Former NSW deputy premier John Barilaro’s staffer sought advice on New York trade role, inquiry told

Another former staffer of John Barilaro has given evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into the former deputy premier’s appointment to a plum New York job.

A transcript of Joseph Brayford’s evidence to the inquiry has been released, a day after Mr Barilaro’s former chief of staff Mark Connell told the investigation his former boss had always wanted the US trade commissioner role.

The controversial New York appointment came with a $500,000 annual salary package.

Mr Brayford told the inquiry that in August last year he was instructed by his chief of staff, Siobhan McCarthy, to contact the head of Investment NSW, and inquire about the hiring arrangements around commissioner roles.

He said he contacted Investment NSW CEO Amy Brown and asked for advice around changing the process to ministerial appointments.

Ms Brown previously told the inquiry that the request to look into transitioning the roles to ministerial appointments came from a then-deputy premier’s office member.

“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 told the inquiry last month.

“It was a decision of government, it would have come through the responsible minister being the minister for industry and trade … Mr John Barilaro.”

Mr Brayford then told the inquiry he received instruction from Mr Barilaro in September, before he went to cabinet seeking to make the change.

Amy Brown wearing a suit jacket and glasses
Investment CEO Amy Brown gave the final sign off on Mr Barilaro’s appointment. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

“I can recall getting a text message from the deputy premier asking me to contact Amy Brown about preparing that cabinet submission,” Mr Brayford said.

Shadow Treasurer Daniel Mookhey, who is on the parliamentary committee investigating the appointment asked: “Was it a surprise to get the text message?”

“Nothing really surprised me with John,” Mr Brayford responded.

“He is an interesting character … I don’t think I’d ever worked with someone so keen and ambitious.”

Mr Brayford also told the inquiry that Mr Barilaro wanted the submission done “ASAP”.

The former staffer was also asked whether the cabinet submission was circulated to other ministers.

“I recall having a conversation with the (Mr Barilaro) and he said to me that he would talk to the other ministers,” he said.

But Mr Brayford said his former boss did not state which ministers he would talk to. 

The parliamentary inquiry has previously heard evidence that in mid-2021, Mr Barilaro’s office inquired about changing the recruitment process for the trade commissioner roles to be ministerial appointments.

Mr Barilaro then went to cabinet in September with a submission to change the process, which was successful.

It meant that former bureaucrat Jenny West, who had been verbally offered the New York job, had it rescinded. 

Mr Barilaro then left politics and applied for the job in a second recruitment round.

He’s now withdrawn from accepting the position.

Dominic Perrottet addresses the media
Dominic Perrottet opens Investment NSW’s North Asia hub office in Tokyo.(AAP: Bianca De Marchi)

Speaking from Tokyo, Premier Dominic Perrottet said he was concerned the controversy around Mr Barilaro’s appointment would undermine his trade mission.

“I think it’s pretty clear improvements to the system can be made,” he said.

“But I don’t want to provide a commentary.” 

Mr Perrottet is on the first day of his trade trip, which will include opening the new office for the trade commissioner in Japan. 

He’s conceded that there appears to be a problem with how former bureaucrat Jenny West was originally offered the New York job but it was then withdrawn. 

“I think concerns have come to light about how the Jenny West situation was handled.”

Mr Perrottet said he was waiting on the findings from an internal review.