Former NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro told his chief of staff that the role of US trade commissioner was the job he wanted when he left politics, according to an investigation .
- Mr Barilaro reportedly told a staff member he would create a government headquarters in New York to work in once he retired from politics
- The man worked for Mr Barilaro as chief of staff for more than two years
- The former New South Wales deputy premier was offered a business role but has since stepped down
Mark Connell gave a statement this morning to the parliamentary inquiry into the controversial appointment of Mr Barilaro, who comes with an annual salary of $500,000 and is based in New York.
Mr Connell said he had a conversation with Mr Barilaro in April 2019, after a meeting with then Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Minister Stuart Ayres.
“He said, ‘I just came back from a meeting with Dom and Stuart regarding the trade,'” Mr Connell wrote in his statement.
“‘And we’re going to bring the general agent back to London and a bunch of other positions around the world’.”
The former chief of staff claims Mr Barilaro then added: ‘That’s it; that’s the job for when I get out of this place.’
In the statement, Mr Connell said the conversation continued.
“I responded to Mr. Barilaro and said, ‘but John, the general agent role will be filled long before you leave this place,'” Mr. Connell said.
“Mr Barilaro then said, ‘I don’t want to go to London, shit, I’m going to New York’.”
Mr. Connell said he pointed out that the current office was in California.
“Mr. Barilaro responded and said, ‘I’m going to ask them to put one in New York, that’s where I’m going,'” Mr. Connell said.
Mr. Connell worked for Mr. Barilaro as chief of staff from April 2017 to December 2019.
Mr. Barilaro strongly denied having said those comments.
“I completely refute Mr. Connell’s statement,” Mr. Barilaro said.
“The conversation he remembers is fictional, false and only serves as a reminder of why we had to part ways.”
He said the public didn’t see the full picture of what happened.
“If this investigation is sincere in its intent to understand the process and truth by which I was appointed, then I would surely be called upon to provide that detail immediately,” Mr Barilaro said.
“The continued drip-feeding of selected information from the investigation into the public domain flies in the face of all procedural fairness.”
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said he was unaware Mr Barilaro had made the comments.
“The former Deputy Prime Minister, Minister Ayres and I had many discussions in 2019 regarding the creation of Global NSW, and at no point in those discussions was there ever any question that the former Deputy Prime Minister minister wants to hold a trade commissioner position,” said Mr. Perrottet.
The opposition called the revelation “explosive”.
“This important revelation likely confirms what many suspected,” said Opposition Leader Chris Minns.
“If true, this position was created for a friend, that the selection process was rigged and there was a month of cover-up.”
Mr Minns said the Prime Minister needed to ask his team questions.
“We all need to know how and if other NSW government ministers knew about this scheme.
“And if they were, what action will the Premier of New South Wales take to rectify this.”
The parliamentary inquiry has already heard evidence that in mid-2021 Mr Barilaro’s office inquired about changing the recruitment process so that trade commissioner roles were ministerial appointments.
Mr Barilaro then approached the cabinet in September with a proposal to change the process, which was successful.
This meant that former bureaucrat Jenny West, who had been verbally offered the job in New York, had it canceled.
Mr Barilaro then quit politics and applied for the job in a second round of recruitment.
He is now retired from accepting the position.