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Bernard Keane

A series of unfortunate events — Barilaro, Petinos and a lucky NSW developer

Like ripples in a cesspool, the Barilaro scandal is now spreading across the NSW government, and reaching altogether more serious issues than jobs for mates.

One of the unambiguous successes of the Coalition government in NSW has been the appointment of David Chandler as building commissioner. After a slew of frightening examples of major apartment complexes found to contain major flaws or even be unfit for habitation, and developers and builders dodging responsibility as owners faced dislocation and million-dollar bills, the Berejiklian government belatedly responded with tougher laws and a building commissioner, in Chandler, who was prepared to put the fear of God into the industry.

Chandler suddenly quit last month — with speculation he had a strained relationship with his portfolio minister, Eleni Petinos. Petinos, of course, was sacked a fortnight ago over bullying allegations. Chandler’s resignation letter has now been sent to NSW ICAC.

Where’s Barilaro in all this? For starters, his daughter had worked for Petinos as a media adviser. In February, while he was busy trying to get the New York trade commissioner gig, he became executive director of property developer Coronation Property. The history of the owners of that company and their family is detailed today in The Sydney Morning Herald by Kate McClymont. It includes assault convictions and alleged links to violent bikie gangs.

When Chandler placed a draft stop-work order on the builders of Coronation Property’s “Mason & Main” development at Merrylands — the builder being owned by the brother of one of the owners of Coronation — Barilaro immediately called Chandler. Barilaro insists it was not to discuss the stop-work order. Instead, he told the NSW Legislative Council inquiry earlier this week, he was “getting a feel in relation to Coronation … Coronation group, the work that Mr Chandler was doing, the building industry as a whole — that sort of level.”

Petinos called Chandler as well, the same day, presumably by coincidence given Barilaro just wanted a general feel for industry. And her meeting diary shows she met with Coronation on June 2. Petinos’ diary shows she met with Coronation again on June 21. Barilaro was in attendance at the second meeting, but he now says that it was only to celebrate his success in securing the New York trade commission role. Chandler — who says neither Petinos’ call nor Barilaro’s intervention played any role — lifted the order against the builder on July 4.

While all this was happening, in June Petinos had asked the secretary of the Department of Customer Service, Emma Hogan, to investigate Chandler. The charge? That Chandler was surreptitiously providing a list of approved building certifiers to banks. Hogan cleared Chandler.

The phone calls. The investigation of Chandler. The claims of a toxic relationship with Petinos. The Barilaro meeting that was ostentatiously not about the stop-work order, just to get a feel for the industry. The cosy relationship between a former minister working for a property developer and the minister with responsibility for fair trading and building safety. How lucky that it was Barilaro’s friend, Petinos, who was the relevant minister when Coronation struck trouble with the building commissioner.

Here we are back to the regular issue of the role ministers can play in decisionmaking, and the efforts of vested interests — employing politically connected lobbyists — to influence them to deliver what they want. We only have some sight of this because a jobs for mates scandal blew up and we have some visibility of who Petinos was meeting with courtesy of the NSW government’s meeting diary rules.

Barilaro claimed he was the unluckiest man in NSW politics and a victim of a series of coincidences in relation to the New York job. Now there appears to be another series of coincidences in relation to Coronation Property and Eleni Petinos. When it comes to bad luck, it seems it never rains but it pours for John Barilaro.

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