Review of John Barilaro’s US business work finds government did not remain ‘at arm’s length’

The independent review which investigated the appointment of former New South Wales Deputy Premier John Barilaro to a lucrative US trading post found that the recruitment process failed been made “at arm’s length” from the government.

That review – by former NSW Civil Service Commissioner Graeme Head – found former trade minister Stuart Ayres had ‘close contact’ with the chief executive of Investment NSW, who was responsible for hiring by Mr. Barilaro.

This is despite the fact that the commercial role of the Americas was supposed to follow an independent recruitment process without ministerial intervention.

Mr Head found Mr Ayres’ engagement with Investment NSW chief executive Amy Brown – over a shortlist of candidates – to be “highly irregular”.

‘It is highly irregular for a party outside the selection committee – in this case a minister – to be consulted on the composition of a shortlist,’ Mr Head wrote.

“It is even more problematic that the fact that this happened was not disclosed to the independent members of the panel by Ms. Brown.”

Stuart Ayres told Amy Brown that John Barilaro would be a good fit for the job.(PA: Jane Dempster)

The review did not suggest “impropriety” on Mr Ayres’ part, but said the process could not be called “arm’s length”.

Mr Head said Mr Ayres had at least three “points of contact” with the process:

  • When Investment NSW consulted him on the role’s advertising approach
  • A discussion he had with Ms Brown regarding the shortlist of candidates
  • When Ms Brown decided that Mr Ayres should meet one of the candidates, and this meeting took place

Mr Ayres resigned from the cabinet last month after a draft version of the report raised questions about whether he breached the ministerial code of ethics and conduct by giving instructions to Ms Brown.

However, Mr Ayres maintains he did nothing wrong.

A woman with blonde hair and glasses smiles while sitting behind a microphone
The review revealed that Amy Brown had arranged a meeting between one of the candidates and then Trade Secretary Stuart Ayres.(AAP: Bianca de Marchi)

After Head’s review, Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet announced stricter rules regarding when former ministers could apply for public sector posts.

Mr Perrottet said changes to the code of ethics and ministerial conduct meant ministers would be banned for 18 months after leaving the policy of accepting jobs in public sector agencies reporting to them over the course of their last two years in office.

He said Head’s review made it clear mistakes had been made and the recruitment process was “flawed”.

“The results, and in my view the whole process, that has been undertaken has been incredibly disappointing,” Perrottet said.

“I recognize the distress this has caused a lot of people.”

The chief’s review also recommended several changes to the Public Sector Employment (GSE) Act to ensure more transparency around appointments.

Although he did not recommend any changes to the departmental code of ethics and conduct, Mr Perrottet said the additional measures would “ensure robust recruitment processes in the future”.

Further changes will be made to the GSE Act, which means:

  • Ministers cannot direct secretaries of public agencies on recruitment issues
  • All future job selections in the trades must be based on merit
  • Senior officials will be required to seek ethical advice in relation to their future employment and this advice will be made public.

Mr Perrottet said Head’s review found no wrongdoing on the part of Mr Barilaro, who last week said he wished never to stand for the job.

Mr. Barilaro stepped down from the role of trade commissioner in June after intense media scrutiny.

The Prime Minister said the selection process had flaws “that no one was aware of” and that he wanted to restore confidence in trade assignments.

“These roles are fundamental. I have met so many people on my trade missions who are now going to invest in NSW who otherwise would not have.”

Mr. Perrottet would not be determined whether Ms. Brown would continue in her role.

“It’s the business of the secretary in the Prime Minister’s and Cabinet Office,” he said.

“We will work on these issues.”

He also said he was investigating whether Mr Ayres’ potential breach of the code of ethics and conduct should be reported to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

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