6 February 2023

"All the hallmarks of a 'jobs for the boys' appointment": Inquiry delivers interim report into Barilaro's trade role

| Claire Fenwicke
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John Barilaro

John Barilaro facing the parliamentary inquiry into how he received the STIC Americas appointment on 8 August 2022. Image: Screenshot.

A “sorry saga” with “all the hallmarks of a ‘jobs for the boys’ appointment”: that’s the scathing report delivered by a NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into John Barliaro’s appointment to a top trade position shortly after his retirement from politics.

The inquiry was launched in June last year, with the Opposition at the time calling his appointment as a Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner (STIC) to the Americas “one of the murkiest” it had seen.

The interim report made several findings, including that former Deputy Premier Mr Barliaro’s proposal to convert the STIC appointments to ministerial appointments was “brought without a reasonable basis” and “pursued with unnecessary haste” and that this created the STIC Americas vacancy, which he then applied for, and that former Trade Minister Stuart Ayres’ discussions with Mr Barliaro showed “poor judgement” and were “inappropriate”.

Committee chair and Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann said the interim report showed the “lack of transparency and integrity” in how this public sector recruitment process was conducted.

“Despite assurances from senior public servants and ministers that the appointment process was conducted by the public service under a merit-based process, it is clear that the process was flawed and that the Executive was not at arm’s length from the process,” she said.

“The interference of former Minister for Trade Stuart Ayres, the numerous denials about his involvement and the lack of transparency surrounding the process have all the hallmarks of a ‘job for the boys’ appointment.

“This whole sorry saga has shaken the public’s confidence in the integrity of Public Service recruitment.”

She said not only had the inquiry uncovered how a preferred candidate was selected and offered the position before Mr Barliaro, but that there were “many ‘intersection points'” between a senior public servant and the then Trade Minister Stuart Ayres, which she described as “all highly inappropriate and unacceptable”.

“The committee found that when it comes to the Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner recruitment processes, there was a pattern of Ministerial interference and lack of transparency conducted by the government,” Ms Faehrmann said.

Mr Ayres was previously accused of having “his fingerprints all over this [process]” after documents suggested reports were altered so Mr Barliaro could receive the position.

Ms Faehrmann said while the committee had found Mr Ayres had misled the public, the NSW Legislative Assembly would need to decide whether he had also misled the Parliament.

“Stuart Ayres was quick off the mark in telling the public, via a statement to Parliament, that everything was above board regarding the process used to appoint John Barilaro to the New York trade role. This inquiry proved those statements false,” she said.

“The committee now leaves it to the Legislative Assembly to determine whether Minister Ayers misled the Parliament when he made those statements.”

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However, committee members Wes Fang (Nationals MLC) and Liberal MLCs Scott Farlow and Peter Poulos issued a dissenting statement to the interim report, labelling it “nothing short of a politically motivated hit job in the lead-up to an election”.

“Everything contained within this report should be seen through that lens,” their statement read.

They noted the appointment had been subject to two independent inquiries.

The Graeme Head inquiry looked into the STIC Americas appointment process’ ethical framework and found it did not meet the public’s expectations for the process to have been merit-based.

While a separate inquiry into whether Mr Ayres breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct found he had complied with his obligations.

The three MLC’s statement said the findings, particularly around Mr Ayres, had been “ignored” in “an attempt to score political points” and recommended its findings be “rejected”.

“This was not the ‘jobs for the boys’ appointment that has been alleged by this partisan report,” the dissenting statement said.

“Panel members asserted, while the process was imperfect, Mr Barilaro was appointed by a competitive GSE selection process, which was endorsed by all panel members.”

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There were 12 public hearings where witnesses were grilled for the inquiry, including recruitment panel member and former Investment CEO Amy Brown and Mr Barilaro’s former Chief of Staff Mark Connell, who claimed his boss said, “this is the job for when I get the f*** out of this place” at the time.

Mr Barilaro fronted the inquiry for several hours – calling himself the “unluckiest man in NSW” – before pulling out of further questioning for mental health reasons.

Some evidence has also been referred to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

The issue will continue to be investigated, particularly the Agent General appointment process, in the final report.

Mr Barliaro withdrew from the STIC Americas post last year, with the position on hold due to the inquiry.

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Charges of assault and malicious damage against Mr Barliaro were also dismissed on mental health grounds.

The order was made at the Sydney Downing Centre local court on Friday (3 February).

Mr Barilaro previously entered not guilty pleas to both charges.

Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on Riotact.

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Keep them honest7:26 am 08 Feb 23

A couple of things, When are politicians going to be treated the same as the General public? Ie. It seems they don’t have to abide by the same law as the general public. They are in a position of power , trust and even tote themselves as honorable yet rarely do they live upto that label, we rightfully expect more from them. Who is it in our current system that takes responsibility (if not the politicians and ministers themselves) for ensuring ethical, unselfish, honest, Genuine behaviour by our representatives? Who is it that actually has the power to enforce lawful action against those Representatives, Ministers that are abusing there position and acting in self interest? As it seems there is no real accountability.

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