“These candidates could be anyone and everyone and there is a mix of candidates in all fields and we will have more to say on that, but they are confidential in these conversations, they are confidential in the nature of these conversations and we will have more to say.
Barilaro’s response further stoked Labor’s suspicions. The party did not relish a by-election in McKay’s fringe Strathfield seat, and was equally convinced that the Coalition had its sights set on it. Senior MPs and staffers have started digging into business jobs, worrying new Labor leader Chris Minns. Minns could not see the advantage of NSW having such roles.
A month after Berejiklian’s shock resignation, new prime minister Dominic Perrottet was also pressed on McKay’s possible appointment: “Are you considering appointing Jodi McKay as a trade envoy? No, he replied before adding: “There are always discussions, and for my part, I believe that former MPs make good ambassadors and trade commissioners.
“I think it’s a role that politicians, as unpopular as it may seem, it’s a job that I think is well suited to former politicians and people who have provided years of service in public life should definitely be in the mix. But as far as these appointments are concerned, they have not been presented to the cabinet.
After a late Friday afternoon announcement in June this year, which revealed that Barilaro had taken up the post of trade commissioner in New York, Minns was in his constituency of Kogarah with Mookhey for a press conference on the budget.
Minns told Mookhey that voters approached him uninvited at his street stall to raise Barilaro’s nomination, which was reported in the media that day. The duo quickly decided that this was a file that needed to be pursued rigorously.
Within 24 hours, Mookhey and Labor leader in the upper house, Penny Sharpe, had referred the matter to the Public Accountability Standing Committee, which has a non-government majority, for investigation. Two other Labor frontbenchers have been recruited to question the trade nomination, John Graham and Courtney Houssos. Green MP Cate Faehrmann chairs the inquiry.
“We reviewed those documents,” Mookhey said of the papers already in his possession. “We saw references to a mysterious ‘preferred’ candidate at the bottom of some email chains from August last year. Yet by December, mention of this mystery candidate had all but disappeared. These are the documents that revealed that senior bureaucrat Jenny West had already been offered the job that Barilaro eventually got. Others also revealed that Barilaro, in fact, requested that McKay (and former Liberal cabinet minister Pru Goward) be interviewed for a business role.
Mookhey, who has also pursued other problematic issues for the government (and Perrottet) such as the massive underpayment of injured workers revealed in the Icarus scandal, admits the opposition fell on the trade appointments saga.
The first witness called by the inquest was the bureaucrat responsible for Barilaro’s appointment, Amy Brown, managing director of Investment NSW. A parade of witnesses followed, including Jenny West – who was offered the New York role only for that offer to be rescinded – and Civil Service Commissioner Kathrina Lo, who was an independent member of Barilaro’s selection committee. . Barilaro was also called.
The evidence was extremely damning for the government, although Perrottet dismissed the investigation as merely a political success.
A senior minister said the civil service commissioner was supposed to be a ‘friendly witness’ for the government. However, the experienced civil servant delivered a startling assessment of the process that saw Barilaro’s appointment, with Lo saying she would never have signed a final selection report if she knew then what she knows now.
Brown also admitted that despite his denials, Ayres was not “distanced” from the process, despite his insistence he had no role. West, in his testimony, claimed he was told the job in New York would be a “gift for someone.”
A senior NSW Labor source said the opposition had forensically examined all documents, pursued inquest questions and created a slow-burning scandal for the government. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the investigation was a “dress rehearsal” for the government.
“We have the best team in the park for this and Daniel Mookhey is becoming the Macquarie Street version of John Faulkner as chief interrogator,” the source said.
However, coalition committee member National MP Wes Fang is scathing about the investigation. He says he was designed to destroy Barilaro and found no wrongdoing.
“This is politically successful work in circumstances where the opposition and other MPs have the sheer number of committee members using what should be extraordinary powers of parliament to politically assassinate John Barilaro,” Fang said. . “This is not an impartial committee, there was no procedural fairness with this investigation.”
Barilaro was due to appear at the inquest for the second time on Friday, but canceled due to poor mental health. Her friend, Mental Health Minister Bronnie Taylor, said Barilaro was not treated fairly by the inquiry, which took three weeks to call her to give evidence.
“This constant, constant attention on him. He waited three weeks until he was able to give his side of a story during an inquest. I’m telling you and I’m telling anyone out there, how would that make you feel and how do you think you’d deal with it? Taylor said Friday.
Taylor praised Barilaro for always being “very open” about his own struggles. “So I say respectfully to everyone that he’s been very honest and very open, and he’s made his point. He deserves a proper process. He deserves independence. [and] respectful behavior,” she said.
Barilaro will still have to appear before the inquest, however, once he is well enough. Meanwhile, the Labor Party has uncovered more problems for the government in its trove of documents. Next in his sights is another potentially problematic business role, general agent in London, who will also be questioned by the survey. The saga has a long way to go.
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