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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Michael McGowan

John Barilaro sued by woman who was initially offered New York trade role

Composite image of Jennifer West and John Barilaro
Businesswoman Jennifer West (left) is suing former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro (right), along with two other individuals and the state of NSW, over the trade job saga. Composite: Bianca de Marchi | AAP

A woman who was initially offered a plum $500,000-a-year New York trade job – only for it to be given to John Barilaro – has launched legal action accusing the former New South Wales deputy premier and former cabinet minister Stuart Ayres of misusing their power.

A statement of claim filed in the NSW supreme court alleges Barilaro, Ayres and the former head of Investment NSW, Amy Brown, each engaged in “misfeasance in public office” over the trade job saga.

The lawsuit is being brought by Jennifer West, a businessperson and former senior public servant who was originally offered the trade role, which was eventually given to Barilaro.

On Monday the Independent Commission Against Corruption revealed that after an eight-month investigation, in which it compelled various people to provide evidence and documents, it had found no evidence of corrupt conduct.

But a statement of claim lodged this week on behalf of West alleges the three officials committed actions during the appointment which were “in breach of [their] obligations” in public office and were “insulting and humiliating” for her.

It alleges that despite Brown verbally offering her the role – including being shown a signed briefing from then premier Gladys Berejiklian recommending her for the job – Barilaro, the then trade minister, had intervened to suggest the job instead become a ministerial appointment, leading to the offer being withdrawn.

A NSW parliamentary inquiry into the matter previously heard West claim that she was told by Brown that the job would be given “as a present” to someone. Brown has denied saying that.

The statement of claim alleges that Barilaro had sought the role for his own personal advantage, while Ayres, a former deputy Liberal leader who replaced Barilaro as trade minister and resigned from cabinet over the saga, allegedly acted “for the purpose of enhancing his political career and to provide a benefit to Barilaro”.

Brown acted for “the purpose of enhancing her position and career in the public service”, the document alleges.

The suit, which is seeking aggravated damages, also names the state of NSW as a co-defendant, claiming it is “vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of Brown, Ayres and Barilaro constituting misfeasance in public office”.

Barilaro’s appointment to the role caused a storm of controversy last year when it was revealed West had initially been offered the job. A long-running NSW parliamentary inquiry into the saga last month released a report finding the recruitment for the role had been “flawed” and showed “all the trademarks of a ‘job for the boys’ position”.

It also found the treatment of West was “unfair, unprofessional, and sends a terrible message”.

West was later terminated from her role after the trade job was rescinded, and the statement of claim alleges that was to “remove West from a position in which West could potentially embarrass Brown, Ayres, Barilaro or the government”.

It claims the three defendants acted knowing “West would suffer reputational and economic damage” over the saga.

Brown declined to comment. Barilaro and Ayres have been contacted for comment.

The matter is due to be heard in court next month.

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