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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Michael McGowan and Tamsin Rose

Resignation letter raises concerns over relationship between NSW minister and developer

Eleni Petinos speaks to the media during a press conference.
David Chandler’s resignation letter cited concerns over ‘the advised relationship’ between development firm and the then fair trading minister, Eleni Petinos. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The former New South Wales building commissioner David Chandler raised concerns in his resignation letter about the relationship between sacked fair trading minister Eleni Petinos and a major property developer that hired John Barilaro after he quit parliament.

On Thursday a resignation letter sent by Chandler last month was released through parliament.

It came a day after the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, said the letter, initially sent to the secretary of the Department of Customer Service, had been referred to the state’s anti-corruption watchdog.

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

In the letter, Chandler says his concerns “crystallised” after he issued a stop-work order on a 790-apartment development in Merrylands owned by Coronation earlier this year.

The letter confirms Chandler was contacted by both Petinos’s office and Barilaro, who had by that stage left politics, shortly after the order was issued.

“As advised to you I received a call from the minister’s office shortly after a draft order was issued on Coronation’s Merrylands development,” he wrote.

“Shortly after that call, a message was sent to me by John Barilaro who I was advised had recently joined the Coronation board.

“This contact came to me as a message on my personal phone requesting a meeting with me … I subsequently met with Mr Barilaro to answer his questions.”

On Monday Barilaro told a parliamentary inquiry examining his posting to a New York trade job that he had met with Chandler in April to discuss “Coronation group, the work that Mr Chandler was doing, the building industry as a whole”.

However, he said he had made it clear at the time that the meeting was not about the stop-work order.

Barilaro told Guardian Australia Chandler’s letter “confirms what I told the inquiry on Monday, that I had reached out to the building commissioner for a meeting”.

Barilaro said he took his “responsibility as an executive director seriously”, and the “stop-work order concerned me”.

But the meeting “was not in relation to the stop-work order. And I made that clear when requesting the meeting”, he said.

“I also made it clear if it wasn’t appropriate for me to contact the commissioner directly, then to please advise so,” Barilaro said.

“Mr Chandler organised the meeting through his EA, approximately three weeks later. We never spoke about the stop-work order, nor did I request anything in relation to the stop-work order. Mr Chandler would be able to support my statement and my version of events.”

Earlier this week it was revealed in newly released minister diaries that Petinos held two meetings with Coronation in June this year. One of those meetings was attended by Barilaro.

Barilaro and Petinos described that as a “social” meeting which took place after the former deputy premier quit his role as an executive director of Coronation to take up his position as a senior New York trade commissioner for the government.

“I was no longer an employee of Coronation. I did not meet with the minister during my time with Coronation,” Barilaro said earlier this week.

Petinos said the 21 June meeting was only disclosed “out of an abundance of caution and was social in nature”.

Petinos was sacked as fair trading minister on 31 July. It came just days after she was accused of running an unsafe office in media reports. Petinos has repeatedly denied all allegations against her.

Perrottet told parliament on Thursday that while he had not read the letter at the time, he discussed some of the issues with the department secretary, Emma Hogan, before deciding to sack Petinos.

Those issues, he said, were “not relevant at all” to his decision.

Labor’s shadow minister for better regulation and innovation, Courtney Houssos, said it was “incredibly important” to understand why Petinos was sacked.

In the letter, Chandler said his experience had been “one where engagement with the minister’s office has been problematic”.

“A similar experience has been reported to me by other officers in the department and important pieces of previously canvassed legislation have now run into serious disruption,” he said.

It comes after Barilaro told a parliamentary inquiry that he had not met with any ministers in relation to Coronation while his application for the job was under consideration. The 21 June meeting took place the day after his contract for the now-abandoned trade role began.

The former deputy premier is due to appear again before the inquiry on Friday.

Petinos has been contacted for comment.

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