John Barilaro to start as US trade commissioner in less than two weeks

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John Barilaro to start as US trade commissioner in less than two weeks

By Alexandra Smith and Lucy Cormack

John Barilaro will formally start as US trade commissioner in less than two weeks, as a parliamentary inquiry revealed a chosen candidate was dumped after cabinet agreed to change the rules around the plum overseas appointments.

As the Barilaro appointment saga continues to plague the Perrottet government, an upper house inquiry has heard the government instructed a senior bureaucrat to rescind a verbal offer to a successful female candidate, before the former deputy premier was appointed to the post.

Investment NSW chief executive Amy Brown gives evidence to the upper house inquiry.

Investment NSW chief executive Amy Brown gives evidence to the upper house inquiry.Credit:Janie Barrett

Investment NSW chief executive Amy Brown on Wednesday said she was directed to stop the recruitment process of Jenny West for the trade posting “due to a change in government policy”.

Brown was the first witness to give evidence to the inquiry examining Barilaro’s controversial appointment to the $500,000-a-year job, which he created as trade minister.

She said the direction to halt West’s recruitment followed a decision of a cabinet subcommittee in late September that “would have come through Barilaro”, who was the responsible minister at the time. She later clarified that it came through his office.

“I was given a direction by government to cease the recruitment due to a change in government policy to convert the roles into statutory officers appointed by a minister,” she said.

By April this year Barilaro had been appointed to the job. West has been called to give evidence to the inquiry and will appear next Wednesday.

The former deputy premier is due to start in the role on July 12, but Brown could not confirm whether his US visa arrangement would be finalised by then.


Barilaro’s office will be based in the Australian consulate compound in New York, which the government has spent almost $1 million fitting out.

Brown on Wednesday revealed cabinet agreed to make the roles ministerial appointments on September 27. That decision triggered the axing of West days later, despite Brown having recommended her as the preferred candidate. Perrottet last week told parliament the first round of the recruitment process failed to produce a successful candidate.

John Barilaro was appointed to the New York role earlier this month.

John Barilaro was appointed to the New York role earlier this month.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

But when Trade Minister Stuart Ayres took over the portfolio in October he decided not to pursue legislation to enact the change to the appointment process because he thought it would slow down recruitment.

The decision to appoint Barilaro, who resigned from parliament on December 30, was not presented to cabinet, outraging Liberal ministers and backbenchers. Premier Dominic Perrottet has said it would have been inappropriate for the role to be considered by cabinet because it was not a ministerial appointment.

Brown conceded she had harboured concerns that Barilaro’s office “would feel they had veto rights” over the candidate she selected, before she was later directed to rescind West’s job offer.

Asked by leader of the opposition in the upper house Penny Sharpe if she knew whether Barilaro had ever asked Ayres for a direct appointment to the position, Brown said, “certainly not to my awareness”.

The hearing was told Brown took it upon herself to call West to tell her the offer would be retracted on October 1, adding that the candidate was “extremely upset about that, understandably so”.

“The fact that we couldn’t appoint anyone for some period of time and the fact that she was very unhappy with the arrangements and government, the whole situation felt quite irreconcilable,” Brown said.

Brown said she had not “turned her mind” to considering terminating or suspending Barilaro’s appointment, pending the outcome of the upper house inquiry or the review ordered by the premier.


“Given the short notice for the hearing today, I have barely had a chance to think about it,” she said.

Brown told the hearing she was then given a decision of government instructing Investment NSW to start preparing legislation to change the appointment process, but the process did not proceed.

“We did not get that far ... because the deputy premier resigned, and the portfolio got reassigned to Minister [Stuart] Ayres,” she said.

The Herald on Monday revealed West contacted the head of Department of Premier and Cabinet Michael Coutts-Trotter in January with concerns after her expected appointment was scuppered.


Perrottet on Tuesday said Barilaro first told him he was intending to apply for the US trade commissioner role in a “social setting” after the former deputy premier left parliament.

In the six months she was accountable to Barilaro as trade minister, Brown said she had one online meeting with him via Teams.

Brown said she was committed to the core values of the public service and was confident she had fulfilled her duties in relation to Barilaro’s appointment.

“Since August 2021, no formal approval of any minister or the premier has been sought prior to the appointment of [trade commissioners including STIC Americas [the role Barilaro was given],” she said.

Brown said since August 2021 no formal approval of any minister or the premier had been sought for the appointment of any of the trade commissioner jobs, including the role Barilaro was given.

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