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The never-ending story

Despite the never-ending story and denials from Stuart Ayres that he had done nothing wrong in John Barilaro’s appointment to the lucrative trade minister role for the Americas, and that the process was at arm’s length, Barilarogate has brought the appointment process under intense scrutiny. The first head has now been claimed but the question remains, how many more will be severed by the Barilarogate headsman’s axe?

There is clear evidence that Stuart Aryes misled the New South Wales Parliament and that the appointment of John Barilaro to the New York trade commissioner position was far from arm's length.

5 August 2022

ALAN HAYES

 

LAST Wednesday New South Wales Trade Minister Stuart Ayres resigned after the upper house inquiry "raised concerns" about his conduct in the appointment of John Barilaro to a well-paid and rewarding US trade role.

 

The inquiry heard that Ayres had told the head of his department he believed John Barilaro “could be quite good” in a senior New York trade role on the day after applications for the job closed.

 

Investment NSW CEO Amy Brown told the inquiry that Stuart Ayres fingerprints were all over the Barilaro appointment.

 

Brown also revealed during the hearing that when Ayres took over as trade minister after Barilaro’s resignation in October, he told her that he did not want to hire Jenny West, the woman who was first offered the position last year.

 

Amid the ongoing six-week saga of lies and misinformation that has engulfed the NSW government, Perrottet said last Wednesday that a draft of an independent report into the appointment of former deputy premier John Barilaro to a lucrative New York trade job had raised questions about Ayres involvement.

 

Yet Ayres still denies any wrongdoing and said he only stepped down from his ministerial position to allow the matter to be investigated further. Yet the Premier said “Based on information I received, there are questions … that relate to the engagement between the minister and a department secretary in respect of the recruitment process.”

 

“Information that has come to light in the review clearly demonstrates that the process was not at arm’s length,” Perrottet said.

 

“On receiving that information, I have made the decision to act. In relation to the entire review, once that review is finalised I will make it public and I always have said I will.”

 

Chris Minns, NSW Labor Leader, said that the Premier made the right decision in stepping down Stuart Ayres as minister and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party.

 

“There is clear evidence that Mr. Aryes misled the New South Wales Parliament, and the appointment of Mr. Barilaro to the New York position was far from the arm's length, something that was repeatedly and in an insistent way repeated to the media, to the NSW Parliament and to the people of New South Wales for the last six weeks,” Chris Minns said.

 

“Now I can understand why the NSW Government worked very hard to pretend that the appointment of John Barilaro to a half a million dollar New York Trade Commissioner position was not in fact a ministerial decision or a job for a mate, but was in fact an arm's length public service appointment. But the truth of the matter is, that was not the case.”

 

It’s become evident that Stuart Ayres was not being forthright with the NSW public but it’s disappointing that Dominic Perrottet allowed his government to succumb to paralysis, while Stuart Aryes was free to run a campaign of misinformation.

 

What now needs to be answered, did Stuart Ayres breach the Ministerial Code of Conduct, which requires an ICAC referral?”

 

ICAC has the power to find a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct corrupt and the Premier made it extremely clear when he announced Ayres’ dismissal that it was for offenses committed against the Ministerial Code of Conduct.

 

The Premier has confirmed that there will be an investigation into Stuart Ayres involvement in the Barilaro appointment.

 

Penny Sharpe, Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House, said “We knew on the 17th of June that the appointment of John Barilaro as the New York Trade Commissioner stunk, and we knew that this was not the right way that this should have been done.

 

“We know that there was a very well-credentialed woman who was given the job, which signed off by Gladys Berejiklian, Dominic Perrottet, Stuart Aryes and John Barilaro.

 

“We know that then that position was unwound and what we finally found out on Wednesday, after digging, and after insisting that the government provide us with the documents that we need to do our job that Stuart Aryes had his fingerprints over this appointment from day one. Every single steer, every single decision that Amy Brown talked about was guided by Stuart Aryes.”

 

Amy Brown said in her evidence at the hearing that one of the main issues in the trade commission recruitment process was that it was unclear whether it was a ministerial appointment or whether it was still going to be a public service appointment. Yet last September, Perrottet, Ayres and the rest of the Cabinet agreed to turn John Barilaro’s proposal into a ministerial appointment, which still stands.

 

So, the question the Premier must now answer is when will he be bringing that legislation to Parliament? And if he's not, at what point did the government backflip again to turn the trade commission jobs into public sector jobs?

 

Multiple times Stuart Ayres said that he had nothing wrong – he had no influence over Barilaro’s appointment – yet the Barilarogate cover up is worse than the crime,

 

A reliable source told the Grapevine that Ayres had no idea that his text messages and other documents could become public knowledge – so he ran with the political lie. A ‘never-ending story’ that best suited each day, each moment and each new revelation. Another reliable source has also revealed that the headsman's axe is being sharpened for Dominic Perrottet.

 

Labor Leader Chris Minns said “the public would have been furious if there was a job for a mate and the government had announced that in a transparent way, but they've continued to insist for the last seven weeks that this was an arm's length, an independent process, completely transparent and it was based on a meritocracy. None of that has proven to be correct at all and I think that they've been taking the public for a ride for the last seven weeks.”

 

There is no doubt that the NSW public have been treated like mugs and taken on a political roller-coaster ride by Perrottet and Ayres – they had personally decided to appoint John Barilaro to the plum New York job – a job that rests on the premise that of the 8 million people that live and work and breathe in NSW the most eminently qualified person just happened to be John Barilaro. This begs the question, is the Perrottet culpable too, it wasn't just Stuart Ayres standing up day after day saying the process is ok?

 

And throughout the Barilarogate debacle, Ayres continued with his positive appraisal of John Barilaro.  Amy Brown told the inquiry “It was the view of minister Ayres that he would be a strong candidate, but [Barilaro] was the trade minister [so I] agreed with the proposition that he was a strong candidate.”

 

So, what went wrong? Political hands were caught in the ‘cookie jar’ serving up another Liberal ‘mates’ job’.

 

Serious questions have now been raised about whether the multimillion dollar scheme has delivered taxpayers value for money.

 

A change in government next March will see the senior trade and investment commissioner roles abolished.

 

The Liberal and National Government announced in November 2020 that it would spend millions on six overseas senior trade and investment commissioner roles, who will receive salaries of up to $500,000 per year.

 

These contracts will not be renewed, and after two failed processes to fill their $500,000 position in New York – which has been mired in scandal and secrecy.

 

NSW Shadow Minister for Industry and Trade, Anoulack Chanthivong said “The Government is unable to establish how much trade or investment can be directly attributed to its grandiose senior trade roles.

 

“The Government’s senior trade roles have been mired in scandal – not only about who is being appointed to these roles and how, but also the overseas activities at taxpayers’ expense.

 

"Labor will work with the business community and industry groups about a suitable replacement program that deliver meaningful investment and growth for NSW industries, and work with Austrade to align our investment activities."

 

The role of Agent-General for NSW in London was axed in 1993 after an expenses scandal, used to fund an extravagant lifestyle.
 
The late former-premier John Fahey described the position as a sham, saying the position was a throwback to colonial days when it was important to have “garden parties and participate in ceremonies.”

 

NSW Labor Leader, Chris Minns said “With our hospitals overstretched and teachers under-resourced, the Government has failed dismally to demonstrate value for money of its senior trade commissioners.

 

“Labor will prioritise rebuilding NSW’s domestic manufacturing capacity and delivering local job opportunities.”

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