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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Michael McGowan

New documents raise fresh questions for NSW premier about sacking of Eleni Petinos

Former NSW minister Eleni Petinos speaks to the media as premier Dominic Perrottet watches on
Dominic Perrottet says the sacking of Eleni Petinos was not related to the building commissioner’s letter but to ‘separate claims’ after she was accused in media reports of running an unsafe office, allegations she has denied. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The New South Wales premier, Dominic Perrottet, sacked the fair trading minister Eleni Petinos on the same day his chief of staff was given a copy of an explosive resignation letter from the former building commissioner David Chandler.

Perrottet has repeatedly said the letter – which he referred to Icac “out of an abundance of caution” – was “not a factor” in his decision to sack Petinos last month.

However, new documents released to parliament show his most senior adviser was provided a copy of the letter just hours before the premier released a statement announcing the removal of Petinos from cabinet.

Made public last week, Chandler’s letter raised concerns about what he called the “advised relationship” between Petinos and Coronation Properties, the property developer which hired the former deputy premier John Barilaro after he left politics.

Those concerns, Chandler said, had “crystallised” after he placed a stop work order on a 790-apartment development in western Sydney owned by Coronation.

The letter confirmed Chandler had been contacted by both Petinos and Barilaro, who had by that stage left politics, on the day after a notice of the intention to issue the order was sent.

Perrottet has maintained he decided to sack Petinos based on “further information in relation to separate claims” after she was accused in media reports of running an unsafe office, allegations she has denied. He repeated that again on Friday, telling media “the issue in relation to matters arising from that letter were peripheral to the discussion”.

However, the NSW Labor leader, Chris Minns, said the timing raised further questions about the reason for Petinos’s sacking.

“This doesn’t pass muster – the premier has been telling us for weeks the Chandler resignation, later referred to Icac, had nothing to do with the Petinos sacking. As we now learn, the premier’s office received the letter on the day she was sacked,” he said.

The documents released through parliament on Friday also show Barilaro repeatedly contacted Chandler about the stop work order.

Despite previously insisting that he “never spoke about” the stop work order during a meeting with Chandler in April, a series of text messages and meeting notes released to parliament on Friday suggest the former deputy premier sought to raise the matter.

Notes from the meeting, taken by a public servant, state that Barilaro “want (sic) to discuss” the order, and that the developer, Coronation Properties, was “trying to do the right thing”.

Text messages sent by Barilaro to Chandler – and subsequently forwarded to the head of the department, Emma Hogan – also show the former deputy premier did raise the order when seeking the meeting.

In a message on 6 April – the day after a notice of intention to issue the order was sent – Barilaro wrote to Chandler stating that he had been “advised of a possible stop work order on one of our projects”.

“Our company will of course respond by end of business tomorrow and will work with your team to resolve any outstanding issues,” he said.

“But as someone new to this company, I take my responsibilities seriously, so I am keen to meet with you, formally, to get a better picture of the development landscape and where Coronation can only strive to improve. If it isn’t appropriate to contact you directly, please do let me know.”

He sent another text in April following an industry event, which Chandler forwarded to Hogan along with the words: “John Barilaro managed to get seated at my table yesterday. He noted our meeting next week. How the world works.”

Barilaro has previously insisted that while he sought a meeting with Chandler in April of this year it was not in relation to the stop work order.

“The meeting was not in relation to the stop work order. And I made that clear when requesting the meeting,” he told the Guardian in a statement on 11 August.

“We never spoke about the stop work order, nor did I request anything in relation to the stop work order.”

Guardian Australia has reached out to Barilaro for fresh comment.

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