Stuart Ayres’ fingerprints were all over the Barilaro appointment

Stuart Ayres’ now former departmental secretary, Amy Brown, has rejected his claim that he was “arm’s length” from the appointment of former colleague John Barilaro to a lucrative New York trade post.

In evidence to the continuing Legislative Council inquiry into the Barilaro scandal, head of Investment NSW Amy Brown this afternoon explicitly disagreed with Ayres’ description of his role and detailed multiple “intersections” at which Ayres had intervened in the process. Ayres resigned last night at the request of NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.

Brown’s evidence showed that:

  • Ayres effectively ruled out superior candidate Kimberley Cole — on a shortlist of two with Barilaro — after a 12-minute Zoom meeting, making Barilaro’s appointment inevitable.
  • Ayres told Brown that Barilaro would be applying for the job, and then told her that Barilaro had strong qualities for the role — a statement that Brown admitted had significant weight with her. Ayres made no comments about any other candidate.
  • Brown told Ayres she was “nervous” about the appointment of Barilaro and left the matter with him, believing he might raise the issue at cabinet or within the government. He did nothing to prevent the appointment from going ahead.
  • As far as Brown is concerned, formally the appointment of trade commissioners remains a matter for the government, not the public service, due to a lack of communication overriding that.

It’s previously been revealed that Ayres also added a name to the interview shortlist and was to “consider” the shortlist of two that resulted from the interview panel process, completely destroying Ayres’ claim that he was “arm’s length” from the appointment. Brown’s statement that “arm’s length is not a fair characterisation of how the process was run” only confirmed the obvious.

Brown also admitted that after the public service appointment process that led to Jenny West being the initial successful candidate, it was John Barilaro’s office that led the way in demanding the process be put on hold while the appointments were made political. Barilaro’s former chief of staff has given evidence to the committee that when he created the New York role, Barilaro had said he intended to take the job when he got “the fuck out of this place”.

Brown also admitted that while she pursued discrepancies in West’s CV, she did not pursue a glaring omission in Barilaro’s CV about his claimed directorship of a board that did not exist.

Brown also failed to appoint a probity adviser for the recruitment process, despite potential conflicts of interest in relation to candidates. Brown spoke at length about the behaviour of West, who had set up the recruitment process for the trade commission jobs, then applied late for the New York position, saying she had to tell West to recuse herself from the recruitment process for the other trade commission roles. Yet even then no probity adviser was appointed for the process, even after John Barilaro, the former departmental minister, applied for a role — an astonishing failure given the circumstances.

Brown also bizarrely complained that she regarded West as a friend and was upset West made file notes of their “personal” conversations. Brown told West during one such “personal” conversation that she had lost the New York role and was out of her current job as well — exactly the kind of discussion any senior executive should be file-noting. However, while claiming not to remember telling West the New York job was “a present for someone”, she did admit to the committee she was “disillusioned” about the government’s decision to make the appointments political, seeing it as a slight on the public service.

Coalition MPs on the committee — likely suspects for the leaking of damaging in-camera evidence about West to News Corp — used Brown’s discussion on West to engage in a sleazy blackguarding of the former public servant, implying she might have orchestrated the entire recruitment process for the New York role so that she herself could get it. It was a disgraceful act of spite aimed at someone not present to defend herself.

Anyone thinking of working for the NSW government at a senior level should note what has been done to West by the government and steer clear of the joint.