Inquiry into John Barilaro’s plum $500K-a-year trade posting begins

Catie McLeodNCA NewsWire
The first of two inquiries into John Barilaro’s controversial trade posting has begun. NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard
Camera IconThe first of two inquiries into John Barilaro’s controversial trade posting has begun. NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard Credit: News Corp Australia

The successful female candidate for a $500,000-a-year trade posting had her “verbal offer” rescinded before the plum job eventually went to John Barilaro, an inquiry has heard.

The inquiry was told businesswoman and former Investment NSW deputy secretary Jenny West was “extremely upset” to have her offer taken back, following instructions from Mr Barilaro’s office.

The revelations came on Wednesday during the first day of hearings examining the former NSW deputy premier’s appointment to the lucrative New York-based NSW trade commissioner to the Americas post.

Camera IconJohn Barilaro’s appointment to the plum position is the subject of considerable controversy. NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard Credit: News Corp Australia

The upper house inquiry is the first of two probes into Mr Barilaro’s appointment to one of five global trade commissioner roles which he created while he was trade minister.

His appointment has stirred widespread controversy since it was announced last week, months after Mr Barilaro quit politics.

Investment NSW chief executive Amy Brown, the bureaucrat in charge of recruiting for the position, was the first person called to give evidence at the upper house inquiry on Wednesday.

Ms Brown said she was instructed by Mr Barilaro’s office to “unwind” the recruitment process towards the end of September.

Ms Brown said the government had said it wanted to change the way trade commissioners were chosen – to make them ministerial appointments rather than public service appointments.

“I was given a direction by government to cease the recruitment, due to a change in government policy to convert the roles into statutory officers appointed by a minister,” she said.

She said Jenny West, whom she described as a “great candidate”, had her offer withdrawn on October 1.

Mr Barilaro announced his plans to resign from parliament three days later.

A decision was made not to proceed with the ministerial appointment plan after Mr Barilaro was replaced in the trade portfolio by Stuart Ayres, Ms Brown told the inquiry.

Investment NSW readvertised the New York position. Mr Barilaro applied and was deemed the preferred candidate out of 12 applicants.

NSW Labor frontbencher Daniel Mookhey asked Ms Brown why she didn’t simply re-offer the position to Ms West, rather than run a second recruitment process.

Ms Brown said that was a “very good question”. She explained by saying she thought the relationship between Ms West and the government had deteriorated beyond repair.

“The news was delivered on the first of October; she was extremely upset about that, understandably so,” Ms Brown said.

“To me, the fact we couldn’t appoint anyone for some period of time and the fact she was very unhappy with the arrangements and government, the whole situation felt quite irreconcilable.

“The relationship declined quite quickly once she was informed that she may not be going to New York, so by the end of the first process I’d formed the view there was no suitable candidate.”

Ms Brown told the inquiry that negotiations for the three-year trade posting began on May 23, right after Mr Barilaro was verbally offered the job.

Ms Brown began Wednesday’s hearing with a statement about her commitment to the public service, in which she said she thought Mr Barilaro’s appointment was above board.

Mr Barilaro is due to start in the role on July 12.

The upper house inquiry into his appointment continues.

Originally published as Inquiry into John Barilaro’s plum $500K-a-year trade posting begins

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