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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Michael McGowan

Inquiry finds John Barilaro ‘interfered’ in selection process for a senior UK trade job

John Barilaro
A NSW parliamentary inquiry has found John Barilaro ‘inappropriately interfered’ in the selection of Stephen Cartwright to fill a senior UK trade position. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The former New South Wales deputy premier John Barilaro “inappropriately interfered” in the selection of former NSW Business Chamber chief executive Stephen Cartwright to fill a senior UK trade position for the state government, a parliamentary inquiry has found.

On Monday the committee investigating a series of controversial appointments to fill senior NSW government trade roles released the findings of its probe, stating that the appointment of Cartwright as UK Agent General “lacked integrity and transparency”.

The committee’s scathing final report comes eight months after the NSW government was embroiled in scandal over the appointment of Barilaro as a senior trade envoy in New York.

At the time it led to the then deputy Liberal party leader and trade minister Stuart Ayres’s resignation from cabinet, and the departure of Investment NSW chief executive Amy Brown.

That appointment, later abandoned by Barilaro amid a storm of controversy, was the subject of an interim report from the committee earlier this month, which detailed a “flawed” hiring process showing “all the trademarks of a ‘job for the boys’ position”.

Monday’s report focused on Cartwright’s subsequent appointment to the UK role, but found it followed “a similar pattern of inappropriate ministerial interference” to Barilaro’s.

During the inquiry it was revealed that Cartwright – as with Barilaro – had not initially been the preferred candidate for the UK trade envoy role.

Instead, he had been approached by Barilaro – who was then the deputy premier and trade minister – who suggested he apply for the role. The inquiry heard that Cartwright had “a very frank and open discussion” with Barilaro about a pay package of “over 800k”.

In a letter to a third party recruitment company, Cartwright claimed Barilaro had “indicated (privately of course) that he and [then] Treasurer [Dominic Perrottet] had reached an agreement” on his remuneration.

That, the inquiry heard, had led to a “protracted” and “difficult” contract negotiation with Cartwright who, Brown told the committee, believed he had an “elevated status” which saw him threaten to “go to” Perrottet during a salary dispute.

In its report the committee found Barilaro “inappropriately interfered” in the selection process by “failing to meet with the preferred candidate and instead directly approaching Stephen Cartwright and soliciting his candidacy”.

Perrottet has denied any involvement in the process but declined to give evidence at the inquiry. The committee’s final report took aim at the premier over his “refusal to assist this inquiry in its investigations”, saying it had “impeded the committee’s ability to determine his role” in Cartwright’s selection.

In her foreword, the committee chair, Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, said the inquiry had examined whether Cartwright’s salary negotiations “met public sector expectations”.

“Simply put, they did not,” she wrote.

“As outlined in the report, the former deputy premier [Barilaro] inappropriately discussed renumeration expectations with Mr Cartwright, even though he had not yet applied for the position.

“This discussion influenced Mr Cartwright’s high salary expectations and his view that the appointment process was led by the Deputy Premier and not through the public sector process.”

The committee also recommended the secretary of the Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade investigate whether Cartwright had “at all times abided by the code-of-conduct applicable to the Senior Executive Service”, after the inquiry heard he had later negotiated a change in his remuneration package.

“The committee also found that Mr Cartwright repeatedly and inappropriately applied pressure to senior public servants to improve his personal renumeration,” the committee wrote in the report.

Cartwright has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing during his appearances before the inquiry, as has Barilaro.

Ayres was later cleared of any wrongdoing by a separate report commissioned by the government, and Perrottet has indicated his intention to return him to cabinet should the government be re-elected in March.

The trade commissioner saga proved a significant distraction for the Perrottet government in the middle of last year, and questions about the saga overshadowed the premier’s first overseas visit to Japan, South Korea and India.

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