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He was questioned over a conversation he had with Ms West, who claimed she had been offered the position before it was withdrawn to be a “present for someone”.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