NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has maintained support for Trade Minister Stuart Ayres as he wraps up his 10-day Asia trip, which has been marred by continued scrutiny over John Barilaro’s US trade post appointment.
However, he conceded the weeks-long saga had become “frustrating” for him, and overshadowed his first trade mission.
“Is it frustrating that you don’t get the message out publicly when these other issues come about? Yes it is,” a visibly exasperated Mr Perrottet told reporters at tech giant Infosys’s headquarters in Bangalore.
Referring once again to an independent review he has commissioned into the appointment, the premier said he will “take action” without specifying if he would sack Mr Ayres.
“I understand people have concern over the process,” he said on Friday.
“My job as premier is to instil public confidence in all appointments. I’ve made it very clear numerous times that I will wait upon that review and take action of the back of it.”
Labor says the NSW government’s “fingerprints” are all over the controversial appointment of Mr Barilaro to the lucrative $500,000 a year posting to New York.
A newly released email is raising fresh questions about the part played by Mr Ayres in the recruitment process.
The appointment of the former deputy premier is being probed by a parliamentary inquiry, with Labor claiming the government misled parliament over how Mr Barilaro landed the job.
The state opposition has accused Mr Ayres of lying after he said he did not meet with Mr Barilaro during the recruitment process and had maintained distance from it.
Recently tabled documents include an email sent by Investment NSW CEO Amy Brown in February, in which she says she discussed a shortlist of candidates with Mr Ayres.
In the email, she says Mr Ayres requested adding a candidate to the selection process. The candidate’s name has not been made public.
Another Investment NSW document shows Mr Ayres and Mr Barilaro met on or before June 16 – the day before it was announced the former deputy premier had won the role – and Mr Ayres had indicated he supported the appointment.
Responding to the documents, an Investment NSW official said the candidate mentioned in Ms Brown’s email was not Mr Barilaro, and described the indication of a meeting between Mr Ayres and Mr Barilaro as a “clerical error”.
Labor leader Chris Minns said the appointment was not at arm’s length from the government, as it has claimed.
“At the end of the day we find out almost day after day a new revelation indicating the government’s fingerprints were all over the appointment,” Mr Minns said.
Labor finance spokesman Daniel Mookhey said the new documents showed Mr Ayres was “knee deep” in the role’s recruitment.
“There is no way that Minister Ayres can say that he was independent from the process when he was putting candidates on the short shortlist,” Mr Mookhey said.
Senior public servant Jenny West gave evidence to the inquiry saying she was told her application had been successful, and that she subsequently lost her senior job at Investment NSW after the offer was withdrawn.
The lucrative job was switched to a political appointment and went to Mr Barilaro, who last month relinquished it saying it had become untenable.
The upper house inquiry’s hearings will resume on Wednesday and will call Ms Brown for a second appearance.
Mr Barilaro will give his side of the story to the inquiry on August 8.