The NSW upper house inquiry into the appointment of former deputy premier John Barilaro as senior trade and investment commissioner (STIC) to the Americas has begun.
The sole witness for today is Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade secretary and Investment CEO Amy Brown.
Brown made a short statement in the opening of the inquiry, admitting the appointment process for the STICs roles evolved ‘imperfectly’. However, Brown went on to say issues with whether the appointments should be public service appointments were rectified prior to Barilaro’s appointment.
The secretary further stated there appeared to be a misunderstanding, including within Investment NSW, on how the appointments are made.
“Since August 2021, no formal approval of any minister or the premier has been sought prior to the appointment of STICs, including STIC Americas.
“I am familiar with and have led multiple merit-based recruitment processes under the [Government Sector Employment Act] and the recruitment process for STIC Americas was consistent with those. The independent public service commissioner who was on the recruitment panel with me can confirm this,” Brown said.
Brown continued to say she was the final decision-maker in the appointment of Barilaro, and was confident his appointment fulfilled her duties under the legislation.
The CEO has been leading Investment NSW since it was set up in 2021. Back then, Brown reported to Barilaro, as well as then-premier Gladys Berejikilian and then-jobs minister Stuart Ayres.
Chair of the committee is the Greens’ Cate Faehrmann, who said the committee was ‘pleased’ Brown has agreed to appear before the committee to discuss how Barilaro was appointed to the job with a $500,000 salary package.
“The community places its trust in the public service and its leaders to make integrous recruitment decisions, based on merit and the candidate’s experience,” Faehrmann said in a statement prior to the hearing.
“It is therefore essential that the NSW Government representatives, who appear to be the key decision-makers in this appointment, provide an accurate and fulsome account to the NSW public of how Mr Barilaro was the best candidate for the role.”
The other members of the committee include deputy chair from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party Robert Borsak, the Nationals’ Wes Fang, the Liberals’ Scott Farlow and Peter Poulos, and Labor’s John Graham and Courtney Houssos.
Premier Dominic Perrotter has said he had discussed the role with Barilaro in a ‘social setting’. Perrottet previously stated Brown was the final decision maker in Barilaro’s appointment during Question Time last Wednesday.
A separate inquiry has been set up by the premier. Secretary of the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet Michael Coutts-Trotter appointed former NSW public commissioner Graeme Head to conduct the inquiry.
Head commenced his review of the appointment ‘immediately’ when it was announced on Saturday.
There have been accusations from Labor the appointment was the result of a ‘captain’s pick’. According to the Guardian, senior public servants within Investment CEO thought the appointment should go cabinet for approval.