Recruiter told to halt search for New York trade role a day before John Barilaro’s resignation

by Michael McGowan
Exclusive: Email from head of Investment NSW said New York position would now be handled as an ‘internal matter’

The public servant responsible for handing John Barilaro a plum $500,000-a-year trade job in New York City told the recruitment firm searching for an appropriate candidate that it would be handled as an “internal matter”.

On 3 October, the day before Barilaro announced he would resign from parliament, Amy Brown, the chief executive officer of Investment NSW, told a representative of recruiter NGS Global the job would now be a “ministerial appointment” and that her services were no longer required.

Asking the recruiter to “keep this confidential”, Brown wrote that Investment NSW had “confirmed instructions” to convert trade commissioner positions to “ministerial appointments”.

In the email, seen by Guardian Australia, Brown said it meant the recruitment process for the positions “will need to be ceased”.

“We will be handling the STIC New York position as an internal matter,” she added.

“Our sincere apologies for the fact that you’ve done a considerable amount of work but not been able to fulfil the entire mandate for most positions. We appreciate the frustration that this has caused on your side.”

The timing of the email, coming just a day before Barilaro announced he would resign from parliament, is likely to intensify pressure on the government amid two separate looming inquiries into the appointment, by the upper house and the secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Michael Coutts-Trotter.

Brown’s reference to the positions being made as a “ministerial appointment” also raises new questions. The premier, Dominic Perrottet, has repeatedly said that Brown, as the chief executive of Investment NSW, was the decision-maker on the jobs.

Investment NSW has previously said Barilaro was hired after he was “shortlisted for interview by NGS Global”, while Perrottet insisted this week that a “recruitment process was undertaken by Investment NSW with a global recruiting company that made a recommendation”.

Investment NSW previously told the Guardian that Brown had no conflict of interest in appointing the former deputy premier to the role.

Earlier this week the Guardian revealed that Jenny West, a highly qualified businesswoman, was told she had got the job by the former premier Gladys Berejiklian in August last year, two months before Brown’s email.

Investment NSW and the government have insisted that no “formal offer” was made, but a separate email obtained by the Guardian reveals that on 23 August another senior employee at Investment NSW believed the agency was close to issuing a press release to announce the New York trade position.

In an email, Kylie Bell, the executive director of trade at Investment NSW, asked for a colleague to “get started” on the “media release shells” for the New York position as well as other jobs in Mumbai and Singapore.

“I think we are close to be able to announce NY and the others will probably be ready to go sometime in September,” she wrote.

While the events which led to Investment NSW’s decision not to hire West remain unclear, the new details on the timeline around the position raise questions about how the process unfolded.

On Wednesday the Guardian reported that by 22 September Investment NSW appears to have decided not to offer the position to West – an email stating a draft contract for the position was in the “final stage” of being written had line a struck through it.

But separate internal emails from 13 October – less than a fortnight after Barilaro’s resignation – state that a “preferred candidate” for the New York position had been “identified”.

The new revelations come after Perrottet told parliament on Thursday that two of the six trade commissioner positions went to cabinet, something previously revealed by the Guardian.

“The advice that I’ve received from our legal counsel was there were six appointments and there were two appointments that were submitted to cabinet,” he told parliament during question time.

“The advice I’ve received is that they were submitted to cabinet in error and the correct process, as advised by DPC, was followed in relation to the subsequent four appointments.”

The emails seen by the Guardian suggest the decision to no longer approve the roles through cabinet was made in mid-August after an inquiry from Barilaro.

“[W]hen the DP (deputy premier) wanted clarification on whether the STICs were ministerial appointments or not [it] was a fair question, because Treasury initially set up an erroneous process where they had to go to Cabinet, which is completely inappropriate,” Brown wrote to staff on 19 August.

The Guardian has contacted Investment NSW, the premier’s office, and Barilaro for comment.