Brown met with an adviser in the office of then Deputy Prime Minister Barilaro in September last year to discuss changing the legislation to give the commissioner the roles of ministerial appointments.
She said the adviser “made it clear that the Deputy Prime Minister wanted to know the different mechanisms for which [commissioners] can be named”.
Brown told the hearing that she then received a government decision ordering Investment NSW to start preparing legislation to change the appointments process, but the process did not happen.
“We didn’t get that far (…) because the deputy prime minister resigned and the portfolio was reassigned to the minister [Stuart] Ayres,” she said.
Asked by Upper House Opposition Leader Penny Sharpe if she knew if Barilaro had ever asked Ayres for a direct nomination for the job, Brown replied, “certainly not to my knowledge.”
The audience was told that Brown took it upon herself to call West to tell him the offer would be withdrawn on October 1, adding that the contestant was “extremely upset about this, which is understandable.”
“The fact that we couldn’t name anyone for a while and the fact that she was very unhappy with the arrangements and the government, the whole situation seemed totally irreconcilable,” Brown said.
The Herald Monday revealed that West contacted Prime Minister and Cabinet Chief Michael Coutts-Trotter in January with concerns after his planned appointment was rescinded.
The decision to appoint Barilaro, who resigned from parliament on December 30, was not presented to the cabinet, outrage Liberal cabinet ministers and backbenchers. Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet said it would have been inappropriate for the role to be considered by cabinet as it was not a ministerial appointment.
Perrottet said on Tuesday that Barilaro first told him he intended to run for the U.S. trade commissioner position in a “social setting” after the former deputy prime minister quit parliament.
Brown confirmed on Wednesday that Barilaro has signed a contract to become New York’s chief trade and investment commissioner, with the contract beginning June 20.
She said negotiations for the three-year-old role began on May 23, immediately after a verbal offer to Barilaro was made. He is due to take office on July 12.
A lease for US$88,000 a year was secured for office space for the Australian consulate’s trade commissioner in New York in September last year, Brown said.
Brown said she hadn’t “thought” to consider ending or suspending Barilaro’s appointment, pending the outcome of the upper house inquiry or the review ordered by the prime minister.
“Given the short notice for today’s hearing, I barely had a chance to think about it,” she said.
During the six months she was responsible to Barilaro as trade minister, Brown said she had an online meeting with him through Teams.
Brown said she was committed to the core values of public service and was confident she had done her job in relation to Barilaro’s appointment.
“As of August 2021, no formal approval from a Minister or the Prime Minister has been sought prior to the appointment of STICs, including STIC Americas [the role Barilaro was given],” she says.
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