20 July 2022

Barilaro Inquiry: Senior lawyer rebuffs claims top candidate formally offered role

| Claire Fenwicke
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Man sitting at table at parliamentary inquiry

Department of Enterprise Investment and Trade General Counsel Chris Carr at the Public Accountability Committee inquiry on Tuesday (19 July). Image: Screenshot.

A senior lawyer with the NSW Government has stated claims the former top candidate for a US-based trade role was formally offered the position were “not correct”.

Department of Enterprise Investment and Trade’s General Counsel Chris Carr was called to the parliamentary inquiry into how former Deputy Premier John Barilaro received the Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner (STIC) to the Americas position on Tuesday (19 July).

Mr Carr said he had appeared before the inquiry to “correct the record” following Jenny West’s evidence last week.

He was questioned over a conversation he had with Ms West, who claimed she had been offered the position before it was withdrawn to be a “present for someone”.

READ ALSO Barilaro Inquiry: Dropped candidate told top US trade job would be a ‘present for someone’

Ms West had called Mr Carr on 17 September 2021 when she found out she had lost the position.

She stated to the Public Accountability Committee he said he was “horrified” about the situation she had found herself in and that if it were him, he’d be “bitterly disappointed”.

Her notes from the time also stated he said, “you were offered the job, had it signed off and just waiting on the contract, and then this happens?”

But Mr Carr said those comments were incorrect.

“[Her evidence] that her contract was finalised … and she was fully offered the job is not correct,” he said.

Rather, he stated her contract was “well advanced” but not “at the end of it”.

Mr Carr also defended the words he used when “comforting” Ms West about losing the position.

“I would have been saying words of comfort,” he said.

“I was speaking with a colleague who was in a situation where I felt I needed to console her.”

He said as he hadn’t been called by Ms West to give legal advice, any response he had given her should be “taken with a grain of salt”.

READ ALSO Report calls out ‘jobs for mates culture’ in government appointments (and how to fix it)

He also clarified there had been taxation issues that had held up the final contract.

“Investment NSW was not in a position to issue any contract, or offer any candidate, prior to mid-December 2021,” Mr Carr said.

He stated he had been asked by either the Investment NSW CEO Amy Brown or her chief of staff about how to make the public service roles ministerial appointments.

He also answered follow-up questions to a junior advisor in the then-Deputy Premier Barilaro’s office, but his involvement was limited to legal advice.

“I don’t know these people. I haven’t met them. I haven’t interacted with them,” Mr Carr said.

He said his involvement in the recruitment process was also “limited”.

“I was typically brought in to explain to the candidate, at the end of the process, the terms of the contract,” Mr Carr said.

“I never met or had contact with John Barilaro until confirming his contract in mid-2022.”

While Mr Carr did provide draft advice on the logistics of how the role could be converted to a ministerial appointment, the decision was reversed by the incoming Trade Minister Stuart Ayres.

The $500,000 position was eventually offered to John Barilaro after a second recruitment process; however, he resigned from the trade role on 30 June.

Ms West’s evidence has been sent to the NSW corruption watchdog to be considered for an investigation.

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HiddenDragon6:48 pm 20 Jul 22

After the release of the Victorian IBAC report today, we have the east coast trifecta – pongs from the governments of Victoria, NSW and Queensland – with the common factor being longevity in power (not which party/parties are in power) and the arrogance and entitlement which too often goes with that.

Yet here, in the one-party town which is Canberra, with a government now into its third decade in power, it’s (apparently) all sweetness and light and smelling of roses – yeah, right.

Yes, roll out a legal person (Mr C Barr) with some weasel words and a technicality or two to cover the NSW Government’s backside. Given recent evidence from Barilaro’s former Chief of Staff about Barilaro’s intent to set up the New York job for himself Mr Barr has done his job re the offer but not the underlying dishonesty surrounding this putrid appointment.

So you are willing to support one person’s uncorroborated evidence over another person’s based on???

Actually, chewy14, I think counsel (Chris Carr) has corroborated that she was offered the job: “… he stated her contract was “well advanced” but not “at the end of it”” … you don’t enter into employment contract negotiations with someone you are not about to employ. I would think that his statement is prima facie evidence that a job offer had been made to Ms West – as she stated.

Justsaying,
Except the claim abpve was around “underlying dishonesty” around a “putrid appointment”, which seems a fairly extreme view when we have such conflicting statements and no real smoking gun at present of anything untowards.

People who already dislike Mr Barilaro had made up their minds seemingly before hearing any evidence.

I don’t think anyone has suggested that they weren’t in negotiations with a preferred candidate. But the lawyers evidence is that she hadn’t fully been offered the job, the contract negotiation wasn’t finalised, whereas West said it had been.

I don’t know why people would be so willing to believe one side of a story despite clear motivations for lying on either side.

@chewy14
For some reason, RiotACT didn’t publish my follow-up to my above comment.

In that comment I suggested that the fact that Mr Carr had been contacted by (then) Minister Barilaro’s office for advice on turning this recruitment activity into a ‘ministerial appointment’, suggests that his former Chief of Staff, Mark Connell’s recollection of their conversation is more plausible than Barilaro’s assertion that it is “fictitious, false”.

You say “she hadn’t fully been offered the job” … how is one half offered a job? As an IT contractor, the majority of my ‘job offers’ were done on a handshake – the contract was just the ‘nuts and bolts’ around the conditions of the role. While it doesn’t legally happen unless it is in writing, the quickest way to lose one’s credibility is to go back on a handshake agreement.

On that, I imagine Carr has done his credibility a lot of damage with his colleagues in making a statement like “he hadn’t been called by Ms West to give legal advice, any response he had given her should be “taken with a grain of salt”.” when he was in a situation where “I felt I needed to console her.” Again, Wests explanation seems much more plausible than Carr’s.

And I have no opinion one way or the other or like/dislike for Barilaro. Not so sure about you as you seem to be vociferous in your defence of him.

As for a smoking gun? Well there appears to be one, as the committee has referred Ms West’s evidence to the NSW corruption watchdog for consideration of an investigation. No doubt you will argue it was referred for poiltical reasons, however my point is that while there is a lot of speculation, if it quacks like a duck ….

Just Saying,
I don’t see how someone recalling one element of an issue means that they are more likely to be telling the truth on other issues or parts of the discussion.

And there are many parts to a job recruitment and contracting, I think she was clearly the preferred candidate at the time but if they were still negotiating on terms, you can’t say that the job was hers. The lawyers statements around what occurred seem perfectly in line with standard recruitment processes. I’ve personally been involved in having to change recruitments with a preferred candidate, sure it might not be nice for them but I dont think it affects one’s credibility at all.

And I don’t agree with you that West’s statements seem more plausible than Carr’s, my original point being they’ve provided differing accounts that are equally reasonable. How are you judging plausibility on what is a he said, he said, she said situation of people you don’t know?

“And I have no opinion one way or the other or like/dislike for Barilaro. Not so sure about you as you seem to be vociferous in your defence of him.”

It’s funny that you think me being objective is somehow defending Barilaro. I personally have no time for him, but you only need to read the comments on these types of articles to see that a lot of people

Cont.
Are judging this issue based on their preconceived opinion of the man.

And yes, the committee decision is not remotely a smoking gun, there’s clear political motivations in the committee’s actions. But that doesn’t mean they are wrong either.

My point being so far there’s differing accounts and no real hard evidence of any corruption or misdoing.

Interesting, chewy14. You were quite prepared to declare Pocock corrupt because you perceived that he would be ‘selling his vote’ without any evidence whatsoever to support that corruption – yet when there is a prima facie case of a rigged selection process, you choose to be objective.

Oh well, I guess it just depends on what politician you have decided about which to be objective.

Nevertheless, I expect there is going to be much more official scrutiny of this decision – and certainly not due to the discussion within RiotACT.

JustSaying,
Firstly I didn’t declare Pocock corrupt, I said based on his own statements he would fall foul of his own definition of corrupt practices. Practices that he was apparently against in other areas and when other people engage in them. I wasn’t relying on hearsay or other peoples statements about Pococks position, he freely offered them and his position on the issue was on his own website.

In my opinion, he was only a gross hypocrite for his statements but we can now judge his performance on what he actually delivers and does in the Senate.

“yet when there is a prima facie case of a rigged selection process, you choose to be objective.”

I don’t know how you actually believe this, which is my point. Currently there are differing accounts with no hard evidence.

Neither Barilaro nor any of the other government people involved have admitted to any wrongdoing nor the comments attributed to them. We only have statements from other people.

Both sides have significant motivations to either lie or misrepresent conversations with their own perceived bias. There are significant political motivations and grudges being exercised.

Which is exactly why we have a judicial system and in NSW ICAC. To ascertain the truth.

@chewy14
It’s interesting how you seek to qualify statements you have made in the past with “In my opinion … ” but at the time present them as fact:
“You’re OK with corruption as long as you support the candidate promoting it.” (chewy14, 8:02 am 17 May 22, “Government didn’t pay enough attention to economic analysis of light rail to Commonwealth Park: Auditor-General”) – that support being my support on here, of Pocock as a Senate candidate at the (then) upcoming Federal election.
Nevertheless, let’s accept that you were just being sanctimonious and have changed your perspective.

Now to the matter in hand.

You seem surprised that I call a selection process rigged, when a successful candidate (i.e. contract being drafted) identified through a structured public service process, is cast aside so that the newly appointed Minister can exercise their ‘after the fact’ the recent former Minister. Mr Carr has acknowledged he was consulted on how to change the selection process to ministerial appointment after Ms West had been selected.

Well, chewy14, if in your opinion that’s OK, fine … I believe Ms West has every reason to feel aggrieved as I certainly would have done, had a ‘handshake offer’ subsequently been withdrawn to give the job to a mate.

Your next post will be there last on this as I don’t intend to debate my opinion over your opinion.

Justsaying,
No I still think those are statements of fact but I was using other people’s definition of corruption, rather than what I think is actually corrupt behaviour personally. The standard I was applying is the one that the candidate (and presumably you supporting him) had in setting the bar for himself.

You’ll also note that I’ve said repeatedly that I hope Pocock and the other politicians can extract favourable outcomes for the ACT with their votes because that’s the way the current (not ideal) system works. This isn’t me telling them to be corrupt or thinking that behaviour is corrupt either, I’m perfectly fine with politicians leveraging their votes under the current system.

The problem of hypocrisy only arises when they claim to be above this type of behaviour then say/act in exactly the same manner as other politicians.

With regards to this issue, the government looked at making the positions ministerial appointments which halted the selection process. They then later decided against this move under the new minister and kept them as notionally apolitical public service appointments. Nothing really “rigged” in that, it would have been far more obvious had they been ministerial appointments and Barilaro was given the job.

And yes, Ms West is perfectly entitled to feel aggrieved. Which is exactly why I say we should take her account of what occurred with a grain of salt. She clearly wasn’t happy with how she was treated and payback can be a great motivator.

Stephen Saunders10:44 am 20 Jul 22

Far be it from me to ever suggest that Barr’s unctuous lawyerly words are specifically crafted to rub salt in West’s wounds.

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