20 July 2022

Barilaro Inquiry: Former Deputy Premier allegedly told senior staffer 'this is the job for when I get the f*** out of this place'

| Claire Fenwicke
Start the conversation
Mark Connell

John Barilaro’s former chief of staff Mark Connell. Photo: LinkedIn.

John Barilaro’s former chief of staff has submitted evidence to a parliamentary inquiry that Mr Barilaro returned from a 2019 meeting saying: “This is it; this is the job for when I get the f*** out of here”.

Mark Connell worked for Mr Barilaro from April 2017 to December 2019 and wrote a letter to the Public Accountability Committee investigating the process behind the former Deputy Premier’s appointment as Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner (STIC) to the Americas.

Mr Connell wrote he felt “compelled” to provide his memory of a conversation he had with Mr Barilaro in April 2019.

“I am unable to identify the precise date because I no longer have access to my diaries,” he said.

“However, I am confident it was the month of April 2019, as a meeting occurred for the relevant newly appointed Ministers responsible for trade and investment.”

READ ALSO Barilaro Inquiry: Senior lawyer rebuffs claims top candidate formally offered role

Mr Connell said the then-Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and then-Investment Minister Stuart Ayres were also in attendance.

Mr Connell alleged Mr Barilaro came to his office after the meeting.

“He said, ‘I’ve just come from a meeting with Dom and Stuart regarding trade and we’re going to bring back the Agent General in London as well as a bunch of other postings around the world’,” he recalled.

“He then stated, ‘This is it; this is the job for when I get the f*** out of this place.'”

Mr Connell pointed out the Agent General role would be filled “well before” Mr Barilaro retired from NSW Government.

He claimed Mr Barilaro responded: “I don’t want to go to London. F*** that, I’m off to New York.”

“I responded and stated, ‘our current office and staff are in California’,” Mr Connell said.

“Mr Barilaro responded and stated, ‘I’ll get them to put one in New York, that’s where I’m off too [sic].'”

Mr Connell called this an “isolated” discussion with Mr Barilaro about this matter. He said media reports Mr Barilaro had been appointed STIC to the Americas prompted his recollection of the discussion.

Mr Connell ceased working with Mr Barilaro in December 2019. He said it was “mutually agreed” due to Mr Barilaro “ceasing to take my advice and seeking outside counsel.”

Inquiry in the NSW Parliament

The Public Accountability Committee hearing into how John Barilaro was appointed Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner to the Americas. Image: Screenshot.

This came after the Public Accountability Committee held its third hearing on Tuesday (19 July) where they heard from Investment NSW General Counsel Chris Carr.

There Mr Carr revealed he had been asked to give advice on how to change all STIC roles from legislative or statutory appointments to ministerial appointments from as early as 2 July 2021.

“That is about seven weeks earlier than we previously knew,” Committee member and shadow treasurer Daniel Mookhey said.

The inquiry had previously heard from Investment NSW CEO Amy Brown that Mr Barilaro’s office had been seeking this information.

Mr Barilaro then went to Cabinet in September 2021 with a submission to change the process to ministerial appointments, which was successful. This led to the previous successful candidate for the STIC Americas role, Jenny West, having her verbal offer rescinded.

However, the change was never made, meaning the public service jobs remained legislative appointments. Mr Barilaro applied in the second round and was named the successful applicant on 17 June 2022. He has since resigned from the position.

Mr Mookhey said Mr Carr’s evidence was a “clear contradiction” of what Ms Brown said regarding who exactly was seeking legal advice to change how the positions were appointed.

“Equally, there are questions remaining about whether or not the Department [of Enterprise Trade and Investment] wrote the Cabinet submission or Minister Barilaro’s office wrote the submission, and whether or not Minister Barilaro ordered them to produce that submission in time for him to have it considered by Cabinet prior to his resignation,” he said.

READ ALSO Report calls out ‘jobs for mates culture’ in government appointments (and how to fix it)

Both Mr Mookhey and fellow committee member Legislative Council Opposition Leader Penny Sharpe also accused the NSW Government of deliberately failing to release documents to the Upper House, warning they were getting into “obstruction territory”.

“This raises further questions about whether or not the government is trying to cover up its own behaviour here,” Mr Mookhey said.

The government was meant to have released all documents related to this matter by 6 July.

Ms Sharpe said they were still missing information relating to the changes to the appointment process, the second round process which saw Mr Barilaro successfully receive the position, and the 2021 emails which informed Ms West that she had not received the job.

“What we’re also seeing is an attempt to put many of the documents under privilege, and the Opposition is being forced to go through privilege reviews to try and get those released,” she said.

“If there is nothing to hide in relation to this appointment, and if it was all done at arm’s length, and if it was all done through proper process, those documents should be provided.”

Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on Riotact.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.