‘Flawed’ process led to John Barilaro’s appointment to NY trade role, report finds

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP</span>
Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

The hiring process that led to former New South Wales deputy premier John Barilaro being appointed to a plum New York trade job was not done “fully in keeping” with the code of ethics governing public servants in the state, a long-awaited report has found.

Released Tuesday, the report by Graeme Head, a former NSW public service commissioner, also found the process behind Barilaro’s appointment to the trade role was not conducted at arm’s length from government.

Its release followed a press conference in which the premier, Dominic Perrottet, admitted “fundamental errors” were made during the hiring process.

“It’s very clear that mistakes have been made, not just at one point, but at various points along the recruitment process,” Perrottet said.

“The fundamental issue here is the flawed recruitment process that has taken place.”

Related: John Barilaro withdraws from hearing of trade role inquiry, citing ill health

The process, Head found, had also brought the public service into “some disrepute”.

The Head report, commissioned by Perrottet after the Guardian revealed Barilaro had been appointed to the job after another candidate, former senior public servant Jenny West, raised a series of issues with the first and second recruitment processes for the job.

On the second recruitment process, which led to the appointment of Barilaro, Head found the chief executive of the agency responsible for filling the role, Amy Brown, had not acted “fully in keeping” with the Code of Ethics and Conduct under which public servants are bound.

He found a series of issues – including that Brown “involved” then minister Stuart Ayres in “discussions about the composition of the shortlist” for the job, and arranged for another candidate, Kimberly Cole, to meet with Ayres – were not “managed fully in keeping with the requirements” of the code.

Barilaro has insisted he did nothing wrong in applying for the role, but Brown has told a separate inquiry that the then trade minister’s decision to make the roles ministerial appointments in September last year created a “grey area”.

Head wrote that he was “not empowered” to examine Barilaro’s motivations for that decision.

In her response to the report, Head wrote that Brown had “indicated a significant level of regret about a process she agrees was ‘flawed’”.

“She has indicated that she understands the code and has, to the best of her ability, done everything she can in respect of core elements of the code,” he wrote.

“She has also indicated that any failure to comply with the code was unintentional and a function of what she describes as quite unusual circumstances.”

Head recommended the secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Michael Coutts-Trotter, “considers what, if any, action to take” in relation to the findings about Brown.

He said Coutts-Trotter should “take account of the contextual factors contained in this report as well as any matters Ms Brown wishes to be factored into his consideration”.

Brown has told the inquiry that she had felt “nervous” about the appointment of Barilaro and felt the decision to make the roles ministerial appointments created a “grey area” over her authority which she attempted to alleviate by “sense testing” the appointment with the minister.

Perrottet said he had agreed to 12 of the 13 recommendations made in the Head report, including changes to the ministerial code of conduct to create an 18-month buffer before former ministers can take jobs in a public sector agency that reported to them.

The recommendations included a change to the act governing public servants to legislate a code of ethics, and the “codification of the roles and responsibilities of the secretaries”.

The saga has led to the resignation of former deputy Liberal party leader Stuart Ayres from cabinet after the premier said a draft from the Head report raised issues about whether he may of breached the ministerial code of conduct in his dealings with Brown over the role. He has denied breaching the code but agreed to stand down from cabinet while another inquiry by Bruce McClintock examines his actions.

Related: ‘This isn’t great’: texts reveal Amy Brown’s reaction to launching of John Barilaro inquiry

A section of the report, published on Tuesday, suggests the insistence of Ayres that the hiring process had been conducted at “arms length” from the government did “appear to be at odds” with his interactions with Brown.

Head said Brown had consulted Ayres on the shortlist of candidates for the role, and that Ayres had met with one of the candidates being considered for the job prior to a decision being made to hire her.

He said his review of the evidence “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”.

“I am not suggesting any impropriety on the part of the then minister, merely that any characterisation of the process as arm’s-length is not supported by the available material,” he said.

Barilaro has said that he “always maintained that I followed the process”.