NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has moved to distance himself from the appointment of former Nationals leader John Barilaro to a $500,000-a-year trade role in New York, with the growing scandal overshadowing the Coalition’s budget pitch to voters.
Hours after the NSW upper house backed a motion calling on the government to block the posting , Perrottet shifted focus towards the senior public servant he said was ultimately responsible for the appointment, Amy Brown.
Brown reported to Barilaro when he was the deputy premier and minister in charge of the Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade.
Perrottet told parliament that the department was the final decision maker in two recruitment rounds for the US role.
The premier also revealed over Barilaro’s appointment and vowed to take action if needed.
He conceded he was not across the exact details as to how that process was finalised but insisted the recruitment process was independent.
I’m still unaware of what the substantive issue here is, Perrottet told reporters.
Liberal ministers and backbenchers remain angry that the job had been handed to the former deputy premier six months after he quit state politics and question why the decision did not go to cabinet for approval.
A 2021 selection panel for the New York posting, with claims one NSW bureaucrat was even offered the position before it was rescinded later that year.
The role was one of five global trade commissioner roles created by Barilaro when he was trade minister. According to government emails seen by the Herald, candidates for all commissioner roles must meet with the treasurer, deputy premier and premier, before being presented to cabinet.
Trade Minister Stuart Ayres said he had on April 30 called both Perrottet and Deputy Premier Paul Toole to inform them Barilaro had been recommended for the position.
Asked repeatedly if he discussed with the premier whether the matter should go to cabinet, Ayres replied: If we took these roles to cabinet you would be intervening in the actual process.
Ayres did discuss taking the matter to cabinet with Perrottet and Toole, but both felt it would undermine the independence of the process, the Herald has been told.
The only accusation that you can level is that I or any other minister didn’t intervene to prevent the appointment of Mr Barilaro following an independent open merit-based recruitment process that recommended a qualified, suitable candidate to represent our state, Ayres said.
Perrottet also said it was wrong to say Barilaro was a captain’s pick.
The Herald on Tuesday revealed the government for the job of US trade commissioner last May, but the role was ultimately readvertised and handed to Barilaro months after his resignation from parliament.
An Investment NSW spokesman said no formal offer was ever made, or contract issued, to any candidate as part of the round one recruitment phase.
However, 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 the deputy secretary of Investment NSW, Jenny West, was the preferred candidate.
She was in. There was no doubt Jenny West was told she was appointed. She had staff assist her in developing a US tech strategy so she could implement it [once in the role], the person said.
Senior directors at Investment NSW were told in March last year that West was going to be appointed to a US-based trade commissioner role.
Directors of the agency’s trade and international arm attended a meeting at government offices on York Street in Sydney last year in the weeks after Investment NSW was formed on March 21.
The offsite meeting was held to discuss the structure and benefit of Investment NSW and to consider a government-commissioned organisational design by consulting firm Deloitte.
Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council Penny Sharpe said Perrottet was attempting to crab walk away from the appointment.
Let’s be clear, the premier and his other ministers made the announcements about these positions. They’re very quick to trumpet them when they actually appoint them, Sharpe said.
There are so many questions to answer in relation to how the former deputy premier who had been the minister for trade ended up in this position.
The opposition has set up an urgent upper house inquiry into the appointment, and on Wednesday evening requested documents relating to the issue within two weeks via a parliamentary order.
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