> Perrottet defends Ayres as job saga escalates

Perrottet defends Ayres as job saga escalates

Speaking from Seoul on Tuesday, Perrottet described Ayres as a “very strong minister in the NSW government”.

“He’s a very good trade minister, he’s been a very strong investment minister. He’s been in Singapore in terms of opening our trade office there and will be joining us in India,” Perrottet said.

However, when pressed on whether he thought Ayres had misled parliament through his comments, Perrottet said: “Things in isolation can always seem challenging and difficult. I accept that. But until I have all the information I can’t comment.”

Perrottet maintained that his advice from the Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade was that no suitable candidate had been found after the first recruitment round for the New York role.

However, the premier was unable to detail what was behind the decision to rescind West’s offer.

Perrottet also said neither he nor his chief of staff had any recollection of a briefing note about the West appointment being sent to his office.

“I don’t understand why that did come to my office because I had no ministerial responsibility at the time for Global NSW.”

The documents released on Tuesday show briefs were prepared for Perrottet’s office related to four trade commissioner roles across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Americas. Email correspondence says the then-treasurer signed an endorsement for the London-based appointment.

Then-premier Gladys Berejiklian and then trade minister Barilaro also received the brief about West, which said she was recommended by a selection panel that included Investment NSW boss Amy Brown and planning department head Jim Betts.

NSW Labor on Tuesday accused the premier and Ayres of not telling the truth.

“Documents indicate very strongly that Dominic Perrottet and Stuart Ayres knowingly and deliberately misled the parliament on June 22 this year when they said that there was no suitable candidate found in the first process,” Labor MP Daniel Mookhey said.

“That is patently false. The first process did find a suitable candidate … It’s now for the two of them to account for the actions which have taken place on their watch.”

What they said

  • Stuart Ayres: It is important to recognise that at the end of the first round of recruitment there was no suitable candidate identified… Investment NSW advises me, very clearly, that no formal offer was made, or contract issued, to any candidate as part of the round one process. Quite clearly what has happened here is that the CEO of Investment NSW has made a determination, after the completion of the recruitment process, that there is no suitable candidate. Then they moved into a new recruitment process. – Legislative Assembly Hansard, 22 June 2022
  • Dominic Perrottet: I will say this in relation to this matter. I met with the Minister for Enterprise, Investment and Trade this morning and I was advised the following; here are the facts. The first recruitment process did not identify a suitable candidate. As such, a second recruitment process was undertaken. That process was independent and led by a third‑party recruiter. The Secretary of the Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade [DEIT] was the final decision‑maker in respect of both recruitment processes, and she will be able to explain the basis of her decision‑making. The employment of Mr Barilaro has already been formalised. – Legislative Assembly Hansard, 22 June 2022

Almost 200 documents were handed to the upper house on Tuesday following a three-week delay and the intervention of Perrottet, who told his department he expected outstanding documents relating to the controversial appointment of Barilaro be produced by the end of this week.

However, 181 of the 198 documents – including applicant CVs and selection panel reports – have been marked privileged. This means they can be seen by members of the upper house but are not available to the public or media.

Labor will proceed with its plans to recall the upper house to sit on Friday, to challenge the secrecy of the papers.

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“The best way to avoid a sitting on Friday would be for the government to withdraw its claim of secrecy over these documents,” Mookhey said.

Ayres spoke in Singapore on Monday, and said he was interviewed last week by former NSW public commissioner Graeme Head, who is conducting the independent investigation into the recruitment process. He also defended Barilaro’s appointment.

A separate parliamentary inquiry is investigating how Barilaro was appointed to the lucrative trade job.

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