Photo: Bianca de Marchi/AAP
s The appointment of former NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro to a business post in New York followed a “flawed” process that showed “all the hallmarks of a ‘boys’ job'” position, found a parliamentary inquiry.
An interim report released Monday also found that former trade minister Stuart Ayres, who resigned from the cabinet during the saga, “displayed poor judgment and was inappropriate” in his dealings with Barilaro in the run-up to the appointment.
Related: The John Barilaro Factor: Former NSW Deputy Premier takes center stage in state campaign
Months after Barilaro’s appointment as senior trade commissioner caused a firestorm of controversy on Macquarie Street, the cross-party Parliamentary inquiry issued a scathing assessment of the process that led to his being awarded the $500,000-a-year job.
“Despite assurances from senior public officials and ministers that the appointment process was carried out by the public service according to a process based on merit, it is clear that the process was flawed and that the Executive was not outside the process” said the president of the investigation. Green MP Cate Faehrmann said in the report.
The saga gripped the government for months last year after Guardian Australia revelations that Barilaro’s job had first been offered to senior businesswoman and former civil servant Jenny West.
The verbal offer from the agency in charge of carrying out the position, Investment NSW, was withdrawn a month later.
Ayres left cabinet after a separate report commissioned by NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet raised concerns that he may have breached the state’s ministerial code of conduct by having “information” about shortlisted candidates during the recruitment process. That report, by former New South Wales public service commissioner Graeme Head, found that the appointment had not been made at arm’s length with the government.
Ayres was later cleared of any wrongdoing related to the saga in another report, paving the way for his return to cabinet should the Coalition return to government in the March election.
After the report was released Monday, Perrottet took aim at the investigation, calling it a “political committee.”
“Labor focus on politics, I focus on fixing the problems,” he said.
“This is a political committee. That is what it is. I, in my role as Prime Minister, promoted an independent review [by the] former ICAC inspector [Bruce McClintock SC] who cleared Mr. Ayres of any wrongdoing. I am going to listen to a former independent inspector of the Icac that I work and the Greens in a political committee ”.
Despite previously admitting that Barilaro’s appointment was not remote from the government, Perrottet tried to dismiss those concerns on Monday.
“It is very clear in the report of the former Icac inspector… that was dealt with by the former Icac inspector, they can play politics, I am focused on fixing the problems,” he said.
But the parliamentary inquiry, which was made up of a majority of Green, Labor and Crusader MPs, pointed to his involvement in the saga, saying his dealings with Barilaro “showed a lack of judgement” and were “inappropriate”.
It found that Ayres was “not at arm’s length during the recruitment process” for the post, and that he had “misled the public” by telling parliament that Barilaro’s appointment to the post had been made entirely by the public service.
Faehrmann said the investigation had found “a lack of transparency and integrity in the way a public sector recruitment process was conducted.”
“The investigation also revealed the many ‘intersecting points’ between a senior civil servant and the then trade minister, Mr Stuart Ayres MP, which were highly inappropriate and unacceptable,” he wrote.
“The committee found that when it comes to the hiring processes for the Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner, there was a pattern of ministerial interference and a lack of transparency from the government.”
Ayres and Barilaro have consistently denied wrongdoing in the appointment process, and Monday’s report included a dissenting statement by lawmakers from the Inquiry Coalition that dismissed the findings.
Shadow Labor Party treasurer Daniel Mookhey, who sat on the committee and spent hours grilling public servants about the appointments during the inquiry, said the saga would “live in infamy as one of the most notorious works for the scandal of the children that New South Wales has had”. seen”.
“There are two people who are responsible for this debacle: John Barilaro and Stuart Ayres,” he said. “The contact between the two was inappropriate. He showed poor judgment and it never should have happened.”
He also criticized Perrottet for dismissing the findings, accusing the prime minister of “spending more time defending Stuart Ayres rather than holding him accountable for what he did.”
In a statement, Ayres also took aim at the investigation’s findings, calling them a “poor attempt at political smear” and “politically motivated.”
“At no time did I directly or indirectly encourage the public service to appoint Mr. Barilaro,” he said.
“That decision was made independently of me as a minister. To suggest anything else is clearly false.”
Barilaro has been contacted for comment.