11 July 2022

Barilaro Inquiry: Dropped candidate told top US trade job would be a 'present for someone'

| Claire Fenwicke
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Jenny West at inquiry

Jenny West gave evidence before the Parliamentary Inquiry on 11 July. Image: Screenshot.

A parliamentary inquiry into the appointment of John Barilaro as Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner to the Americas has heard the top candidate was told it would be a “present for someone” as her offer was withdrawn.

Former trade and international deputy secretary for Investment NSW Jenny West fronted the inquiry today (11 July), speaking publicly on the matter for the first time.

Ms West was given a verbal offer and negotiated her contract for the Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner (STIC) to the Americas role before it was ultimately withdrawn and offered to former Deputy Premier John Barilaro.

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Ms West was sent a text from Investment NSW CEO Amy Brown with a picture of a bottle of champagne and a briefing signed by then-Premier Gladys Berejiklian letting her know she had successfully received the position on 12 August 2021.

“I was so excited about the appointment, I immediately told family and friends,” she said.

Contract terms were agreed on 14 August, after which Ms West said she began researching colleges for her family and places to rent. However, she spent the next few weeks chasing her contract. She was told it was delayed due to security and US taxation issues.

Then on 16 September, she was asked by Ms Brown – who had apparently encouraged her to apply for the role in the first place – to have a meeting the next day.

There she was told the STIC positions were before Cabinet, where it was being decided whether the public service roles would become ministerial or political appointments.

“I was told my role would be on hold,” Ms West said.

“Ms Brown also told me funding for my [then] current position … in Investment NSW had been reallocated and I might not have that position either.

“In the space of four weeks, I went from being appointed to the role of STIC Americas to potentially not having a job.”

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Ms West said during her talk with Ms Brown that she was “horrified” that the then-Deputy Premier John Barilaro could put a submission to Cabinet to receive authority to make decisions regarding the roles to Parliament and not Investment NSW.

Her notes from 17 September recorded she also expressed concerns over who would be appointed.

“How could he just change some things like that to put his mates in roles to help with the election?” her notes said.

Ms West said she could not remember the “he” she was referring to.

In a Teams meeting on 14 October, Ms Brown officially told Ms West she no longer had the STIC Americas role.

It was also then Ms West claimed Ms Brown said the position would “be a present for someone”.

“[Ms Brown told me] you’re an excellent performer, and I am upset this has happened,” Ms West said.

Amy Brown

Investment NSW CEO Amy Brown fronted the Public Accountability Committee inquiry on 29 June. Photo: Investment NSW.

She said it was her understanding this meant public service positions had been changed to Parliamentary appointments and that she hadn’t been aware this wasn’t the case until it “came out in the media”.

“When Mr Barilaro received the appointment, I assumed it was because it was a political appointment, and that’s who they had chosen and felt was right,” Ms West said.

About 15 minutes after the meeting, Ms West contacted lawyers about her termination.

In the email, Ms West noted Ms Brown told her: “I have spoken with Minister [Stuart] Ayres … he had confirmed you will not be getting the Americas role. It will be a present for someone.”

“I thought it was an unusual turn of phrase, so I took notes of it,” Ms West said.

During the same meeting, Ms West was verbally told no funding was left for her Investment NSW position. She received the formal email her employment had been terminated with no cause on 19 November and received 38 weeks’ pay.

“This certainly is not how I expected my public service career to end,” Ms West said.

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She also took offence to comments made by Ms Brown when she fronted the inquiry last week that her offer had been withdrawn over concerns about her professional experience or performance.

“No concerns about my performance were ever raised until the in-camera evidence that she raised last week,” she said.

“Even though I was shocked [about the STIC role at the time] … I was looking forward to continuing my public sector role.”

“When I read Ms Brown’s evidence, I was very disappointed. Until this time, I thought we had a very good relationship.”

The appointment process for the STIC’s Americas role has been under intense scrutiny since questions were raised over how Mr Barilaro received the $500,000 a year position.

Mr Barilaro has since resigned from the trade role.

Premier Dominic Perrottet has also launched an internal inquiry into the appointment.

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It was blatantly obvious but it still took a matter of weeks of public and parliamentary outrage to pull the role out of his greasy hands.

What is the purpose of this role anyway?
Australia is already well represented in this country, here are people literally tripping over themselves representing Australia and each individual State. Such a waste of tax $!
And then every Premier and Minister feel the need to fly to these locations also for meetings.
How often does any good come of these roles for all the millions spent to support such a posting?

Capital Retro8:53 am 15 Jul 22

These roles are sinecures (a position requiring little or no work but giving the holder status or financial benefit), usually reserved for retired or failed politicians who miss out on the symbolic positions at universities.

They are indeed “presents”.

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