NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet will come under more pressure over the controversial appointment of John Barilaro as US trade commissioner after he admitted two similar positions were mistakenly reviewed by cabinet.
In an admission that will further inflame the controversy over the former deputy premier’s appointment, Perrottet conceded two senior trade postings incorrectly went to cabinet: the newly resurrected agent-general position in London and the Tokyo trade role.
Perrottet insists it happened in error and the mistake was not repeated when Barilaro was appointed to the plum $500,000-a-year trade role in New York, which the former deputy premier created when he was trade minister.
As the controversy overshadowed the government’s efforts to sell its cash-splash budget, Perrottet earlier on Thursday announced he had directed the secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet Michael Coutts-Trotter into Barilaro’s appointment.
The review, which the premier vowed to make public, could give Perrottet the option to jettison the appointment, depending on what it uncovers. Perrottet has said he thinks Barilaro will do a brilliant job as trade commissioner.
Under repeated questioning from Labor in question time on Thursday, the premier told parliament he had received advice from the government’s legal counsel that there are six appointments, and there were two appointments that were submitted to cabinet.
The advice I’ve received is that was submitted to cabinet in error and the correct process was followed in relation to the subsequent four appointments, Perrottet said.
Opposition Leader Chris Minns called the Barilaro appointment a farce, and said if he took up the New York posting a NSW Labor government would call him back from the US after the 2023 election.
We’re expected to believe that a global search took place … and the bloke they picked was the guy they sat next to for the past four years, and just happened to be the [former] leader of the National Party, Minns said.
Minutes before revealing the trade appointments did go to cabinet, Perrottet told parliament that exposing the roles to that very process could have raised compliance risks.
It’s not necessary or appropriate for such appointments to be approved by cabinet given the positions are senior public service executive positions appointed by the CEO following a merit recruitment process, he said. The cabinet . . . could not intervene in that process.
Barilaro, the former NSW Nationals leader, had advocated for the six senior trade positions to be cabinet appointments, but he was blocked by his ministerial colleagues who thought the roles should be handled by public servants.
Liberal ministers and backbenchers have been incensed that Barilaro was appointed to the job six months after he quit state politics. Barilaro announced his decision to leave parliament on October 4, just three days after then-premier Gladys Berejiklian’s spectacular fall.
Perrottet has and maintained it was a senior public servant, Investment NSW CEO Amy Brown, who was responsible for appointing Barilaro.
Brown reported to Barilaro when he was trade minister.
As well as the review ordered by Perrottet, the upper house will start a public inquiry next week into the processes around the Barilaro’s appointment. It has also moved to block him taking up the role in New York until the inquiry has handed down its report.
A 2021 selection panel, and a final candidate was chosen, although no formal offer was made. Instead, applications were reopened in December and Barilaro applied.
A former senior member of Investment NSW, who is not authorised to speak publicly, said staff across the agency at the time were advised that Investment NSW deputy secretary Jenny West was the preferred candidate.
They said senior directors at Investment NSW were told in March last year that West was going to be appointed to the trade commissioner role.
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