Public sector ‘brought into disrepute’ by Barilaro trade appointment

The John Barilaro affair has likely brought the integrity of public sector recruitment into disrepute, an independent review has found.

Graeme Head

Former NSW public service commissioner Graeme Head on Tuesday handed down his report after a six week investigation into the two botched recruitment rounds for a senior US trade position.

The process saw the plum New York post verbally offered to a highly qualified public servant before the decision was ‘unwound’, and the job handed to former NSW Trade Minister and Deputy Premier John Barilaro shortly after he quit parliament.

Mr Head said his investigation raised serious questions about the independence of the public service.

“The attention to this issue has likely brought the integrity of public service recruitment processes into some disrepute,” he said.

He also took aim at Public Service Commissioner Kathrina Lo, suggesting she should have paid more attention to irregularities when she was a member of the panel considering Mr Barilaro’s application.

Premier Dominic Perrottet, who ordered the report after circumstances surrounding Mr Barilaro’s appointment emerged, said the report revealed a flawed public service process.

“The fundamental problem here is flaws in the process,” he told reporters. “Fundamentally this comes down to public service process that was not in place.”

Concern about minister ‘messing with process’

Mr Head says in his report that public sector appointments should be based on merit, but this wasn’t the case with the Senior Trade Commissioner to the Americas.

The first recruitment identified two suitable candidates and resulted in senior bureaucrat Jenny West being verbally offered the role in August 2021.

This  prompted the then Department of Environment, Planning and Industry Secretary Jim Betts to urge finalisation of the panel’s report to avoid the minister “messing with due process”.

Concerns raised by the second recruitment, which occurred after Mr Barilaro’s departure from parliament and ended in him getting the job, were more signifnificant, Mr Head said.

This included the government’s decision on 27 September 2021 – to change the method of appointment of senior trade positions following a cabinet submission by Mr Barilaro.

Code of ethics concerns

Mr Head also expressed concerns about the conduct of Investment NSW CEO and Department of Enterprise, Investment and Trade secretary Amy Brown, who was in charge of recruitment.

Amy Brown

Ms Brown discussed a shortlist of candidates with the then Trade Minister Stuart Ayres, arranged for one of the candidates to meet with Mr Ayres while selection was still underway,  and talked to Mr Ayres about the suitability of Mr Barilaro during selection.

 She also finalised contract negotiations with Mr Barilaro before the selection panel had made a final assessment on all candidates.

Ms Brown failed to inform the panel about her actions, which meant that “certain matters have not been managed fully in keeping with the requirements of the Code of Ethics and Conduct”, Mr Head said.

He said it was up to the DPC Secretary to determine what action, if any, should be taken against Ms Brown.

Ministers not at arms length

Mr Head found “Investment NSW actively sought the involvement of the minister at several points in the process” and Mr Ayers did nothing to head off those requests.

My overall conclusion is that … this process did not occur at arms length from the Minister.

Graeme Head

“My overall conclusion is that, for the reasons outlined above, this process did not occur at arm’s length from the then Minister,” he said.

“Specifically, the material before me strongly suggests that Ms Brown factored into her consideration of candidates her views as to the preference of the minister, even if the minister did not expressly convey a preferred outcome.”

Public Service Commissioner slammed

The report is also critical of Ms Lo, who sat on the panel for the second recruitment round. Mr Head said Ms Lo’s, presence on the panel was “regrettable” given the flaws identified in the process.

“One would naturally expect a process in which the Commissioner was involved to be of a high standard, he said.

I consider it to be the case that greater attention should have been paid by the Commissioner

Graeme Head

“I consider it to be the case that greater attention should have been paid by the Commissioner.”

This included requesting a copy of the selection panel report from the first process, he said.

Responding to the report, Mr Perrottet said the government would make legislative changes stipulating ministers can’t interfere in the employment functions of secretaries, and would change the code of conduct to limit the ability of former ministers to be employed in the public service for 18 months.

He also said he would legislate for a code of ethics and conduct for the public sector.

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One thought on “Public sector ‘brought into disrepute’ by Barilaro trade appointment

  1. This situation is the result of a longer Journey.
    How does one navigate in the Public service when the Political climate that should insure the independence of Public Service. Is not supportive of this view.
    The journey of the past 11 years may have not been an easy one for those who commitment to the integrity of the Public Service.
    But I hope the underlying culture can be changed.

    The report needed is one that examines the climate/ culture in which The Public Service has worked. And how that climate/culture has lead to the situation we have seen revealed.
    To ensure this Public crisis wont be quickly repeated.

    The need is to do more than simply blame a group of people now!
    But to restore faith in The Code of Conduct.
    The need is to reveal and learn from the Longer journey of how we got here.

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