ICAC finding does not erase shameful episode of public governance

As the end of another chapter of NSW state politics looms, the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s finding that there was nothing to see in the shameful shenanigans that went on behind the scenes during manoeuvring to install the former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro as the New York trade commissioner induces a mawkish sense of deja vu.

John Barilaro giving evidence during the inquiry into his appointment as Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner to the Americas.

Kate Geraghty

NSW is suddenly back to 2011, when cascading scandals about integrity, honesty and decency swamped Kristina Keneally’s doomed attempt to save Labor. Twelve years later, Dominic Perrottet’s government is weighed down by the ongoing scandal over our man not in New York.

Barilaro, who was also leader of the NSW Nationals, was appointed to the plum $500,000-a-year role in early 2021 after senior public servant Jenny West had been offered the job – the first woman to ever be considered. However, it turns out her “verbal” offer was rescinded by Investment NSW before Barilaro later applied and was appointed months after his resignation from politics.

Questions were raised about the propriety of the appointment. West told a subsequent Labor-led upper house inquiry she was told the job was being turned into a political appointment and would be a “present for someone”. The inquiry heard that about the time the job offer was revoked, Barilaro took the unusual step of asking a staffer to fast-track a submission to cabinet to turn the position into a political appointment. The submission was lodged on September 17 and considered by the cabinet on September 27, not long before Barilaro resigned from parliament. It was an unusually fast turnaround.

Subsequently, the parliamentary inquiry found Barilaro’s appointment had “all the trademarks of a ‘job for the boys’ position”. Further, it also found that former NSW trade minister Stuart Ayres showed inappropriate and poor judgment in discussing the role with Barilaro and former department secretary Amy Brown, and he did not remain at arm’s length during the recruitment.

“It is a matter for the Legislative Assembly as to whether former minister Ayres misled the parliament,” the report said. Perrottet said he would pay no regard to the findings of “a political committee”.

“I instigated an independent review by a former inspector of the ICAC, who cleared Ayres of any wrongdoing,” he said.

And now ICAC has found no evidence of corrupt conduct in the public service recruitment of Barilaro. A seven-month investigation by the NSW corruption watchdog has closed following compulsory secret interviews and examination of documents. The ICAC considered whether Barilaro, Ayres, Brown or any other public official breached public trust, exercised their official functions dishonestly or partially, or adversely affected the honest or impartial exercise of official functions by any public official in recruiting Barilaro.

“The investigation did not identify any evidence of corrupt conduct. As a result, the commission has discontinued its investigation,” the ICAC said. “The commission does not propose taking any further action with respect to the matter.”

So, nothing to see here then, please move on. But the dumped public servant, Jenny West, is not budging: She is suing Barilaro, the bureaucrat who appointed him, Ayres and the NSW government in the NSW Supreme Court alleging malfeasance – misuse of power by public officials – and breach of contract.

The believes Perrottet is a good premier, but his handling of the Barilaro crisis, together with ham-fisted reaction to the ongoing issues surrounding his brother Jean-Claude Perrottet and branch stacking allegations, have undermined his authority, especially as he attempts to portray himself as a safe pair of hands to steer the ship of state.

But the New York job is undeniably a shameful episode in sound public governance. NSW voters can be expected to mark the government down for hubris and self-inflicted wounds.

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

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