Australia Footy, horses and the whiff of an affair: the Barilaro scandal is a NSW saga par excellence
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It’s now 40 days and counting since John Barilaro’s moment of glory turned toxic for the Perrottet government. The former NSW deputy premier’s get-the-fuck-out-of-here dream job has become a daily waking nightmare for the government and is leading — inexorably, one suspects — to the resignation of at least one senior government figure: Deputy Liberal Leader Stuart Ayres, who hasmisled Parliament.
Perversely, Ayres is pinning his salvation on all of us accepting that words such as “successful applicant” for a job don’t really mean what they say, as he has argued in the case of, who was awarded the post of New York trade commissioner. West clearly had no idea as she excitedly told her family about their new future that Barilaro might have designs on the $500,000-per-annum gig himself, and was quietly using his ministerial role to change the rules on how appointments are made. A deputy premier is paid the comparatively paltry sum of around $340,000.
Former staffer tells inquiry John Barilaro lined up New York role before his retirement
Former deputy premier John Barilaro allegedly told his ex-chief of staff he would get the NSW government to put a new trade position in New York for when he "gets out of this place", an inquiry hears.Mark Connell this morning made a statement to the parliamentary inquiry investigating Mr Barilaro's controversial appointment, which comes with a $500,000 annual salary package and is based in New York.
More inconsistencies in Ayres’ story emerged yesterday with the release of emails showing he had suggested a name for the shortlist of candidates, contradicting his earlier claims of an independent, arm’s-length process.
We are also coming to understand what the ingredients for real success are in NSW politics (Jenny West’s impeccable qualifications be damned). Partly it comes down to the feel of things. And what could rival the magic connection of putative trade commissioner Barilaro and portfolio minister Stuart Ayres? The two have sat together in Coalition party meetings for a good 10 years.
There are also the shared passions. Ayres and Barilaro are both racehorse owners and have been regulars at the races (often, it must be said, at the invitation of sponsors). And then there’s the rugby league. Back in 2016 Barilaro scored three tickets to State of Origin game three (won by NSW) directly from rugby league enthusiast Ayres as a freebie, according to Barilaro’s pecuniary interests declaration. (Let’s resist the observation that Ayres appears to be the gift that keeps on giving, which would echo Jenny West’s line to a parliamentary inquiry that the New York job was, she was told, a “present” for someone.)
NSW deputy Liberal Stuart Ayres denies helping John Barilaro get US trade job in Facebook post
Stuart Ayres dismissed speculation he played a helping hand as his involvement in the recruitment process comes under scrutiny.Mr Ayres dismissed allegations he had a hand in appointing Mr Barilaro as the Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner to the Americas.
It’s easy to see why Barilaro might have looked like a great fit for the job, compared to West. Sure, she has won aand, sure, she was NSW governor for AmCham, the American chamber of commerce. But what’s that got to do with US business links with Australia? Oh, hang on.
While the Barilaro saga has shed light on a certain cosiness, it has, equally, shone a new light on old tensions at the top of the NSW government.
There is background noise to the inquiries underway into the Barilaro appointment, which is who knew what and when about. As we reported this week, Lugsdin moved from her role in Barilaro’s office to a senior job at Investment NSW around the time the agency’s head, Amy Brown, told Jenny West she had the New York posting. That was August last year. Investment NSW told Crikey that Lugsdin was appointed via an arm’s-length process. By October Barilaro had left his marriage and also left politics. By December it was reported that he and Lugsdin were together.
For the sake of NSW, Stuart Ayres must resign
The fiasco over the appointment of former deputy premier John Barilaro to a $500,000-a-year New York trade job has preoccupied NSW politics for long enough. Stuart Ayres, the minister most involved in this mess, should do the right thing and resign from cabinet and his position as deputy NSW Liberal Party leader. Ayres insists he has done nothing wrong but his defences are becoming increasingly inconsistent and untenable. The almost daily stream of damaging revelations about the ill-fated appointment suggests Ayres has not been straight with the public.
Perhaps Barilaro and Lugsdin were doing their best to manage an awkward situation. But the timing matters.
Under the NSW government’s ministerial code of conduct, a minister needs to inform the premier of any “intimate relationship” that might give rise to a conflict of interest in the exercise of the minister’s job. Theoretically, swinging a job for Lugsdin at Investment NSW, an agency at the time under Barilaro’s control, might fall into that category — depending on timing and how the job came to be.
The chain of events, though, now sheds new light on an extraordinary episode at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption in October last year when Barilaro faced what appeared to be an obtuse line of questioning while appearing as a witness in ICAC’s investigation of former premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Berejiklian was facing questions over her secret relationship with Daryl Maguire, the disgraced former member of NSW Parliament. However, the former premier’s counsel, Sophie Callan SC, had questions of her own for Barilaro.
“Over your time in Parliament, did you disclose to the premier all intimate personal relationships that you had?” Callan asked.
John Barilaro's New York trade ambassador job application full of typos, inquiry evidence shows
The typo-littered application that landed John Barilaro the plum $500,000 trade posting in New York has been revealed and it has mistakes in the first sentence.The former NSW deputy premier stood down from the $500,000 a year posting last month following a severe backlash over his controversial appointment.
“I would have, yes,” Barilaro answered.
“When you say you would have, did you do so?” Callan pressed.
“Well, I suppose on our pecuniary interests forms we have got to disclose assets or income or connections to trusts that include family members, like my wife or my kids or other family members. Those disclosures are done in accordance to the ministerial code,” Barilaro said.
“What about any other personal intimate relationships, Mr Barilaro?” Callan continued to a now clearly disconcerted Barilaro.
“I don’t think that is a normal… that’s a hard question because my relationship was with my family, so that’s a hard one to disclose,” Barilaro answered, correcting his words midstream.
It was a remarkable moment. Only three weeks before, Berejiklian had been premier of the state, with Barilaro as her deputy. Both had since resigned. Now her lawyer was pinning Barilaro to the wall with a relentless focus on his private life.
Apart from the slightly gobsmacking revelation that Berejiklian and Barilaro may both have been involved in secret intimate relationships while occupying the highest public offices of the state, what does it mean?
At its worst it means that Barilaro was not candid with ICAC and also that he may have breached the ministerial code of conduct.
Despite the appearance of things, there is no proof Crikey is aware of that either of those things happened.
But there must surely be questions that the two inquiries into Barilaro’s appointment would want to answer. And they appear to fall squarely into the NSW upper house inquiry’s terms of reference, which include “the probity and integrity measures that were undertaken” as part of the appointment.
Or is it simply enough that there’s a good vibe between Barilaro and the responsible minister, Stuart Ayres? Whatever the case, Ayres is doggedly standing by Barilaro.
Crikey asked Barilaro for his comments but we haven’t heard back. In the meantime, the circus is set to roll on, with Barilaro set to appear before the NSW upper house inquiry on August 8.
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Public Service Commissioner would not have endorsed Barilaro appointment had she known of ministerial interventions .
NSW Public Service Commissioner Kathrina Lo has told the John Barilaro inquiry she would never have signed off on the former deputy premier's appointment as New York trade commissioner had she known of the level of ministerial involvement. Kathrina Lo was on the selection panel but said she was unaware that then-minister Stuart Ayres had played a role in deciding which candidates should be shortlisted and that he had provided an informal reference for his former colleague, Mr Barilaro.Ms Lo said she had only learnt of these interventions through evidence given to the inquiry and media reports.