The former deputy premier of NSW, John Barilaro, has got into a heated debate with Labor MPs at an inquiry into his appointment to a plum $500,000 New York job.
There were angry raised voices on both sides over the timing of his resignation from the NSW Parliament and when a submission to change the appointment process for role were addressed by the Liberal-National cabinet.
Labor MPs suggested Mr Barilaro knew about former premier Gladys Berejiklian’s resignation in advance because he was interviewed by the ICAC in private on September 10, 2021.
Mr Barilaro said ‘I will absolutely refute that disgusting slur and accusation’.
He was then asked, ‘Which part of it is disgusting?’ and replied that ‘You’re making me out to be corrupt.’
Former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro is pictured leaving the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney, Wednesday, March 23, 2022
Addressing the submission to change the appointment process for the job he would eventually get, Labor’s Daniel said ‘It does look like that that cabinet submission was being put forward urgently because you knew that at some point (Ms Berejiklian) was likely to have to resign.
‘If we’re to believe your version of events, Mr Barilaro, we have to basically conclude that you’re one of the luckiest men in NSW politics.’
‘Actually, [I’m] the unluckiest man in NSW politics I’d argue, because of those series of events,’ Mr Barilaro replied.
‘I must be the most powerful man in NSW … to get a whole cabinet to approve something that they weren’t supportive of.’
He said he made the decision to retire on the first weekend of October 2021 after Ms Berejiklian resigned as the state premier.
‘As I said, if the events of (that day) didn’t occur, I would have stayed on for who knows how long … I had some of my colleagues, urging me not to retire,’ he said.
Greens MP Cate Faehrmann (pictured) is chairing an inquiry into former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro’s appointment to a plum $500,000 New York job
He added that he ‘made it clear on the day I resigned I just couldn’t do it anymore emotionally and mentally.’
Labor MP John Graham then referred to a document that Mr Barilaro served a court case in which he says he had already made a decision to retire.
The suggestion was that Mr Barilaro knew, while still in cabinet, that he was intending to leave the parliament but had not told his colleagues.
It was around the same time a submission to change the appointment process for the foreign trade roles were addressed by the Liberal-National cabinet.
A shouting match ensued in the inquiry which is being held in the NSW Parliament.
Mr Barilaro said is was always been his intention to resign and he was making that public.
His court statement did not specify a date – just that he would resign before the next election.
Award-winning Australian businesswoman Kimberley Cole (pictured) was drawn into the NSW New York trade job scandal
‘What you’re trying to say is that I was advocating to change these roles to benefit me now.
‘I was changing these roles based on leadership meetings based on the request of some MPs and ministers,’ Mr Barilaro said.
‘This wasn’t about a cabinet submission for me.’
Mr Barilaro opened the afternoon session of the inquiry by revealing that former premier Barry O’Farrell is the mysterious third referee in his job application.
Earlier, Mr Barilaro told the inquiry that he wished he had ‘never applied’ for the job.
Just before the inquiry broke for lunch, Mr Barilaro was resolute that he would not name the person, despite it already having emerged that his other two referees were senior public servant Gary Barnes and Australia’s US Ambassador Arthur Sinodinos.
John Barilaro’s opening statement to NSW Parliament inquiry into New York trade commissioner role
‘I refute any suggestion of wrongdoing. Refute the suggestion that I created the role for myself.
‘I refute any suggestions that I sought out any special treatment during the public service job process where an independent panel, on merit, put me forward as the preferred candidate.
‘We’ve heard from long term, professional senior public servants, that I was a credible and capable candidate that brought many attributes to fill this important role for the people of our great state.
‘For that, I had my credentials and application publicly derided and what is nothing less than an abuse of my privacy.
‘Let me make this clear. I applied for a public service job as a private citizen. Nothing excluded me in doing so.
‘I followed the exact same process that was afforded to others.
‘I went through several interviews, psychometric testing and police checks. I was offered a job. I accepted the job. I then withdrew from this job.
‘From that moment, I’ve enjoyed what can only be described as a personal hell, unfair and unjust.
‘I look forward today to stating my case to this committee.’
But after contacting Mr O’Farrell during the break, he was able to reveal his name when the inquiry resumed.
Mr Barilaro said Mr O’Farrell ‘was one of the reasons I got into politics. He inspired, he’s been a dear friend,’ he said.
‘I’ve been lucky enough in my life journey to have met some wonderful people.
‘Mr O’Farrell knew, and knows, my ability and capabilities. He’s been a supporter and a friend, and I asked him.’
In the morning session, Mr Barilaro said ‘If I knew what I know now I wish I had never had applied. If I knew what I knew now I wouldn’t have walked into that s**t show.’
Mr Barilaro said this was because ‘the trauma I have experienced in the past six to seven weeks is significant’.
He later said that in applying for the job, he ‘had no other information that every other candidate wouldn’t have had’.
‘I refute that I somehow used information not available to anyone else.’
There was a heated debate when Labor MPs pressed Mr Barilaro to name who the third referee in his application for the New York job was.
It had already emerged that his other two referees were Department of Regional NSW secretary Gary Barnes and Australia’s Ambassador to the United States Arthur Sinodinos.
Mr Mookhey said it was a lawful question.
‘You’re the person who got the job, your referee was highly influential… The final report that was signed makes it very clear that your referees were a very important consideration,’ he said.
Inquiry chair Cate Faehrmann told Mr Barilaro that he may be compelled to answer the question in the future.
He replied that he would ask the referee during the lunch break if that person is comfortable with being named.
Mr Mookhey asked if Mr Barnes, who Mr Barilaro had appointed to his position, was doing doing him a favour in return.
Mr Barilaro said that was ‘a slur on an a-political public servant’ who ‘is honest (and) trustworthy’.
In his opening statement, Mr Barilaro said the upper house inquiry is ‘an inquiry to clear my name’.
He said being a former MP did not take away his ‘fundamental right’ to a presumption of innocence.
‘I refute any suggestions that I sought out any special treatment during the public service job process where an independent panel, on merit, put me forward as the preferred candidate,’ he said.
Mr Barilaro said he had ‘endured what can only be described as a personal hell, unfair and unjust’ over the scandal that has also dragged in three high-flying female executives.
A senior public servant was initially promised the elite level trade job in New York before it was given to Mr Barilaro.
He told the inquiry on Monday that became interested in the New York job last November, after he had announced he would resign from parliament but before he left.
Mr Barilaro said he mentioned his interest in the position to NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet in a ‘passing comment’ in late November.
‘He was checking in on me, and on one of those occasions I flagged [it]… I said that I’d be interested. He had nothing more to say than “go for it”.’
Mr Barilaro said he was not aware that the New York job was vacant at the time. ‘I just flagged the option, and the idea, of a trade role.’
The scandal surrounding the appointment of Mr Barilaro to a New York trade role dragged in three high-flying female executives and destroyed a friendship between two of them.
Shadow Treasurer Daniel Mookhey MLC (pictured) asks questions during the inquiry into the appointment of John Barilaro as Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner to the Americas at NSW Parliament House in Sydney
The public servant in charge of hiring for the job, Investment NSW executive Amy Brown, told a parliamentary inquiry looking into the recruitment process on that the experience had been a ‘confusing’ and ‘disheartening’ one.
The political drama has also drawn in highly accomplished businesswoman Kimberley Cole and former NSW Investment executive Jenny West, once a friend of Ms Brown’s.
Both lost out to former NSW deputy premier Mr Barilaro for the New York role even after Ms West received a text, complete with champagne and Statue of Liberty emojis, from Ms Brown that she had job before seeing it ripped away in 2021.
The job was readvertised this year and Ms Cole was the preferred candidate after interviews but failed to impress then trade minister Stuart Ayres after being given just 12 minutes to chat with him over video link.
The job eventually went to Mr Barilaro, who signed a contact in June but stepped down last month after public outcry.
He said he did not know that Jenny West was the successful candidate in the first recruitment round last year.
Former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro gives evidence during the inquiry into his appointment as Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner to the Americas at NSW Parliament House in Sydney on Monday, August 8, 2022
‘I didn’t know that Jenny West was… offered the job. I only found that out during these proceedings,’ he said.
Mr Barilaro was asked why he signed a brief identifying Ms West as the successful candidate.
“That has a digital signature on it, it hasn’t got my personal signature on it,’ he said.
‘I wouldn’t say that, under oath, if I didn’t believe it to be the case.’
He said he was ‘a big fan of’ Ms West. ‘I’m going to make this absolute clear in this forum.
‘She was a strong professional, a fantastic public servant and someone that did a fantastic job for me in that role.’
The now abandoned Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner to the Americas job has seen two months of negative headlines for the NSW Liberal-National Coalition government and has already cost one minister his job.
Amy Brown (pictured) outlined the processes that saw two high-flying women passed over for trade role that eventually went to former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro
Mr Ayres, the former deputy Liberal leader, resigned last Wednesday after a draft review into the scandal found he may have breached the ministerial code of conduct.
Speaking at a lengthy press conference last week, a stressed-looking NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said Mr Ayres’ ‘intention to resign follows a briefing I received from the Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary yesterday afternoon’.
‘I subsequently discussed the issues raised in that briefing with Mr Ayres,’ said Mr Perrottet.
He added that the draft report ‘raised a concern as to whether Mr Ayres had complied with the ministerial code of conduct’.
‘When I put these matters to Mr Ayres, he offered his resignation from the ministry and as deputy leader Parliamentary Liberal Party,’ Mr Perrottet said.
‘An investigation will now be undertaken to determine if Mr Ayres has breached the ministerial code of conduct.’
Former Investment NSW senior executive Jenny West (pictured) told the inquiry in July that Ms Brown said the New York trade job was a ‘present for someone’, which Ms Brown denies
The Premier hinted that Mr Ayres had little choice but to resign, saying ‘very simply, I based my decision making on the information that I received’.
Mr Barilaro said he ‘genuinely believed’ that Mr Ayres had done nothing to help him.
‘I don’t believe he was going to bat for me and I think he’s been quite public about that,’ he said.
Mr Ayres was the second NSW ministerial casualty in just four days.
Mr Perrottet sacked NSW Fair Trading Minister Eleni Petinos over bullying allegations.
Ms Petinos was accused of calling a staff member ‘ret**ded’ and ‘stupid’, allegations she strenuously denied.
In a dreadful couple of months for the Liberal-National Coalition, the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption also found former minister John Sidoti engaged in ‘serious corrupt conduct’ over family-owned properties.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet (pictured) is under pressure following an alleged ‘jobs for the boys’ scandal
And Kiama MP Gareth Ward resigned from the ministry and moved to the crossbench due to a police investigation into him.
In March, Ward was charged over allegations of sexual abuse against a man and a 17-year-old boy.
The appointment of the former NSW deputy premier and Nationals leader Mr Barilaro to a US trade job earlier this year has been an escalating scandal for the government.
Mr Barilaro and his new partner were filmed lunging at camera crews after being confronted outside a bar on Sydney’s northern beaches late last month, in a sign the pressure of the situation may have been getting to him.
He was locked in a scuffle with two cameramen after he was confronted during a night out, with police now investigating the very public row.