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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Michael McGowan

John Barilaro withdraws from hearing of trade role inquiry, citing ill health

John Barilaro is sitting at a table, leaning forward resting on his arms. There is a microphone in front of him and a sign with his name on it
John Barilaro has withdrawn from a second appearance at an inquiry into his New York appointment on Friday, citing ill health. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Former New South Wales deputy premier John Barilaro has pulled out of his much-anticipated second appearance before a parliamentary inquiry investigating his appointment to a New York trade job.

Barilaro had been due to face a second grilling before the committee on Friday, after a series of revelations surrounding his appointment to the plum job as well as a separate saga involving the sacking of former fair trading minister Eleni Petinos.

But the upper house inquiry received word on Friday morning that Barilaro would not appear as expected, citing ill health.

The committee has been investigating Barilaro’s appointment to the New York trade job in June this year, after the Guardian revealed that former senior public servant Jenny West had been verbally offered the job last year. Barilaro has since withdrawn from the role, but maintained he has done nothing wrong.

The saga has engulfed the government for the past seven weeks, and led Stuart Ayres, the previous deputy Liberal party leader and trade minister, to move to the backbench after concerns were raised in a separate inquiry that he may have breached the state’s ministerial code of conduct.

The deputy NSW Nationals leader and mental health minister, Bronnie Taylor, said she had spoken to Barilaro who was “not up to attending”.

“He’s been very open and very honest about his struggles with mental health, very open,” she said.

“This constant, constant attention on him; him waiting three weeks until he was able to give his side of a story at an inquiry … how would that make you feel? And how do you think you would manage with that?”

Taylor said Barilaro was open to appearing at a later date.

“He said from the beginning that he was happy to appear … He has said today that he is not up to attending and I would ask everybody to respect that for himself and for his family,” she said.

Barilaro had repeatedly asked to be called to give evidence before the inquiry. In his first appearance on Monday he told the committee that he had raised his ambition to apply for the job with multiple ministers, including the premier, Dominic Perrottet.

Barilaro said Perrottet told him to “go for it” when he flagged his interest in the role, a decision the premier later said he wouldn’t have made if he had known about what he called the “problematic” hiring process behind the job.

The former deputy premier told the inquiry he regretted ever applying for the role, saying the furore over the appointment had been a “personal hell”.

“If I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have walked into what was a shitshow,” he said.

But he denied he had done anything wrong, saying he had “applied for a job, fair and square, and went through a process and was offered a job”.

“I applied for a public service job as a private citizen,” he said. “Nothing excluded me in doing so. I followed the exact same process that was afforded to others.”

Barilaro had been expected to face further questions after he was named in the resignation letter of outgoing NSW building commissioner, David Chandler.

The letter, which Perrottet said this week has been referred to the state’s anti-corruption watchdog out of “an abundance of caution”, revealed Chandler had a series of issues with Petinos’s office and had raised concerns about “the advised relationship” between her office and property developer Coronation Properties.

Those concerns, he wrote, had “crystalised” after he placed a stop-work order on a major residential development owned by the company earlier this year. The premier has insisted his decision to sack Petinos was not related to Chandler’s letter.

The letter, which details problems Chandler allegedly had with Petinos, revealed he raised concerns about what he described as “the advised relationship” between the minister and Coronation.

Barilaro joined Coronation as an executive director after quitting parliament, and had worked for the company prior to his appointment to the New York trade job in June.

The letter reveals Chandler and Barilaro met in April, shortly after the stop-work order was issued.

Barilaro says that while the “stop-work order concerned me”, it was not discussed at the meeting. He said he “made it clear at the time” that it was not his intention to discuss it.

Barilaro’s appointment is also subject to a separate review led by former NSW public commissioner Graeme Head, which is due to be released shortly.

A draft excerpt from that review led to Ayres’ resignation. Another review, led by prominent silk Bruce McClintock SC, is now examining whether Ayres breached the ministerial code.

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