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

Senior NSW public servant set to face questions over recruitment for London trade job

A view of the inquiry into the appointment of John Barilaro as senior trade and investment commissioner to the Americas. People are sitting at white tables with laptops, notes and microphones
Investment NSW head, Amy Brown, suggested the inquiry could ask her managing director, Kylie Bell, about the recruitment process for a London trade role. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

A senior New South Wales bureaucrat will be asked at a parliamentary inquiry about how a prominent business figure became a “late” addition to candidates in the running to be the state’s new trade tsar in London, after another person had already been identified as the frontrunner for the job.

After weeks of scandal over the appointment of former deputy premier John Barilaro to a senior trade commissioner role in New York, attention this week turned to the London job.

The head of Investment NSW, Amy Brown, told the inquiry on Wednesday that former Business NSW chief Stephen Cartwright believed he had “elevated status” after being picked for the role, and threatened to “go to” the premier, Dominic Perrottet, when things were “getting too difficult” during contract negotiations.

Brown told the inquiry Cartwright had been “added to the process late” after another “front-running candidate” was deemed “not acceptable” for the job.

She told the inquiry the department had to “seek recommendations” for who to put in the role.

Interviews for the London job took place in February 2021, a month prior to the establishment of Investment NSW, and Brown told the inquiry it was previously Treasury’s role to fill the position.

Asked during her evidence how Cartwright had been added to the process, Brown said did not know, but suggested the committee ask her managing director, Kylie Bell.

“You could potentially ask Ms Bell, who was in Treasury at the time,” she said.

Bell is on a crowded list of witnesses set to give evidence at the inquiry on Friday, which was established to investigate Barilaro’s now-abandoned appointment to the New York job.

During the hearing, Brown said pay negotiations with Cartwright were “protracted” and “quite difficult”. The inquiry has previously heard Cartwright receives a higher cost-of-living allowance than other senior trade officials.

The Barilaro appointment has led to former deputy Liberal party leader Stuart Ayres’ resignation on Wednesday, after what Perrottet described as a possible breach of the ministerial code of conduct in Ayres’ dealings with Brown, which was identified in a draft excerpt from a different review.

Among the other witnesses to give evidence are Barilaro’s former chief of staff, Siobhan Hamblin, and the head of the Department of Regional NSW, Gary Barnes.

Barnes, who reported to Barilaro when he was deputy premier, gave him a reference for the New York job.

On Thursday the transport minister, David Elliott, threw his hat into the ring for the party deputy position, saying he would stand to support his “under the pump” premier.

“The easiest thing for people to do at the moment, I think, is to walk away or to keep their head down because, you know, the premier is dealing with a number of difficult issues,” Elliott said.

“But that’s just not my style. If a mate needs a hand, I’m putting mine up to give him that assistance.”

Elliott, who is from the centre-right faction, would be a shock selection. Perrottet is from the right faction and the NSW government benches are dominated by moderate MPs.

The Treasurer, Matt Kean, is a more likely pick, though he is yet to publicly confirm that he will run.

The cities minister, Rob Stokes, and the roads minister, Natalie Ward, have also been touted. However Stokes is considered an outside chance and Ward, who is in the upper house, would require a rule change to be able to stand for deputy.

Barilaro walked away from the New York role less than two weeks after his appointment was announced in June, saying it had become untenable and a “distraction” due to media attention. He has said that he “always maintained that I followed the process”.

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