Barilaro interfered in UK agent-general appointment, inquiry finds

John Barilaro inappropriately interfered with the appointment of the state’s UK agent-general when he was deputy premier, personally soliciting Stephen Cartwright for the lucrative role that resulted in a poor financial outcome for NSW.

An upper house inquiry made the damning findings in its final report examining the recruitment of NSW senior trade and investment commissioners, condemning the process as flawed.

John Barilaro at the inquiry into his trade commissioner appointment in August.

Kate Geraghty

The opposition and crossbench-led probe described a lack of integrity and transparency, and found ministers had an inappropriate influence over at least two trade positions, including that of Cartwright, the former head of the Business NSW lobby group.

The inquiry last year was triggered by Barilaro’s own recruitment in June to a plum New York role, from which he was forced to withdraw amid public scrutiny and backlash from his former colleagues.

NSW Labor has vowed to axe the controversial overseas postings if it wins next month’s state election.

The report, which follows an eight-month inquiry, found Barilaro inappropriately interfered in the process to secure Cartwright’s appointment in 2021.

Cartwright’s salary negotiations did not meet public sector expectations, the report said, finding that he “repeatedly and inappropriately applied pressure” to senior public servants for his own benefit.

Agent-General Stephen Cartwright has given evidence to the parliamentary inquiry.

NSW Parliament

“It was wrong that the Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade agreed to adjust Mr Cartwright’s remuneration which resulted in a poor financial outcome for the state of NSW,” the committee found.

The report also claimed that the upper house investigation was impeded by Premier Dominic Perrottet’s refusal to assist the parliamentary probe, which he has dismissed as a Labor “smear campaign.”

It follows a searing interim review from the committee earlier this month finding Barilaro benefited from a “jobs for the boys” appointment in his own recruitment for the US, which was not conducted at arm’s length from government.

Ministers were to play no role in the recruitment of candidates for trade commissioners roles as they were public sector decisions. Despite this, appointments were “endorsed” by cabinet, the inquiry found.

Fronting the committee last year, Barilaro rejected any suggestion of wrongdoing in relation to his US appointment, arguing that he was “the victim … not the perpetrator” in the saga.

“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 in August.

While the inquiry was launched to examine Barilaro’s recruitment, it was soon expanded to consider Cartwright’s appointment to the UK role.

The inquiry last year heard Cartwright met Barilaro twice in two days before Cartwright was added as a late entry and selected over front-running candidate Paul Webster.

Evidence to the inquiry revealed that Cartwright had lower scores than other candidates and expected an $800,000 salary. He ultimately negotiated a $600,000 package – higher than that of any other trade commissioner.

The committee has recommended that the secretary of the department investigate whether Cartwright has abided by the code of conduct.

Fronting the inquiry in November, Cartwright said Barilaro first raised the agent-general job with him over coffee. After confirming his interest in the role, Cartwright said Barilaro indicated he would inform the external recruiter but would have no further involvement.

Barilaro did not respond to a request for comment. A DEIT spokeswoman said the department was reviewing the committee’s findings and its recommendation.

Perrottet on Monday said the report was “typical of Labor in the upper house playing war games”.

“This is the old way of politics, smear campaigns and political games … People are sick of that,” he said.

Upper house Nationals MP Wes Fang, who represented the government on the inquiry, said it had been “nothing more than the state’s most expensive fishing expedition.”

“[Labor and the crossbench] used their combined numbers on the inquiry to drag this committee further down the rabbit hole,” he said.

Fang said two separate, independent investigations – by former public service commissioner Graeme Head and by high-profile barrister Bruce McClintock, SC – had made “no adverse findings against Barilaro”.

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