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NSW premier learned of John Barilaro’s interest in New York trade job in a ‘social setting’

Then NSW deputy premier John Barilaro and then NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet
Then NSW deputy premier John Barilaro and then NSW treasurer Dominic Perrottet enjoy a Guinness on St Patrick's Day 2021. Barilaro told Perrottet in a ‘social setting’ that he intended to apply for the US trade job. Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

John Barilaro told the New South Wales premier, Dominic Perrottet, in a “social setting” that he intended to apply for a plum $500,000 trade job in New York, some time after the former deputy premier quit parliament last year.

On Tuesday the premier confirmed for the first time that he was aware Barilaro had intended to apply for the job, which has become the centre of a political storm amid questions about the recruitment process.

Ahead of an upper house inquiry into the appointment, due to begin on Wednesday, Perrottet revealed he and Barilaro had discussed his interest in the role, but insisted he had neither encouraged nor discouraged the former NSW Nationals leader from applying.

“I think in a social setting he may have said he was applying for a position, which was an independent process,” Perrottet said.

“I speak to people socially all the time and there is always interested people saying I’m interested in this, I’m interested in that.”

While Perrottet said he could not recall when he was first told about Barilaro’s plans to apply for the lucrative position, he said he had been informed by the state’s trade minister, Stuart Ayres, “on some date” that the former deputy premier had formally applied.

“I understood that he applied for the job but it was my position [that] it was an independent process,” he said.

Barilaro’s appointment has caused significant consternation within the government because it was not approved by cabinet. Perrottet has insisted that the Investment NSW chief executive, Amy Brown, was responsible for appointing Barilaro to the job, and that there was no ministerial approval.

But the Guardian revealed on Saturday that Ayres had met with at least some of the candidates for the six global trade jobs, and that in November public servants were discussing obtaining the premier’s “approval” for the roles.

But on Tuesday Perrottet said he only became aware of the emails through the media. He said he had “no recollection” of being asked for his approval on the jobs.

“There is no process in place and I have no knowledge nor does my chief of staff in relation to that matter,” he said.

The Guardian revealed last week that Brown, who will front Wednesday’s inquiry, had informed the recruitment company charged with finding candidates for the New York job that it would be handled as an “internal matter” on the day before Barilaro announced he intended to resign from parliament.

The Guardian has also revealed that Barilaro personally approached the former Labor leader Jodi McKay about taking up a trade commissioner role in India.

As well as the upper house inquiry, the Department of Premier and Cabinet will also run its own review into the appointment, led by the former public service commissioner Graeme Head.

Perrottet repeatedly said on Tuesday that he would wait for the findings of the review before making a decision on the matter, insisting that he would not be intervening to cancel Barilaro’s appointment.

“We’ve set up an independent process. Please respect that process. Allow that independent review to take place,” he said.