advisory council to get my view or even tell me an inquiry was coming.”
Department of Health officials told senate estimates that they had initiated the review and confidentially informed Organ and Tissue Authority chief executive Yael Cass of their intention three weeks before Ms Nash announced it.
Ms Nash told the hearing in June there was ample justification for a review.
“We arrived at this point from my being aware and the department being aware that there was a range of views about how well Australia was going when it comes to organ donation and transplant from a number of stakeholders, ranging from very good to could do better,” Ms Nash said.
But Labor’s health spokeswoman Catherine King says the order of events indicates that Ms Nash rushed out the review after she discovered Channel Seven was planning the stories on its evening news and Today Tonight.
Ms Nash did not inform Donor Life Families, Transplant Australia or the states and territories that the review would take place until after she announced it in the news program.
Neither did it send the final terms of reference to the Organ and Tissue Authority.
“Organ donation is far too important an issue for this and the minister ought to treat it with the seriousness it deserves instead of playing political games to get herself a cheap headline,” Ms King said.
“Under Minister Nash’s watch, organ donation fell for the first time in five years, after significant, steady increases under Labor.
“Fiona Nash should be supporting the hard working staff dedicated to lifting organ donation rates, not seeking to undermine them in pursuing her own political agenda.”
A spokesman for Ms Nash said the department was already planning the review before Ms Nash became aware of Channel Seven’s interest in the story, although the impending program expedited her announcement.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said the department had been considering a review long before the Minister announced it and had engaged the minister on the topic.